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Book Reviews > Preaching > Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching

Ray VanNeste

Ray VanNeste
Director of the RC Ryan Center for Biblical Studies and Assistant Professor of Christian Studies

Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching
Don Kistler, editor
Details: 2002, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, Amazon.comISBN: 1573581445
Posted: July 20, 2005


This is an excellent collection of essays on the task of preaching, and it deserves to be widely read. Don Kistler has once again done the church a service by collecting valuable essays from Soli Deo Gloria conferences and presenting them in printed form. The names of contributors and their topics are alone enough to commend the book, so I will take the space to list them.

Albert Mohler, “The Primacy of Preaching”

James Boice, “The Foolishness of Preaching”

Derek Thomas, “Expository Preaching”

Joel Beeke, “Experiential Preaching”

R. C. Sproul, “The Teaching Preacher”

John Armstrong, “Preaching to the Mind”

Sinclair Ferguson, “Preaching to the Heart”

Don Kistler, “Preaching with Authority”

Eric Alexander, “Evangelistic Preaching”

John Piper, “Preaching to Suffering People”

John MacArthur, “A Reminder to Shepherds”

It is difficult to summarize briefly the contents of a collection of essays. In my own notes I have nine typed pages of just quotes from the book which I wanted to keep at hand. It may be most important in a brief review to note that there is a clear balance in the topics which serves the book well. The essays stress the importance of the text, of diligent hard-thinking study, and the importance of allowing these truths to penetrate our own hearts and to be able to preach truths that we have lived out as well. There is an emphasis on boldness as well as suffering and humility, an emphasis on building up the church through preaching as well as preaching evangelistically to the lost. I will include a few quotes from some of the categories mentioned:

The importance of study and doctrinal teaching

“If I should step up into the pulpit, without vouchsafing to look upon any book, and fondly imagine to say thus in my self , 'Truth, when I come thither, God will give me enough whereof to speak,' and in the mean while I hold scorn to read, or to study aforehand what I shall speak, and come hither without minding how to apply the Holy Scripture to the edification of the people, by reason whereof I should play the presumptuous fool, and God would put me to shame for mine overboldness” (Thomas, p. 65, citing Calvin).

“In an age of relative illiteracy as far as the contents of Scripture is concerned in many parts of the world, the need to preach the whole Bible, rather than serendipitously picking a text from here and there is all the more urgent” (Thomas, p. 85).

“A prime object of pastoral teaching is to teach the people how to read the Bible for themselves. A sealed book cannot be interesting. If it be read without the key of comprehension, it cannot be instructive. Now, it is the preacher's business, in his public discourses, to give his people teaching by example, in the art of interpreting the Word: he should exhibit before them, in actual use, the methods by which the legitimate meaning is to be evolved. Fragmentary preaching, however brilliant, will never do this” (Thomas, p. 87, quoting Dabney).

The importance of personally experiencing and living out biblical truths

“As John Boys wrote, ‘He doth preach most who doth live best.’ …We must be what we preach, not only applying ourselves to our texts but applying our texts to ourselves. Our hearts must be transcripts of our sermons. Otherwise, as John Owen warned, “If a man teach uprightly and walk crookedly, more will fall down in the night of his life than he built in the day of his doctrine” (Beeke, p. 114).

“Preaching is theology on fire. … it is reasoning God's thoughts from God's Word in such a way with the best eloquence we can bring to task. By the power of the Spirit, we speak of the theology that burns within us” (Armstrong, p. 187).

“Preaching to the heart, then, is not merely a matter of technique or homiletic method or style. These things have their proper place and relevance. But the more fundamental, indeed, essential thing for the preacher is surely the fact that something has happened to his own heart; it has been laid bare before God by His Word. He, in turn, lays it bare in his ministry before those to whom he ministers. And within that two-fold personal context, the goal he has in view is so to lay bare the truth of the Word of God that the hearts of those who hear are opened vertically to God and horizontally to one another” (Ferguson, p. 195-96).

“John Owen's words still ring true even after three and a half centuries: 'a man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. . . . If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us’” (Ferguson, p. 198).

Boldness

“Indeed, I will go so far as to assert that if you are at peace with the world, you have abdicated your calling. You have become a court preacher to some earthly power, no matter how innocuous it may appear. To put it straight: you have been bought! If there is no controversy in your ministry, there is probably very little content to your preaching. The content of the Word of God is not only alive and active, it is sharper than any two-edged sword, and that means it does some surgery. It does some cutting, and that leads to bleeding, and by God's grace there then comes healing, and there is always controversy” (Mohler, p. 12).

Humility and suffering

“We must preach so as to make suffering seem normal and purposeful, and not surprising in this fallen age” (Piper, 242).

“It is true that we must be bold in the pulpit and afraid of no man but courageous as we contend for the truth. But it is just as true that our boldness must be brokenhearted boldness, that our courage must be a contrite and lowly courage, and that we must be tender contenders for the truth. If we are brash and harsh and cocky and clever, we may win a hearing with angry and pugnacious people, but we will drive away those who suffer. It must feel to our people that we are utterly dependent in our lives on the merciful comfort of God to make it through our days” (Piper, p. 260).

“These are things to see in the Word of God that our eyes can only see through the lens of tears. Luther said it this way: ‘I want you to know how to study in the right way. I have practiced this methodology myself . . . . Here you will find three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout Psalm [119] and run thus: Oration, meditation, tentatio (prayer, meditation, and tribulation).’ And tribulations he called the ‘touchstone.’ They ‘teach you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God's Word is; it is wisdom supreme’” (Piper, 262-63).

Preaching builds up the church

“When you hear people speak about how to grow a church, how to build a church, and how to build a great congregation, few and far between are those who say it comes essentially by the preaching of the Word. And we know why, because it comes by the preaching of the Word slowly; slowly, immeasurably, sometimes even invisibly, and hence we are back to our problem. If you want to see quick results, the preaching of the Word just might not be the way to go. If you are going to find results in terms of statistics, numbers, and visible response, it just might be that there are other mechanisms, other programs, and other means that will produce that faster. The question is whether it produces Christians. Indeed, such techniques will not produce maturing and faithful believers in the Lord Jesus Christ because that is going to come only by the preaching of the Word. … Where the authentic preaching of the Word takes place, the church is there. And where that is absent, there is no church. No matter how high the steeple, no matter how large the budget, no matter how impressive the ministry, it is something else” (Mohler, p. 17-18).

This balance makes this an excellent tool to put in the hands of those who do preach, those who are training to preach and even those who listen to preaching and want to know what to look for. I heartily recommend this book.

Ray Van Neste

Union University