Books

Cover Image: When God's Voice is Heard

When God's Voice is Heard:
The Power of Preaching (ed. C. Green & H. Jackman)

IVP: 1995, 2003

Blurb Review by Kenton C. Anderson

Review by Kenton C. Anderson

When God's Voice is Heard, a new edition of a book first published in 1995. It is a festchrift in honor of Dick Lucas of St. Helen's Church, Bishopsgate and the Proclamation Trust. Featuring articles by John Stott, D.A. Carson, Frank J. Retief and others, the book not only is a tribute to the remarkable ministry of Lucas, but a boon to the work of biblical preaching, as well. While, no doubt, Lucas has been honored by the compliment this book gives to him, he will be much more pleased for its contribution to the task of preaching the Word of God itself.

Voice is an apology, perhaps even a polemic, for expository preaching. The book has a prophetic edge to it, calling in the wilderness for a renewed commitment to the task of faithful preaching. This appeal is suggested by David Jackman in the final pages of the book, "I know that the prevailing orthodoxy is that preaching is an outmoded and inefficient means of communication. I also know that boring and irrelevant pulpiteering is positively counterproductive. But churches are still being filled where the Bible is taught properly, and none of the alternatives is as cost-effective, or as successful, in growing strong disciples (190)." It is this claim that is at the heart of the book.

Jackman's argument is properly pragmatic. Whether he might prefer to make the argument on practical grounds, it is on this level that biblical preaching meets its most formidable challenge, at least within the church. The postmodern argument, that preaching is an arrogant abuse of power, is easily dismissed by those who understand the Bible as the inspired Word of God. The practical argument, that preaching is an ineffective means of making disciples, seems to be a bigger challenge.

I was recently sent a statistical report on the state of preaching, compiled by Peter Cincala, research manager for NCD International ("Natural Church Development"). While the report showed a general satisfaction with the quality of preaching on offer in our churches, it did not show a corresponding impact on the lives of listeners. The survey results show that preaching sermons is a part of a high quality church, Cincala says, "their direct impact on changing lives is pretty limited." Many local church pastors would agree. While preaching is still universally required, many are unsure whether it can truly carry the freight when it comes to changing lives, and stimulating a healthy church. It is to this concern that Jackman and his colleagues have turned their guns.

The book's primary argument, ably put forward by Peter Adam, is that God speaks through his Word. If God is speaking, then preaching is imperative. The book makes a strong case for the sufficiency of Scripture, and on this theological and exegetical ground the book succeeds wonderfully. The argument seems to proceed as follows: if Scripture is the Word of God, then the Bible is sufficient; if the Bible is sufficient, then its preaching is sufficient also.

As a theological position, this is beyond question. As a logical premise, it is sound. The question is, does it actually fly in the church? The third section of the book attempts to tackle this question squarely. Frank J. Retief's chapter, "Preaching that grows the church," and Phillip D. Jensen's "Preaching that changes the church," try to make the case, with mixed success. Retief, for instance, bemoans the emphasis on what he calls 'exhortatory' preaching that is so prevalent in the church. "...in my opinion," he says, "exhortatory preaching will never build a church. In order to build a congregation and to see it grow, much more content is needed. Biblical illiteracy will never be expelled by a constant diet of exhortations (130)."

But is Retief correct? Is biblical literacy essential for church growth? What exactly is a growing church? If it is a church that grows in numbers and in influence, then Jackman and his crew have not made their case. If, rather as Retief says, "There is a real difference between drawing a crowd and building a church (125)," then biblical preaching will be of great help to us.

True church growth happens only as real disciples grow and increase in number. Voice makes its case that disciples grow to the extent that they are properly exposed to the Scriptures. What the book does not establish is how that ought to be done. The book seems to assert that traditional linear, cognitive form delivered from pulpits is still the most effective means of encouraging this exposure to the Word or could they same result be achieved through other legitimate church programs. This is where there remains room for more debate.

Readers of The Biblical Theology Briefings will want to particularly note the excellent articles by Peter F. Jensen, titled "Preaching the Whole Bible: Preaching and biblical theology," and Sinclair B. Ferguson, titled "Preaching Christ from the Old Testament Scriptures." Ferguson, makes the interesting argument that "preaching Christ must be instinctive, not formulaic (78ff)." Rather than offering rules, he suggests principles that should be ingrained in the preacher's consciousness.

Other significant pieces include John Woodhouse's masterful treatment on the question of how preaching Scripture relates to the work of the Holy Spirit. Woodhouse jumps right into the fray, eschewing the word 'balance' in favor of a more integrative way of thinking. For him, the two must be seen in relationship, focusing on how the Spirit works in concert with the Word.

The piece on theology and preaching by J.I. Packer, and the piece on preaching and culture by D.A. Carson, also bear special attention.

Preaching helps people hear from the God that still speaks. In its support of that essential principle, this book deserves a wide reading.

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