Book Review: The Whole Counsel of God, by Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid
Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid, The Whole Counsel of God: Why and How to Preach the Entire Bible. Crossway, 2020. 256 pages.
My commitment to expositional preaching fortified early in my ministry. In my first five years, I watched the same married couple’s faces freeze, look wounded, and occasionally fill with tears, when I addressed divorce from passages like Matthew 5 and 19, Genesis 2, or 1 Corinthians 7 Many people in the congregation had been divorced in the early 70s within a church context that taught that divorce and remarriage were essentially unforgiveable sins.
I finally spoke to one of our divorced members before a sermon on the topic. His response emboldened my preaching ministry: “Pastor, you are the first preacher who has not done a topical series on marriage or divorce. You only talk about it when it’s in the next text, and so I know that you are not picking on me. Instead, I know that’s what God wants us to hear. Please, just keep preaching the Word.”
Such is the power and authority of the pastor who preaches the entire Bible—it’s what God wants his people to hear.
PREACHING THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD
The Whole Counsel of God: Why and How to Preach the Entire Bible is designed to help you give to the Lord’s people what he wants them to hear—the Bible. Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid write from both an academic and practical background. As church ministers and professors in Australia and southeast Asia, they want to convince, inform, and train their readers to preach the entire Bible. The book has already begun to influence my ministry, and I anticipate it will be a much-used resource in the future.
The end of Part 1 succinctly summarizes their conviction and challenge:
All vocational preachers should set themselves the goal of preaching through the entire Bible over a thirty-five-year period. By this, we mean preaching through every biblical book from start to finish as a coherent whole. And that means every chapter of every book, and every verse of every chapter—the whole lot (80, italics added).
Most Bible college and seminary training does not equip pastors to meet such a daunting challenge, according to the authors (64). The basic problem: Pastors are taught to handle texts and even books, but not how to order a lifetime preaching program. My theological education in America and experience training pastors overseas strongly confirm these observations.
The book’s first section provides a careful, charitable critique of non-expositional preaching methods. The authors also establish a biblical theology for preaching, stating that “the words in the Bible are meant to shape us” (37, italics in original). Further, the entire book is forged by the conviction that “every sermon can and should be a gospel sermon” (113). Throughout, the authors show the reader how to make this so.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF PREACHING THE WHOLE LOT
Parts 2 and 3 cover “How to Preach the Whole Bible” and “Practical and Pastoral Considerations.” Each part provides instruction on how to achieve the goal of preaching through the whole Bible and succinctly summarizes the skills and advice that I’ve spent years learning through trial and error:
- Choosing books and planning a preaching series, including methods of how to identify preachable sections of Scripture
- Offering a balanced diet of Scripture
- Putting preachable texts into the calendar
- Growing as a communicator of different types of texts
- Creating a lifetime program of preaching to a single congregation.
The Whole Counsel of God also provides guidance on how to develop calendars and graphs to organize preaching and track past sermons. This includes purposefully identifying an ideal mix of texts and series on a yearly and cumulative basis. While many pastors may not be able to create, collect, or maintain such data-rich visuals, even thinking through the past and future provides deep insights.
There is great wisdom in the encouragement of planning our sermons:
It may be a good discipline to set aside something like a week . . . each year to plan our preaching program. . . . A few days away . . . can make a significant difference to doing good, deep work rather than just quickly cobbling something together without properly thinking and praying through it all (120).
Further, the authors consider the implications on the pastor’s heart and intellect to deliver a steady diet of the entire word of God to a congregation:
More so than others, the pastor is to spend time in the Scriptures, not just to teach others but also to inform his own life and ministry. . . . Placing yourself under the whole counsel of God will make it less likely that you can hide from anything that God wants to speak into your life.” (208–209).
All this might seem overwhelming, but throughout both sections there is a sensitivity to the gifts and ministry of individual pastors. “[O]ur hope is simply to help preachers get started in doing the thinking that they have to do freshly for their own ministry settings” (134). Thirty-five years at a single church is an ideal, not an unbreakable standard. The authors recognize that there is no template to impress across all preachers or congregations.
PASTOR, FEED YOUR PEOPLE ALL OF GOD’S WORD
I agree with the authors that there is a terrible drought in the world currently that resembles the one described in Amos 8:11–13, “where God declares the most disastrous famine for the people of God: a famine of hearing his word” (31).
Patrick and Reid would like to help you feed God’s people, not just with the low-hanging fruit of the Pauline epistles or the familiar Psalms, but the meat of the law, the bread of the prophets, the flaming indignation of the imprecatory prayers, and the strengthening lentils of the historical narrative—the whole lot. And they provide the practical tools and insights to do so.
EIGHT KEY QUOTES
The application of sermons must be more than the standard triplet of “Read your Bible,” “Pray,” and “Tell people about Jesus,” because while all of these things are great biblical priorities, they do not exhaust all that the Bible says to us, or all that it does in and for us (37).
First, preaching is a highly efficient way to teach many people at the same time. . . . Dialogue with individuals or groups can have a tendency to wander from one topic to the next depending on the particular questions and priorities of those involved. . . . But a sermon—like any good prepared speech—can be carefully focused and can deliver an integrated message that has been thoroughly thought through from start to finish (48–49).
Careful midrange planning is necessary not only to balance the congregation’s diet of Scripture, but also to understand the preachable units of the books of the Bible we are preaching and to enable the planning of appropriate services in which the sermons will be preached (162).
We should preach passages of Scripture that are large enough to capture overarching connections but small enough that we have time to go into all their details and important issues. In many cases, pastoral wisdom and insight are required to determine the right level for a given congregation (164).
The lesson is that our entire life together as God’s people must flow out of his word through the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone (Eph. 2:19–22). All we do together must be grounded in God’s word in Scripture, which tells us about God’s word in his Son (180).
On the contrary, the fact that churches are full of broken people living messy lives only underscores the importance of the weekly gatherings being safe and dependable rather than another experience of chaos and disorder. We must work hard to implement our convictions in stable and practically workable systems, accounting for all the complexities of life in the real world (196).
The godly pastor of God’s people is therefore a person who is constantly growing in his love for and grasp of biblical truth (208).
Strong biblical pastoral ministry is not about career advancement, as in many secular jobs. It is about self-sacrificial caring for God’s people and nurturing them as God’s representative shepherd (218).