Books

Cover Image: Preaching to a Post-Everything World

Preaching to a Post-Everything World:
Crafting Biblical Sermons That Connect with Our Culture

Zack Eswine (Baker, 2008)

Blurb Review by Dave Ramsey

Review by Dave Ramsey

Preaching is the God ordained method of communicating truth to the world.  Through preaching, the good news of Jesus Christ is declared to those who are not his followers. Through preaching, Christians grow in holiness and are equipped for works of service and ministry.  However, in recent times many have ridiculed preaching, deeming it ineffective and defunct.  Consequently, preaching is unpopular in many churches across the Western world.  One factor that has led to this sense of disillusionment is that the experience of preaching is one where the preacher does not connect with his hearers and the message is not relevant to the world in which they live.  "The preaching that connected in the old world ... won't connect to this one" (p. 98).

In "Preaching to a Post-Everything world", Zack Eswine offers astute counsel to aid preachers in crafting sermons that are not only biblical but that connect with the world of those listening to the sermon.  As Bryan Chappell reiterates in the foreword "Dr Eswine helps the next generation of preachers move toward missional priorities with the biblical resources that God has provided."

Given the sub-title of "crafting biblical sermons that connect with our culture", one might conjure up thoughts of the content of the book as proposing innovative use of media, inclusion of film quotes and weaving lines of pop songs into the sermon.  However, Eswine espouses an approach that is less superficial and attempts to address the heartbeat of the culture.  Throughout the book, he skilfully identifies areas of the culture which struggle for meaning and with clarity and thoughtfulness he shows how a preacher can speak God's words to such situations.

In the "Introduction" the characteristics of a post-everything world are highlighted.  However, given the prominence of the use of the phrase "post-everything world" a more thorough explanation would be welcome.  Nevertheless, Eswine comments on the complexity of our culture and identifies the need to be careful with cultural assumptions.  Furthermore, he observes that we live in a global society where biblical illiteracy is on the increase, where competing truth-claims exist and reason is now replaced with a need for a message to resonate with life and come in a way that is relational.

A major emphasis of the book is a call to humility.  Eswine challenges preachers to ascertain where the grace of God has brought them from and forces the question "could I now reach who I once was?" (p. 11). He firmly believes that the key for reaching people with the gospel in today's world is when a generation of preachers remember where they have been and whose hearts are bursting for sinners.  To see this accomplished, he provides excellent advice such as urging preachers to own up to personal prejudices (p. 80) and do all in their power to expand audiences (p. 81). 

The first section of the book provides valuable advice on the preparation and construction of a sermon.

Firstly, sermons should speak to reality.  This is achieved when it is clearly shown that God exists and that what God says and does aligns truthfully with what is.  It is here that Eswine introduces the concept of the Context of Reality (COR).  This is a beneficial and novel approach that employs "the time for everything under the sun" passage in Ecclesiastes 3 as an exegetical tool to identify where the passage at hand speaks to real life contexts. 

Additionally, sermons are to be redemptive. Eswine rightly challenges the preacher to avoid relegating the sermon to mere character development. Preachers are called to teach the overarching story of the Bible as God's interaction with creation with a redemptive focus.

Finally, preachers need to make use of the armoury within the narratives of Scripture.  This is good advice given the post-modern fascination with stories. Stories connect with life and the major plotlines of biblical narrative display reality and redemption.  When using stories, preachers allow the hearer to see the "the divine storyteller is there . . . and he is not silent" (p.  60).

The remaining sections and appendices further develop the use of Scripture to shape the sermon while at the same time contextualising the message for today's hearers.  Throughout these sections, many jewels of wisdom can be found.  For example, Eswine warns of the twin dangers of nostalgia (a return to glory days of a previous generation) and invention (rejecting preaching for something new). Additionally, the chapter on "Speaking about Hell" is a firm yet sensitive appeal to address this subject in a culture that recoils from any notion of judgement.

This book has many strengths. It is helpful in highlighting all too often mistakes that can be made by those who handle the Bible. These may not be mistakes per se but ruts, blind spots and unhelpful repetitive patterns that preachers might fall into.  One notable illustration is the "expository eclipse" (p. 54). This arises when one object is placed in front of another so that the first is hidden. For example, "we eclipse Christ when we give priority to Christ as our example over Christ as our provision" (p. 54).

Throughout the book the author provides numerous helpful worked examples and practical illustrations.  In chapter 3 the author provides everything bar writing the script of a sermon based on Luke 24:1-12.  This worked example excellently highlights the challenge that is being laid down to preach and apply the narratives of scripture and expertly shows how that might be accomplished. 

On occasion the book assumes a level of prior knowledge and would benefit from a more careful explanation and development of the main ideas and arguments. Furthermore, in an attempt to provide substance in numerous spheres within homiletics, the subject matter can at times be overwhelming.  However, this may be perceived as a great benefit and many will let the book serve as a reference tool for preparation of sermons and indeed many preachers will continually revisit this material.

This book is a welcomed contribution to the Christ-centred preaching movement.  Using thoughtful analysis, fresh insights and biblical faithfulness, it will give preachers some serious food for thought and valuable counsel in sermon preparation.  If the advice contained in the book is heeded there will be a strengthening of the place of preaching among churches as preachers craft sermons that powerfully connect God's words with the culture of "a post-everything world".

© David Ramsey, 2011

David Ramsey is the Youth Director for the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland

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