The following 20 quotes caught my attention as I read Tim Keller’s superb new book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (Viking) [interview]. Thanks to Tony Reinke for inspiring the 20 quotes idea.

“While the difference between a bad sermon and a good sermon is mainly the responsibility of the preacher, the difference between good preaching and great preaching lies mainly in the work of the Holy Spirit. . . . We should do the work it takes to make our communication good and leave it up to God how and how often he makes it great for the listener.” (11, 12)

“This is how to deliver not just an informative lecture but a life-changing sermon. It is not merely to talk about Christ but to show him, to ‘demonstrate’ [1 Cor. 2:4] his greatness and to reveal him as worthy of praise and adoration. If we do that, the Spirit will help us, because that is his great mission in the world.” (17–18)

“To reach people gospel preachers must challenge the culture’s story at points of confrontation and finally retell the culture’s story, as it were, revealing how its deepest aspirations for good can be fulfilled only in Christ.” (20)

“A good sermon is not like a club that beats upon the will but like a sword that cuts to the heart.” (21) 

“Expository preaching should provide the main diet of preaching for a Christian community. . . . [It] is the best method for displaying and conveying your conviction that the whole Bible is true. This approach testifies that you believe every part of the Bible to be God’s Word, not just particular themes and not just the parts you feel comfortable agreeing with.” (32)

“Lack of conviction will show up in your public teaching, blunting its impact. Instead of proclaiming, warning, and inviting, you will be sharing, musing, and conjecturing.” (33)

“Exposition is something of an adventure for the preacher. . . . You can’t completely predetermine what your people will be hearing over the next few weeks and months. As the texts are opened, questions and answers emerge that no one might have seen coming. We tend to think of the Bible as a book of answers to our questions, and it is that. However, if we really let the text speak, we may find that God will show us that we are not even asking the right questions.” (36)

“Preaching is not only explaining the text but also using it to engage the heart. I often see preachers giving so much time to the first task that they put little thought and ingenuity into the second.” (41)

“Every time you expound a Bible text, you are not finished unless you demonstrate how it shows us that we cannot save ourselves and that only Jesus can.” (48)

“We have a balance to strike—not to preach Christ without preaching the text, and not to preach the text without preaching Christ.” (67)

“If you overcontextualize and compromise the actual content of the gospel, you will draw a crowd but no one will be changed. That is nothing less than a dereliction of the preacher’s duty. You will mainly just be confirming people in their present course of life. On the other hand, if you undercontextualize, so that your communication of the gospel is unnecessarily culturally alien and distant from the listeners, you will find that no one will be willing to hear you out.” (102–03)

“Christian communicators must show that we remember (or at least understand) very well what it is like not to believe.” (110)

“Only if your God can say things that upset you will you know you have a real God and not just a creation of your imagination. So an authoritative Bible (the point of contradiction) is not the enemy of a personal love relationship with God (the point of contact). It is the precondition.” (113)

“Change happens not just by giving the mind new arguments but also by feeding the imagination new beauties.” (160)

“If you aren’t constantly astonished at God’s grace in your solitude, there’s no way it can happen in public.” (168)

“You will tend to preach to the people you listen to most during the week. . . . Application will naturally arise from your conversation partners. . . . The only way beyond this limitation is to deliberately diversity your people context.” (180, 181)

“People get used to the same tone or tenor of voice. It is far more effective when a speaker can move from sweetness and sunshine to clouds and thunder! Let the biblical text control you, not your temperament. Learn to communicate ‘loud’ truth as loud; ‘hard’ truth as hard; ‘sweet’ truth as sweet.” (186)

“The temptation will be to let the pulpit drive you to the Word, but instead you must let the Word drive you to the pulpit. Prepare the preacher more than you prepare the sermon.” (205)

“So-called culture references—the use of quotes from films, popular music, newspapers, Web sites, social media outlets, journals, and books—can be made mostly to gain personal credibility for the speaker. You may do it to seem sophisticated or erudite or hip. . . . With that as your motivation you will choose cultural references to draw attention to yourself rather than to make visible and challenge the beliefs of the secular culture as well as lay bare your listeners’ own hearts. That should be the only goal.” (277 n. 41)

“The gospel-logic moves [in a sermon are]: ‘Here’s what you must do,’ then ‘Here’s why you can’t do it,’ then ‘Here’s the one who did it for you,’ and finally ‘Here’s how faith in him enables you to do it too.’ Following this logic in a sermon means that often you bring in practical application in more than one place.” (293 n. 21)