Preaching? Simply Teaching on Simply Preaching by Alec Motyer
When a very able and competent Old Testament scholar puts his hand at the plough of preaching, my attention stands up. Alec Motyer, former principal of Trinity College, Bristol, is known for his careful words on the book of Isaiah and also the Bible Speaks Today series, Old Testament portion. His new book, Preaching?, is a trove of wisdom on the art, development, and application of sermons. In the beginning of the book, Alec notes that preaching is much like the window dressings you see at a local store, with the items the storekeeper most wants to sell right out front for you eye. He writes,” Bible in hand, we have a stockroom full of the most amazing collection of goods to offer – real bargains too!...Everything must lead to that central truth” (12). Our goods are not up for discussion but the way we handle these goods is very important in the task of preaching. Throughout the book, Alec provides keen analysis on the process of analyzing a text, illustrating one, and applying God’s Word to people’s lives. One of the great gems of the book is Alec’s style of bringing larger tasks of the preaching process into understandable chunks.
Character sermons or lessons are great ways to see how the shape of a story fits into an overall truth. Alec writes, “Ever incident has its own truth to tell and every incident could be the subject of its own sermon,….The message of the private failure of the public man is more relevant to our times in which leading figures insist that what is private is strictly private and a man must be judged on how he does on the job. Not so, says the story of Davd: the private failure,…brought the whole fabric down – private, public, personal, domestic, individual, national” (55). This truth is powerful in that it relates the truth that there is no clear cut separation between public and private spheres because the attitudes of our heart are displayed in both. For the preacher, bringing out this point is as much a target at oneself as it is to the congregation. Do we separate our private life from our public life, do we have two personas?
One reminder that Alec sought to relay to his readers concerns the manuscript and the pulpit. He writes, “take into the pulpit with you whatever leaves you free to handle the material fluently, and to address your hears in a ‘face-to-face’ manner” (99). There are two points here worth commenting on: freedom in the pulpit and posture. Preaching that is carefully constructed and meditated upon will by nature be an exercise in delivering what you have so diligently prepared. Secondly, the sermon is not a lecture but an exercise in connecting with God’s people. The face to face manner goes by the wayside if we are tied to our manuscript in an overzealous manner. Alec is aware that preparation is so important to the delivery of a good sermon because without it we look like a person who cares not for God’s people. I would also add that without thorough preparation we make a statement to our people that God’s Word is not worth studying because our words are what counts. Alec is careful throughout the book to provide examples of word studies, sermon application, and serious points about analysis.
I encourage all who preach or who are in preparation to be preachers to take a look at this book. You will be refreshed and challenged as you examine its contents.
Thanks to Christian Focus Publications for the copy of this book in exchange for review.