Book Review: Encountering God Through Expository Preaching, By Orrick, Payne, and Fullerton
Jim Scott Orrick, Brian Payne, Ryan Fullerton, Encountering God Through Expository Preaching: Connecting God’s People to God’s Presence. B&H Academic, 2017. 240 pps, $19.99.
“Preaching occurs when a holy man of God opens the Word of God and says to the people of God, ‘Come and experience God with me in the text.’” This is the sentence that three authors—Jim Scott Orrick, Brian Payne, and Ryan Fullerton—set out to explain in their book Encountering God through Expository Preaching.
After an insightful foreword by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., the authors get to work on a first section with nine chapters called “The Holy Man, the Holy Text, and the Holy Spirit.” The first chapter begins by establishing that the man who should be preaching is one who is holy, qualified, and making progress in his work. The second chapter dives more deeply into a preacher’s convictions about the Word of God and whether preaching from it is really is necessary. After exploring how God works in the world through his Word, the authors use some extended work in 2 Timothy 3–4 to establish that expounding God’s Word is the best thing a preacher can do for God’s people.
Chapters 3 and 4 take on the massive concept of context in reading the Bible, focusing on four horizons: contextual, covenantal, canonical, and contemporary. Comparatively little space is given to the contextual horizon (meaning immediate context, both historical and literary), as the focus seems to be on the covenantal horizon, offering the reader insight into the seven “major covenants.” The canonical horizon goes a step further and explores various tools and themes for a biblical theological understanding of the whole canon. The contemporary horizon, turning the process from the “what?” of the text to “so what?” or “now what?” of the text, gets only a brief explanation.
Chapter 5 addresses the value of preaching continuously through a book over time, noting six benefits to the pastor and church. Chapter 6 tackles the question of topical (or not continuous) preaching. Both chapters argue strongly that both kinds of preaching can be expository and should be, though still giving preference to continuous exposition.
Section 1 finishes with three chapters on the necessity of the Holy Spirit in expository preaching. Chapter 7 explains the need of the preacher to be empowered by the Spirit. Chapter 8 describes what it looks like for one to preach as empowered with the boldness, illumination, love, and the words of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 9 puts forward four ways the preacher ought to seek the empowerment of the Spirit: by relying on the Word of the Spirit, the gospel of Jesus Christ, God (in prayer), and the prayers of the people.
Section 2 is called “Preparing to Lead the People of God to Experience God: Early Preparation.” It’s where the book turns to the practical elements of preparation. Chapter 10 makes the case that the delivery of the sermon matters: essentially, the preacher needs to not be boring. Chapter 11 addresses the public reading of Scripture, suggesting that good reading not only leads to comprehension, but also to reverence for the Word of God. Chapters 12–14 dig more deeply into the process of reading the text and preparing the sermon. These chapters are focused around four preparatory question: 1) How does it fit?, 2) What does it say?, 3) How is it built?, and 4) Why does it stay? Chapter 12 explores the first two questions, reminding the reader of the importance of both the context and the gospel-orientation of individual passages of the Bible. Chapter 13 unpacks the question of how the text was built, addressing in very practical terms subjects like the literary type of a text, its method of development (including nine particular methods), and grammar (including several things to look for in the text when analyzing grammar). Chapter 14 reminds us again that application is necessary. It briefly introduces Bryan Chapell’s “Fallen Condition Focus” and then goes on to explore three motivations for obeying the text, considering one’s audience, and the transfer of application, including 11 helpful diagnostic questions to think through in making applications.
The third and final section is called “Come and Experience God with Me in this Text: Final Preparation” and consists of three chapters addressing the question of whether to bring a manuscript or notes or neither into the pulpit. Chapter 15 elaborates on the benefits of a manuscript while ultimately warning against it because of the risks of boring an audience by merely reading, ignoring the Holy Spirit while preaching, and a few other reasons. Chapter 16 looks at four reasons why it’s important to follow “the outline of ideas that the Holy Spirit put in the mind of the author when he was inspired to write the text” (173), including understanding the text, experiencing God in the text, organizing the ideas in the text, and remembering the ideas in the text. Chapter 17 makes a case for what it takes to preach without notes as well as some practical benefits to doing so.
The book finishes with a brief conclusion that reminds the reader that success in worldly terms may not be the result of the hard work necessary to do exposition, but that nevertheless we shouldn’t settle for something less.
INTERACTING WITH THE BOOK
If you’re looking for the value of expository preaching beyond simply getting the text right, this book is a good place to start. The authors spend a great deal of space showing the personal and pastoral benefits of a commitment to exposition. What’s more, they exhort the preacher to holiness, prayer, and reliance on the Holy Spirit as part of the process of expository preaching (three elements often absent in books on preaching). I think following their advice in these ways really will lead a preacher and a congregation to experience God in the proclamation of his Word.
The methods the authors advance for reading the text are also helpful and in line with where many land on the process for expository preaching. They’re especially good at forming helpful diagnostic questions to guide a preacher’s thinking through his preparation. We do well to bear in mind these questions as get about the working of proclamation. Likewise, the book is bursting with helpful illustrations and quotations, some of which I’ve noted for use in the future.
There are a few weaknesses in the book as well. I dislike being critical, especially in print, as writing books is no easy task. Still, perhaps four are worthy of mention. First, as is true of nearly every book in the world, the constraints of space crowd out nuance and depth. As long as the reader is not expecting the book to be a thorough “how to” guide, it shouldn’t disappoint. The book does an excellent job of raising good questions that a preacher should ask himself in preparing a sermon (especially chapters 12–14), but does less to help a preacher know how to answer those questions from the text (e.g., they rightly state on page 141 that an understanding of narrative is important for reading the Bible, and so some description on how narrative works might have strengthened that sentiment).
Second, the writing style of all three authors seems to be quite assertive, so some points are made to be felt more than defended. This is only problematic if you have reason to disagree with their conclusions. For example, after making such a convincing case for both the performative and spiritual value of “reading” the Scriptures in chapter 11 and elucidating the benefits of writing a manuscript so well in chapter 15, chapter 16 might have been more persuasive had it focused on the practical value of using notes or a preaching outline.
Third, the authors have a tendency to generalize while seeming to argue from Scripture. For example, they rightly point out on page 115 that one qualification in 1 Tim 3:1–13 is “able to teach.” But they then go on to describe qualities of good teaching, such as being able to anticipate the reaction of the audience and not being boring, that are not necessarily in view in the passage or required by Paul’s use of διδακτικός. This leads them to conclude that being boring in some way disqualifies a man from preaching. There’s great value in advising preachers to be thoughtful and interesting by their standards, but I’m having a hard time seeing that in the text—and “boring” is a bit subjective anyway.
Fourth, certain phrases, theological statements, and cultural assumptions will likely be comfortable for readers of a particular Southern Baptist persuasion, but might be harder to follow for others (e.g., translating ἐπισκοπή as “pastor” in 1 Tim 3:2 on 115 without much comment). One of the more difficult examples of this is the notion that preaching without notes is more masculine than preaching with notes or a manuscript. Setting aside the issues of gender roles in the church (on which I assume the authors and I agree), I’m perplexed as to why the authors thought this argument—an argument without an obvious biblical basis—would benefit readers. Perhaps I misunderstood, but I didn’t find the view of manhood cited to be persuasive. Are men uniquely trying to better everyone? Why is doing hard things especially masculine? And is the choice to preach from notes or even a manuscript really one with gendered implications?
Notwithstanding these critiques, this is a valuable book to read. If this is your first excursion into expository preaching, the book does a fine job of articulating necessary convictions and outlining something of a process to get you started—especially on the preachers’ holiness, prayer, and reliance on the Holy Spirit. And even if you have been preaching for more than a few years, much of this book is a helpful reminder of what it should mean to give yourself to this most excellent work of sharing God’s presence with God’s people through God’s Word.