Book Review: Heralds of the King: Christ-Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney, ed. by Dennis Johnson
Thankfully, the current upswing of evangelical interest in Christ-centered preaching shows no signs of abating. If anything, it seems that with each passing year, more and more pastors and scholars are reckoning with the fact that Scripture itself testifies that the whole Bible points to Jesus (Jn. 5:39, Lk. 24:44-47).
Humanly speaking, one of the chief sources of the development of genuinely Christ-centered preaching in the past couple generations has to be Edmund Clowney (1917-2005). As a pastor, theologian, seminary president, and especially as a teacher, Clowney modeled, advocated, and personally passed on a deeply Christ-centered, redemptive-historical approach to preaching.
A COLLECTION OF SERMONS IN HONOR OF ED CLOWNEY
The book Heralds of the King: Christ-Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney, edited by Dennis Johnson of Westminster Seminary California, seeks to honor Clowney’s legacy by pulling together sermons from Clowney’s students which reflect his influence. Contributors include Tim Keller, Art Azurdia, Iain Duguid, and the late Harvie Conn. Each chapter includes a personal tribute to Clowney and a sermon which bears Clowney’s imprint as a teacher and model. Of the book’s eleven sermons, eight of them are on Old Testament texts, which reflects the passion for preaching Christ from the Old Testament which Clowney consistently imparted to his students.
MODELS OF HOW TO GET TO CHRIST FROM ANY TEXT
Many pastors came of age under a hermeneutic which insisted that Christ should not be preached unless he is “in the text” (see Art Azurdia’s surely representative testimony on pp. 203-4). Others may have sat under similarly moralistic preaching which lacked such theoretical justification. As a result, many pastors have questions about just how to preach the Bible in a Christ-centered way. For such readers, this book should provide substantial help by modeling a variety of sound, biblically-grounded ways to preach any scriptural text in a way that leads to the gospel.
Another highlight of the book is its consistent, almost monotonous testimony to the impact which Ed Clowney’s devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ had on his students. More than one of the contributors recalls being so moved to worship by Ed’s in-class preaching that they had to stop taking notes and simply revel in the gospel. Every contributor testifies to growing in their love for Christ and their devotion to Christ through their relationship with this man who was so deeply impacted by Christ. That Clowney’s disciples should unanimously remember him as a man who so delighted in glorifying Christ drew a consistent stream of challenging questions out of my own heart as I read, and I trust that many readers would be similarly edified by the personal reflections which accompany these sermons.
In a collection like this, it’s almost inevitable that some of the sermons will be better than others. Yet it speaks to the quality of this book, and the pastors who contributed to it, that even the less compelling contributions are serviceable models of preaching Christ from all of Scripture. More importantly, the better sermons in this volume really sing. Charles Drew’s sermon on David’s surprising generosity toward Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9 (Ch. 5) is a stirring meditation on Christ’s lavish love for us. And Tim Keller’s sermon from Genesis 29:15-35 on Leah, “The Girl Nobody Wanted” (Ch. 2), is simply superb. Keller is at his doggedly realistic, exegetically and existentially insightful best in this sermon, which he preached at a wedding (!) that took place during a Sunday morning worship service at the church he pastors.
A FITTING TRIBUTE
This book is a fitting tribute to a man whose writing, teaching, preaching, and personal example have helped a good many pastors to preach Christ from all of Scripture. While any Christian would benefit from reading this book, I’d especially recommend it to pastors who have read some of the more theological and how-to books on Christ-centered preaching and who want to see some examples of this approach in action.
 That said, this book is not meant to lay a theological or practical foundation for preaching Christ from all of Scripture. Some helpful books in this vein include Graeme Goldsworthy’s Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (see 9Marks’ review), Ed Clowney’s Preaching Christ in All of Scripture (see 9Marks’ review), Sidney Greidanus’ Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (see 9Marks’ review), and Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching. Perhaps the best recent book on Christ-centered preaching, which covers theological and practical territory, is Dennis Johnson’s Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures (see 9Marks’ review).