Sunday, February 9, 2014

Book Review — Rediscovering Expository Preaching

Rediscovering Expository Preaching by John MacArthur and The Master’s Seminary (TMS) Faculty is a collaborative book put together by a team experienced in both the scholarship and pastoral realms of ministry. It is a condensed package of the training in biblical exposition that TMS has been providing for decades.

The central theme of the book is paraphrased well by Dr. Irvin A. Busenitz when he states; “The preacher’s proper task is to deliver the goods, not to manufacture them” (257). Rightly handling God’s Word is a monumental responsibility that is not to be toyed with. James 3:1 solemnly reminds us of the “stricter judgment” that falls upon those charged with purveying God’s truth to the wider body of Christ. Recognizing the immensity of the preacher’s task, MacArthur and the TMS faculty have pooled their intellectual and experiential resources to produce a valuable blueprint for expository preaching that is both faithful to the biblical text, and penetrative to the wider church congregation.
The book contains twenty chapters (including the epilogue) as John MacArthur and different faculty members take turns in devoting separate chapters to their varied areas of expertise. MacArthur is the predominant author with seven chapters. His core work is ably supplemented by the contributions of Dr. Richard L. Mayhue, James F. Stitzinger, Dr. James E. Rosscup, and Dr. Robert L. Thomas (two chapters each). Additionally, George J. Zemek, Donald G. McDougall, Dr. Irvin A. Busenitz, and Dr. David C. Deuel all provided one chapter.

The chapters are grouped into a logical sequence of five sections: Part I. Proving the Priority of Expository Preaching; Part II. Preparing the Expositor; Part III. Processing and Principlizing the Biblical Text; Part IV. Pulling the Expository Message Together; and Part V. Preaching the Exposition. Such a layout provides the budding preacher with a chronology that travels all the way from preparing the expositor through to preaching the exposition. Importantly, examining the text is not dealt with until Part III. The authors saw fit to devote two entire sections (six chapters) to arguing for the pre-eminence of expository preaching, and examining the suitability of the student to be an expositor of God’s Word.
The book is replete with the high view of Scripture that TMS is famous (or infamous) for. In fact, John MacArthur launches into that very issue by devoting the entire second chapter to “The Mandate of Biblical Inerrancy.” It is the foundational why of expository preaching. To neuter the Bible by denying, or even downplaying, its inerrancy is to nullify the compelling reason for preachers to expound its inerrant truths.

It is not until chapter seven that the book makes its initial forays into the first phases of hermeneutical investigation. Importantly and unlike Kaiser, emphasis on the godly character of the preacher and his utter dependence on the Holy Spirit are discussed at length in the early chapters of the book (four, five, and six). Anyone without these prerequisites in place will make their exegesis an exercise in futility and hence it is important to examine them before descending into the goldmine of God’s Word. Echoing 2 Timothy 2:21, MacArthur states; “Only those who practice righteousness and godliness are fit for the Master’s service” (92). He goes on to say that “it is impossible to properly understand God’s objective revelation in Scripture apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit” (102).

One thing that distinguishes the book’s value is the recognition of the auxiliary fields alongside exegesis that contribute to the final expository product (143–46). Those who think they can harmonize secular psychology with biblical truth, for example, have hijacked Christian counseling and formed a dysfunctional relationship that ultimately undermines our profession of Scripture’s sufficiency. We must carefully guard our allegiance to God’s Word, and faithfully trust that our sovereign God is infinitely wiser than all who are created in His image. Dr. Thomas is also very helpful when he knocks the straw-man dichotomy of knowledge and practice on its head (151). He rightly points out that good application only ever stems from biblical truth and it is foolish to argue against any doctrinal emphasis on that basis.

I cannot find any major criticism I could level against this book. My only minor grievance is in chapter four where Rosscup likens Charles Finney to Jesus in regards to his prayer life (76). Perhaps this can be put down to a lack of awareness, at the time of writing, concerning the true nature of Finney’s Pelagian theology (Dr. Rosscup recently informed me that he would no longer quote Finney so favorably. Having said that, fleshing out such a minor issue in such a large body of work only serves to highlight the immense value of this book.

Overall, the book takes the reader on a thorough and detailed ride through every stage of the process in crafting a sound exposition of Scripture. That exhaustive content, the combined intellectual clout of the authors, and their distinguished track record of stellar preaching make this book an essential roadmap from the seminary to the pulpit.

Tragically, too few preachers will read Rediscovering Expository Preaching. I do not say that as a prophet but as someone who realizes that every preacher should read it to either affirm his commitment to biblical exposition, develop his skill and character as a faithful handler of the sacred text, or repent of his lame moralistic sermons and imposing his own agenda onto the Scriptures. This book is a vital modern addition to the rich Christian legacy of preaching that rightly and authoritatively communicates God’s written revelation to His people. May we receive MacArthur’s cautionary counsel not to study Scripture in search of a sermon, but to develop expository sermons out of the overflow of our relationship with God that is cultivated in the study of His Word (94). 

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