‘The Supremacy of God in Preaching’ by John Piper

Review of John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, rev. and exp. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015). ISBN: 978-0801017087. (Page numbers refer to the 1990 edition.)

Overview

The Supremacy of God in Preaching is an exhortation to those who exhort. Brief yet piercing, the book serves as a clarion call for preachers to strike the right balance of gravity and gladness in today’s pulpit, while setting forth a clear challenge for more God-glorifying, Christ-honoring, and Spirit-empowered proclamation. “Our people are starving for God,” says John Piper, former senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Preaching that does not have the aroma of God’s greatness may entertain for a season, but it will not touch the hidden cry of the soul: ‘Show me thy glory!’” (9, 11).

piper-john-the-supremacy-of-god-in-preachingWriting from a Reformed Baptist perspective, Piper passionately contends that a weighty, theocentric sermon is not primarily the product of homiletical technique, but rather the result of the preacher’s personal holiness and a God-immersed life. Citing Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Piper contends, “It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God” (11).

The book is divided into two parts. The first is titled “Why God Should Be Supreme in Preaching.” Here Piper offers four chapters on what he considers to be, “The Goal of Preaching,” “The Ground of Preaching,” “The Gift of Preaching,” and the “Gravity and Gladness of Preaching.” The second part of the book focuses on the practical outworking of these chapters and is titled, “How to Make God Supreme in Preaching: Guidance from the Ministry of Jonathan Edwards.” Here Piper develops three chapters on a set of imperatives taken from the life and pulpit ministry of his hero Jonathan Edwards, the famous American philosopher/theologian/pastor: “Keep God Central,” “Submit to Sweet Sovereignty,” and “Make God Supreme.”

The Supremacy of God in Preaching, which grew out of the 1988 Harold J. Ockenga Lectures on Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the 1984 Billy Graham Center Lectures on Preaching at Wheaton College, was voted “Book of the Year” by Preaching magazine. 

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‘The Crisis in Expository Preaching Today’ by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Review of Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “The Crisis in Expository Preaching Today,” Preaching (September/October 1995): 4-12.

Summary

As the title indicates, Walter Kaiser believed there was a “crisis in expository preaching” in the pulpit. That was 22 years ago this month. Has the situation gotten better or worse over the past two decades? A recent Gallup poll suggests that “sermon content is what appeals most to churchgoers,” and not just any sermon content, but content based on the Bible. Maybe Kaiser’s warning was heeded after all.

Kaiser argued that there was never a widespread demand in the American church for systematically laying out and explaining biblical texts for contemporary listeners. That was a crisis to him because only expository preaching could afford the Scriptures their rightful place in setting both the agenda and the diet for a congregation’s spiritual health.

Moreover, the much revered Old Testament scholar contended that only expository preaching could successfully confront the crisis of truth and the widespread assault on authority that was rampant in society at the time. Postmodernism eroded the concept of absolute truth and rendered the Bible a mere “dialogue partner,” he said. Scripture was the main casualty of the revolution, having been lost in the clamor for relevance and the trendy “meeting of needs.”

“Rather than Scripture declaring what God wants to say to us, the crowds that come dictate what is acceptable, popular, nonthreatening, and preachable for modern audiences” he warned. The absurdity of this reversal is that “the people, who theoretically are in need of spiritual help, are prescribing for the spiritual physicians what it is they need!”

“Rather than Scripture declaring what God wants to say to us, the crowds that come dictate what is acceptable, popular, nonthreatening, and preachable for modern audiences.”

The remedy for this “contemporary morass that preaching has fallen into” was to preach the whole canon of Scripture—faithfully, exegetically, and systematically. This includes the Old Testament as well as the New. Parishioners must see the organic unity of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

“Modern congregations have lost their sense of direction because they do not know either the beginning, middle, or end of the plan that God has laid out so clearly in the Bible,” he wrote. Preachers must avoid getting “stuck” and simply going over and over again the same old elementary truths of the gospel, thereby serving only milk to their people and not solid food.

Given our gravitation toward those portions of Scripture we know best, preachers must endeavor to exegete for their people the whole counsel of God, he said—book by book, chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph. “A consistent and systematic exposition of the Scriptures will help restore order, end the habits of a violent society and repair damaged relationships at every level of society,” he wrote.

Evaluation

Kaiser made a strong case for the preacher’s systematic and exegetical approach to expository preaching. “If the sermon is to have any authority in this day and age, it must have the divine authority claimed in the text as its warrant,” he noted. This kind of logic, which permeates the article, is as inspiring as it is foundational.

“If the sermon is to have any authority in this day and age, it must have the divine authority claimed in the text as its warrant.”

Kaiser probably could have addressed other important homiletical issues in his article, such as cultural intelligence, the ethics of persuasion, and communicational effectiveness in our day. After all, our society as a whole doesn’t seem to be any healthier than it was back in 1995, despite the uptick in biblical exposition. What good is expository preaching that doesn’t connect, inspire, or persuade?

Still, as many pulpits began slouching toward a foggy future at the behest of spiritual gadflies and cultural malcontents two decades ago, Kaiser envisioned a glorious church whose life would be built squarely and unashamedly on the firm foundation of God’s authoritative truth—the Bible.

Gallup seems to agree. At least for now. Not that Kaiser needed the confirmation.

 

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