Book Review: Reformed Preaching, by Joel Beeke
Joel Beeke. Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People. Crossway, 2019. 504 pages.
In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher noted in his conclusion that “of the writing of many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12a). While this is true of books in general, it is especially noteworthy that “the Preacher” said this, since books on preaching are definitely not in short supply.
From books on exegesis, hermeneutics, and homiletics to books on style, preparation, and presentation, each year brings with it a fresh slate of books on the task of preaching. Alongside the classics worthy of repeated reading, it would be extremely difficult to keep up all the new material released on the art and act of exposition.
So, why would I recommend another 500 hundred page book on preaching as worthy of your time?
Here are three reasons.
A COMPREHENSIVE DEFINITION OF EXPERIENTIAL PREACHING
First, while many books offer helpful and succinct definitions of preaching, Reformed Preaching offers a robust assessment of the core of biblical preaching: reaching the heart of people with the Word of God through the heart of the preacher. Beeke no doubt sets his aim squarely at the heady, detached intellectualism that can all too often reside in many Reformed pulpits. He underscores the fact that the preacher can only consider his task “well done” when the Word of God has both rooted itself experientially in his heart and—through his heart—engaged the hearts of his hearers.
This emphasis deserves a wide hearing in Reformed circles. As one sister in my own church faithfully reminds me, “The only sermons I want to hear from my pastors are those that have passed through their own hearts first.” Brother-pastors, faithful preaching is soul work. It is not a detached academic exercise. It requires an Ezra-like heart: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). We teach after we’ve done heart-study and made application to our own lives.
A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF EXPERIENTIAL PREACHERS
Second, what makes this book unique is not just the way it defines the preaching task, but also the fact that it includes a healthy dose of historical theology and biography. As preachers know, people are served best by a balance of explanation and illustration. This book has illustrations in spades! In fact, the heart of the book’s middle section is a series of biographical sketches from Reformation and post-Reformation preachers who embody the “heart” of experiential preaching. Beeke explores the preaching of Zwingli, Calvin, Beza, Sibbes, Goodwin, Bunyan, Edwards, Ryle, and Lloyd-Jones, among others. These are not dry biographies, but are focused explorations of how experiential preaching characterized their lives and ministries.
Biblically, biography is intended to guard (1 Cor. 10:6), instruct (Rom. 15:4), and inspire (Hebrews 12:1). We need biography as preachers to be re-energized for the task and Beeke has served our souls and ministries well with these illustrations. A chapter (or part of one) could easily be read on a Saturday evening or Sunday morning before preaching to serve your soul, steady your mind, and inflame your heart for preaching.
A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO EXPERIENTIAL PREACHING
Third, and finally, like any good preacher, Beeke concludes with an ample amount of application. After explaining and illustrating his theme, he then gives us tools for implementing this vision of experiential preaching. The last third of the book focuses on themes like balance in our preaching, how to make application to our own hearts, and how to effectively preach various doctrines to the hearts of others.
Brother-pastor, this book would make an excellent addition to your library. Don’t be intimidated by its size. This book is intended to be read slowly and digested over time. Reading through the first section each year would be an ideal “tune-up.” Reading the illustrations each week would inspire you to excel still more. Following the guidelines would increase the fruitfulness both of your preparation and delivery.
While the Preacher in Ecclesiastes warned us that “much study is a weariness of the flesh,” (Ecclesiastes 12:12b), I believe a careful reading of this book will do just the opposite.