Book Review: Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching, by Alec Motyer
Alec Motyer, Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching. Christian Focus, 2013. 192 pages. $14.99.
Tim Keller’s commendation on this book’s cover reads, “Alec Motyer has had a profound, formative influence on my preaching.” It’s easy to see why. Motyer, well known for his magisterial work on Isaiah, gives us another work of immense value. Preaching? is an opportunity to eavesdrop on the wisdom of a man who has been preaching for a long time—so long, in fact, that he transparently admits to using one particular sermon nineteen times since it first saw the light of day in 1963! This book is packed with just the kind of profound insight and poignant reminders you would expect from a man who has been at it that long.
Chapters 1-5 are somewhat introductory, advancing the central role of proclamation in the life of the church, highlighting the primary need for clarity in teaching, and clarifying what is meant by exposition. Motyer says that exposition is “the restatement of a Scripture…so that its message emerges with clarity” (30).
Chapters 6-11 are the heart of the book, presenting the six aspects of Motyer’s method for sermon preparation: examination, analysis, orientation, harvesting, presentation, and application. These, he says, are not successive steps, but run parallel to one another, “like a sixfold track leading to our destination” (37). Chapters 12-14 conclude with counsel regarding the pastor’s personal holiness, attentiveness in prayer for the flock, and the necessity of making Christ central in all proclamation.
Motyer’s book is packed full of excellent examples that illustrate his counsel. The reader will walk away with countless model sermon outlines and memorable illustrations. These are sprinkled generously throughout the overall structure, which nicely sets out a trajectory for sermon preparation that is far from technical. In fact, the six aspects of Motyer’s method are a bit difficult to distinguish at times (“examination” and “analysis” don’t seem distinct enough to treat separately). But such technicalities matter little when the content is so insightful.
Motyer encourages the preacher that what is needed is clarity of explanation rather than sheer wit, charisma, or innate oratorical skill. He points to Jesus’ question to the disciples following his instruction to them in Matthew 13, “Have you understood all these things?” He says the difference between a converted person and an unconverted person is a matter of understanding. “The instructed mind is the foundation of the work of God in us” (28). The crucial matter for the preacher is to labor to understand the Word and to explain it clearly, nothing more.
Another idea that pops up throughout the book is that the preacher’s primary task is to expose the central thought of the passage. Motyer warns against importing ideas into the text that are not there. In this vein he commends the example of Campbell Morgan, who would read the concerned text forty or fifty times before preaching. And he argues that, having given careful attention to the Word , preachers should find that their sermons “emerge out of texts and passages. This, surely, is the very essence of exposition” (84).
Motyer also gives careful attention to the role of prayer in the life of the pastor. “The first duty of ministers is to pray for those to whom they are sent in ministry” (132). He encourages praying through the church’s membership directory every week. And just as the pastor should pray for his people, so he should pray for his preaching. The whole work of sermon preparation should be bathed in prayer. The conclusion of the preparation is “to pray our way through the forthcoming sermon, taking each section and each sentence in turn” (139). This exhortation to rely on the Holy Spirit permeates the pages of this book.
It may be worth noting that Motyer offers a wide variety of “tips,” so many that it would be impossible to list them. For example, he encourages the use of manuscripts (or detailed outlines) for the sake achieving clarity and discourages the frequent use of alliteration in sermon outlines. At any rate, Motyer argues that no preacher or would-be preacher should despair over their calling. “Not everyone can be what people call a ‘good preacher,’ but no one need be a ‘bad preacher’” (9). And the book is constantly reassuring on this point. Confidence is derived not from ability, but from the authority of the Word itself. No matter what the skill level of the preacher, the confidence comes from the Word.
Preaching? deserves a place on your bookshelf alongside Saving Eutychus, which features similar themes. It will take just a few hours to read, and will more than repay the investment.