Book Review: Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages
Written by Writer and Author, William Ballard
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eBook From Amazon.com
Hardback 3rd Edition From Pentecostal Publishing House (PPH)
Summary of the Purpose of the Book
Robinson's first edition of Biblical Preaching (Baker, 1980) stands as one of the seminal volumes on the subject. This second edition, revised and updated, began by defining the true meaning of expository preaching. "Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical and literary study of a passage in its context which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through him to his hearers" (20). Most of the book is devoted to developing Robinson's ten-step approach toward expository sermon development. The final chapters address the mechanics of sermon delivery.
Seeing as I have read many books about the process of developing a sermon I must honestly mention, that I have never read a book that is at the caliber of Robinson's Biblical Preaching. Reading this book is like having a professor at a Seminary or Bible College sitting with you in the comfort of your own home guiding you step-by-step through the developing process of preparing a sermon. Ten steps or phases to be exact.
Robinson declared that many so-called expository sermons are neither expository nor sermons. His thesis contends that authentic expository sermons must focus on presenting the "big idea" of a specific biblical passage. True expository sermons must draw their subjects from the main idea of the text itself. The preacher must state the big idea in terms of a subject and a complement. The main points of the sermon serve to develop and support that subject as limited by the complement. He insisted that preachers do not deliver sermons; they deliver messages from God as revealed in the Scriptures. The message must first be true to the text, accurately exegeted, interpreted in light of the modern culture, and delivered with passion and persuasiveness. The book is filled with examples, illustrations, and practical advise from a trusted sermon developer.
Robinson's writing style reflected his approach to preaching--lucid, vivid, and meaningful. He can express an ocean of thought in one drop of language. Novice readers will not be intimidated. Seasoned professionals will find the book a refreshing reminder of their sacred calling.
Robinson's thesis stands as the true strength of the book: the preacher must discover the meaning within a given text and present that message in clear contemporary language. He is right when he opined that many preachers are guilty of preaching three or four ideas in one message rather than one idea shaped and supported by the major points. "A sermon should be a bullet, not buckshot" (35). Robinson does a fine job of helping the reader think through how a subject is determined and framed. The practice exercises are extremely helpful.
Robinson possesses a high standard of the task of preaching and of preachers. The preacher stands in the gap between heaven and earth seeking to convey eternal, life-changing truths. Robinson urged readers to be faithful and loyal to the text. Preachers deliver God's message, not their own! God is speaking through the Bible. He warned readers that when preachers fail to preach the Scriptures, they abandon their authority.
Robinson's ten stages in the development of expository messages provide readers with a systematized approach to preparing a sermon. As one would expect, Robinson instructed readers to begin with the text. However, step six can prove exceptionally helpful to many: determine the sermon's purpose. Often the purpose of expository messages is very seldom defined. Preachers assume that the purpose of the sermon is to present and explain the text assuming the Holy Spirit would provide the individual application. Robinson cautioned that the preachers must answer the question, So what? If the preacher does not know what he or she hopes to accomplish with the message, neither will the listeners.
Some readers will appreciate Robinson acknowledging that not every Scripture passage has homiletic value for a particular congregation (54). Those preachers who preach systematically through books of the Bible should not feel they have to preach a particular passage meant for another people or another day.
Three factors could make this good book even better. First, the book could use more explanation on how to do proper exegesis. Robinson urged readers to study commentaries, grammars, lexicons, and other study aids. However, I would have liked a few pages of "show and tell." Perhaps the lack of authentic expository sermons lies in the lack of competent exegetical skills. The text can never mean what it never could have meant. I would have gladly traded a few pages on dress and appearance for a more detailed analysis of quality exegesis. I would have appreciated more information on how to move from an exegetical outline, to a didactic outline, then to a homiletic outline.
Second, Robinson insisted that preachers must artfully choose their words. He gave examples from poets, presidents, and other preachers. He insisted that a well-turned phrase creates vivid imagery the audience would appreciate. I do not doubt an audience would desire imagery speech, but I would not want a listener to fixate on a skillful turn of a phrase and miss the point. When reading a book, a reader can pause, appreciate the beauty of the language, and then move on. In spoken communication, a distracted mind is a lost mind. Robinson provided several stirring examples of vivid word usage, however many of the examples were meant for printed publication, not just a single Sunday morning delivery. Words should never stand in the way of understanding--even good words.
Third, Robinson updated his earlier work to reflect several cultural and technological changes that were unknown twenty-five years ago, such as women preachers and the widespread use of computers. However, he missed an opportunity to address the effect of postmodernism on how listeners understand truth. While it is inspiring that Robinson embraces a high view of Scripture, many church attendees are skeptical of authoritative truth claims. Robinson urged his readers to ask three developmental questions of the text, one of which is, "Is it true?" (80). The postmodern person cares less about truth and more about relevance. Such pragmatism presents a challenge for preachers who proclaim, "Thus saith the Lord."
The Importance of Preaching Truth
Biblical Preaching is a wonderful tool for the novice and seasoned preacher. Robinson's thesis continues to remain valid into the twenty-first century. The Bible is the same book and contains the same message preached two thousand years. As such, it can turn this modern world upside down. It can also serve as a corrective to for poor theology.
For example, some leaders of the emerging church movement have devalued the role of preaching in worship. These Generation X preachers have forsaken sermons for narrative "talks." The Holy pulpit is replaced by a Unholy stool. These preachers sheepishly proclaim that they struggle along the same path of understanding as do the listeners. These preachers do not want to appear superior. Propositional truth claims are eschewed. There is no clear word from the Lord!
Spiritual transformation occurs when a person has a Divine experience and encounter of God. People encounter God in and through the Scriptures. Expository preaching unwraps God's message preserved in the Bible, sweeps away the cultural clutter, introduces listeners to life-transforming truths, and provides a medium through which people can encounter the Divine over and over again.
Robinson affirms the centrality of the spoken word to reveal the living Word. God has spoken and he continues to speak through the Scriptures. The Christian church has no other source for moral, ethical, or theological authority! Expository preaching, properly done, functions to bridge the gap between the temporal and the eternal. Biblical Preaching helps that purpose. Robinson's insistence on relevant application will help ensure that an expository message does not devolve into an academic lecture. The revised edition will ensure its continued use in seminaries and Bible colleges for years to come.
About the Author
William Ballard is the author of, “My List of 21 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing” and "3 Steps to Blogging Success: Discovering Your Passion, Finding Your Audience, and Developing an Income Stream (Article Series)".
He has been writing professionally for over 10+ years and has much experience within the industry, both in publishing and in freelance writing. He has successfully self-published over 10 books and eBooks. Visit his Amazon Author Page to see list of his most recent projects.