Book Review: Expository Listening, by Ken Ramey
Ken Ramey. Expository Listening. Kress, 2010. 127 pages.
Roman authorities seized Ignatius of Antioch in AD 107. They carried him to the Coliseum where soldiers fed him to wild beasts. His crime? Ignatius refused to turn his back on Christ and burn incense to the emperor. While on the journey to martyrdom he wrote several churches in the region. “Do your best,” he told the church in Ephesus, “to meet more often to give thanks and glory to God. When you meet frequently, the powers of Satan are confounded.” Ignatius knew the Spirit worked when God’s people gathered to sit under the preached Word.
In his book, Expository Listening, Ken Ramey reminds the church to take seriously the power of God’s Word by carefully listening to preaching. He rightly notes that, though there are many, many books devoted to helping pastors preach better, there are not nearly enough books dedicated to helping Christians listen better. Ramey’s book, now five years old, remains a welcome addition to a much-neglected subject.
Ramey is unapologetic in his conviction that the Holy Spirit gives believers a love of preaching:
Before the Spirit regenerates us, we are baffled and bored by preaching. But once we are saved, it suddenly makes sense to us and becomes interesting and begins to have a transforming effect on our lives. There are people attending churches all across the world who have gone to church their entire lives but have little or no interest in the preaching of God’s Word. That is evidence that they have never truly been born again. They have made a profession of faith in Christ, but they don’t truly know Him as their Lord and Savior. Knowing Jesus Christ is the indispensable prerequisite for being able to receive and respond to what God has said in His Word (19-20).
Conversion is a prerequisite, as Ramey put it, for appreciating the preached Word. But once one is born again, the believer does more than like preaching, he obeys it: “Good soil yields the fruit of obedience from the Word of God. That fruitful life is a light that shines for all around to see, and it is the only real demonstration that you are spiritually identified with Jesus” (33).
Ramey lays the groundwork for the necessity of preaching. He addresses the value and importance of exposition (preaching book by book through the Bible). Ramey then gives practical assistance to pilgrims longing to listen better. Spoiler alert: there is no silver bullet to becoming a better listener! Like every other aspect of our sanctification it takes hard work. But the work is worth it. Since the average listener will sit through nearly 7,000 sermons in a lifetime, we will have a lot of teaching to give an account for when we die (5).
So what can we do to be better listeners? We can daily read and meditate on God’s Word (37). We can thoughtfully pray for ourselves and our preachers (39-40). We can limit our media intake. This point is particularly important in the age of media excess. It’s hard to sit down and listen to an hour-long sermon when you spend your day flipping from the smart phone to the iPad to the big screen (41-43). And few things are more helpful in improving your Sunday morning listening than scheduling “your week around the ministry of the word.” Get a good night’s sleep. Prepare your family in the morning. Get to church early, not late (43-44). Such instruction may seem too obvious to state. But these are important reminders for busy Christians tempted to take preaching for granted.
There is much more in the book worthy of careful study. Ramey exhorts us to listen with discerning ears, and he devotes an entire chapter to the danger of letting what you hear go in one ear and out the other. Most of all, the heart of a pastor shines through. Ramey is genuinely (and appropriately) concerned that listeners not be caught unawares on the Day of Judgment:
Whenever you sit under the preaching of God’s Word, what should be in the forefront of your mind is that fearful day when you will be judged based on how receptive and responsive you were to what you heard. As was already stated in the first chapter of this book, what you do with what God has said in His Word determines not only what kind of life you have here on earth, but also where you will spend eternity (105).
If you are a preacher, this is the kind of book you want to have on hand to give sleepy churchgoers who seem disinterested in what’s going on when God’s people gather. They may not think, as Ignatius so passionately put it, that Satan really is confounded when believers hear preaching. This little book may very well wake them up.
And if you aren’t a preacher, and you’ve reached the end of this short review, you may be asking, “Do I really need this book?” Here’s a few questions that may help you decide:
- Do you regularly pray for the preachers/teachers at your church?
- Do read the passage you’re going to be taught before it’s preached?
- Do you work hard to prepare yourself and your family for the preaching event?
- Do you review your notes to see how the Spirit would have you apply what you’ve heard?
- Do work to understand not only what the preacher’s point is, but how he got that point?
If you answered no to any of those questions, Expository Listening may be just what you need to remind you of the importance of the preached Word.