Many years ago, I remember attending a service at All Soul’s, Langham Place, where the preacher was Richard Bewes. I had been ordained about six years at the time, had heard many sermons and had preached even more. But I was aware that evening of being on the receiving end of something special.
“I don’t how he is achieving what he is doing,” I thought to myself, “but that’s how I want to do it.”
Those who have heard the preaching of Phillip Jensen may have felt the same, and will therefore be instinctively interested in this attempt by another preacher, Paul Grimmond, to explain how Phillip does what he does so well, namely the exposition of Scripture.
As soon as you put it like that, however, you can appreciate the difficulty of the task. I would find it hard enough to explain to others how I do something. How much more challenging for someone else to explain it!
Those who have heard Phillip preach and teach, moreover, will appreciate that this is not just a matter of picking up a few hints and tips about techniques of presentation and preparation. Indeed, Grimmond’s own introduction cautions against the idea that the book might contain “five simple steps to preaching like Phillip.”
It is best, therefore, to approach this book simply as a ‘primer on preaching’ — which happens to have Phillip Jensen’s name on the cover and some of his input in the contents. If you are new to preaching, however, or even if you have been preaching for some time, you will undoubtedly come away the better for having read it. Its focus is on the basics, but those basics are also the fundamentals, and like piano scales or times-tables, they are things we need to get right if we are to move on constructively, and they are things we may need to revisit if we have become rusty or lazy.
The book takes its title, and its structure, from an analogy: comparing the sermon to an arrow. The word of the gospel is the arrowhead, the exegesis of Scripture forms the shaft, which carries the head to the target, and the feathers represent the whole of our theology which guides our preaching and its application.
The analogy is helpful, but it is important also to understand what the authors mean by these ‘parts’ and how they see them contributing to the overall task of preaching.
The ‘gospel’ arrowhead, for example, is not simply the repetition of the point that Christ died on the cross for our sins and we need to repent and get right with God. Indeed, one of the most helpful parts of the book, in my view, was the explanation that the gospel is every aspect of revelation when it is understood and presented in relation to Jesus. Every sermon, therefore, ought to be a ‘gospel’ sermon, from whatever part of the Bible the preacher’s material is drawn.
It is encouraging, also, to see so much emphasis on theology — something which English evangelicals have for a long time treated as if it were almost a dirty word. (The same might be said, incidentally, of ‘good works’!)
Many of those who so admired Phillip on his first visits to these shores overlooked the fact that Sydney clergy were required to spend not just three but four years in full-time theological education before being ordained, and that these years were spent in the library and the study, not in ‘student ministry’ on the nearby university campus. One reason for the paucity of English evangelical preaching in the second half of the twentieth century is undoubtedly that so few preachers had an undergirding theology, or even much grasp of the biblical languages.
But the book is equally emphatic that preaching is no mere academic exercise. Rather, it is part of our spiritual struggle, and the primary quality it calls for from the preacher is not a love of study or exposition, but the love of God and of those whom God has called the preacher to serve through his preaching.
The Archer and the Arrow is not the last word on preaching. But it will benefit anyone who is just embarking on a preaching ministry and many who have been preaching for years. If this is you, then buy it or borrow it, and make sure that you apply it.
9 January 2011
9 January 2011
The Archer and the Arrow: Preaching the Very Words of God, by Phillip D Jensen and Paul Grimmond (Kingsford: St Matthias Media, 2010), pb, 148 pp, no index
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