David R. Helm, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today (Crossway Books, 2014)
It is the goal of this short book (128 pages) to both define and facilitate the process of creating expositional sermons. The author does not use the term “expositional preaching” to promote any particular style of sermon delivery, but rather as a descriptor of a sermon’s developmental approach and content.
According to the author, “Expositional preaching is empowered preaching that rightfully submits the shape and emphasis of the sermon to the shape and emphasis of a biblical text.” This mindset encourages the reader to remember that the preacher is God’s tool, to be used for his divinely intended purpose. Accordingly, the task of sermon preparation should be approached with humility, bathed with prayer, and filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The preacher’s ideas and goals must become submissive to the Spirit’s ideas and goals, and this submission must begin long before the first word is spoken from a lectern or pulpit. Helm argues convincingly, that the preacher must begin in the study and work toward contextualization in order to avoid the “blind adherence” to contextualization that has invaded much contemporary preaching.
Helm offers, as antidote, a tried and true method of sermon preparation that will be familiar to both young and old preachers. His method consists of four main steps, though he acknowledges multiple paths to completing these steps.
- Exegesis – discerning the historical and literary context of the passage and identifying grammatical / linguistic cues to the meaning and context of the text for its original audience.
- Theological Reflection – reflecting upon both Biblical and systematic theological themes and perspectives, in an effort to discern where the passage fits within the broader scope of the whole Bible and salvation history, and in which ways it connects to the good news of Jesus Christ.
- Contextualization – understanding and articulating the biblical author’s aim for the original audience (what he wants them to do, or how he wants them to think differently).
- Application – seeking a change of heart in the listener as a response to the Word proclaimed. This requires the preacher to understand his or her context and what things currently captivate the hearts of the listeners. The author says “the goal of sermon application is completely repentant hearts,” and acknowledges that only God can bring about this goal.
Throughout the book, the author emphasizes that the task of preparing and delivering a sermon is one to be undertaken with the utmost seriousness and care. He underscores the need for regular prayer before, during, and after the sermon is preached and the need for Spirit guidance and empowerment at every step of the way.
The content of this book is well organized and informative. It utilizes personal examples of success and failure to illustrate the need for and effectiveness of this approach to sermon preparation. The style is easy to read and is written for both clergy and laity.
The author is writing from a Reformed theological perspective, but manages to avoid any undo theological slant in his writing. This is something I appreciate as one who writes from a Wesleyan theological perspective. However, there are some aspects of his writing that might be unappealing to readers from other traditions. His exclusive use of masculine pronouns for describing the work of preachers is telling and a bit off-putting. And his quotes and recommended reading exclusively represent authors from his own theological tradition. It would have been useful to consider a wider audience for this book and point to some of the many faithful expositors of God’s Word, who come from other traditions.
I was aware of these things throughout the book, but none of these detracted from my ability to engage fully with the main goal of the text – to encourage and equip those called to proclaim God’s word in becoming faithful expositors of the Bible.
This book is appropriate as a primer for young preachers, who are new to the task of sermon preparation, and also as a call to action for those who have been preaching for many years. It concludes with an appendix listing a series of helpful questions that preachers should ask themselves as they prepare their sermons.
On a personal note, I want to mention how much this short book affected me as a pastor. The last chapter in particular reminded me of both the responsibility and blessing bestowed upon those who are called by God to proclaim his Word.
As I read the final pages, I found myself welling up with the desire to give myself more fully to the task of preaching well, and to do this by first falling on my knees and asking God to give his Spirit to guide me – to give me wisdom and discernment, to help me love his people more fully, and to give me courage to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ with integrity and power for the sake of the world.
I highly recommend this book to all those who have been called by God to a ministry of proclamation, and to all those who desire to understand better how and why the word of God must be proclaimed afresh in every generation, until Jesus Christ comes again in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.