Jason C. Meyer. Preaching: A Biblical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 368 pp. $22.99.
The preacher is surrounded by a great cloud of faithful stewards. They proclaimed God’s revelation, standing before men with authority not of their own but of Another. They were messengers who committed themselves to the task of preaching.
With so many books on preaching in circulation, how does Preaching: A Biblical Theology stand out? In Meyer’s own words: “This book is unique in that I think the whole Bible alone can give a holistic answer to what preaching is” (14, emphasis his).
Twenty-three chapters are housed in five parts. Part one (“The Big Picture”) explains the what and how of preaching, discusses the role of God’s Word in the drama of Scripture, and introduces the important concept of stewardship. Part two (“A Survey of Paradigm Shifts”) examines the ministry of God’s Word under headings of creation, promise, law, Joshua through Samuel, the kingship, the prophets, the psalmists and scribes, the Son, the apostles, and the pastor. Part three (“Expository Preaching Today”) answers the what, how, and why of that method. Part four gives a few “Soundings from Systematic Theology,” addressing preaching and Scripture, preaching and sin, and topical preaching. Part five is only one chapter and closes the book with “Conclusions and Applications.”
Sights and Sounds
The thesis of the book appears on the first page of the first chapter: “The ministry of the Word in Scripture is stewarding and heralding God’s Word in such a way that people encounter God through his Word” (21, emphasis his). In case people wonder whether this definition works for both preaching and teaching, Meyer downplays any stark difference between the acts and defines them according to what they emphasize: preaching highlights the heraldic tone of delivery, while teaching stresses the content the herald must unpack (25).
Meyer distills the story of Scripture into seven steps: Genesis–Kings, Isaiah through the Twelve, poetic commentary, Ezra through Chronicles, Gospels and Acts, apostolic commentary, and Revelation (39–42). This structure tells God’s story—“a global glory agenda” (44). As Meyer surveys major sections of this story with a “view from below,” he rightly sees a “call and fall” feature in many narratives, an ongoing tension between “two seeds,” and a clash between “two cities” (45–67).
How does the ministry of the Word relate to Scripture’s storyline? “One’s place in the Bible’s storyline determines the specifics of the steward’s calling, not the basic job description” (69). The call to steward is never rescinded; instead, the entrusted message takes on various descriptions, such as “the word of the Lord” or “the whole counsel of God” or “the law of God” or just simply “the word” (69). The identity of the servant also changes, as figures like Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, and the apostles each rise to take up “the good deposit” in their respective days.
Being a servant of God’s Word is no light task. Preachers must be mindful of the strict judgment to which their ministry is subject. The Bible’s story is full of false stewards like Cain, Esau, Balaam, and the evil kings of Israel. False stewards corrupt or reject God’s Word—and to oppose his Word is to oppose God himself. Meyer is concerned for preachers who do not tremble at the God-given Word they herald.
The consummate steward of God’s Word is Jesus, the Word made flesh. Meyer writes, “All that the law, the prophets, and the writings anticipated from a distance have drawn near in perfect fulfillment in him” (176). And later: “He is the only example of what sinless stewardship and sinless heralding look like” (177). And again: “[Christ] is the hinge of all redemptive history, and thus he is the center of his own sermons” (186).
Preachers must herald the good news about Jesus in the power of the Spirit. The apostles boldly proclaimed the risen Christ and knew God alone could change sinners’ hearts. But God’s soul work doesn’t justify preachers dealing lazily and carelessly with his Word. Meyer points out that while eloquence “is not evil in and of itself,” the apostle Paul “wants his preaching to point to Christ, not himself” (214). When preparing to preach, then, are we focused on heralding Christ clearly, or are we consumed with being clever?
The power of God’s Word is evident throughout Scripture. He advances his agenda despite the troubles and transgressions of his people. From patriarchs to prophets, from priests to pastors, it’s clear the power of God’s Word lies not in the ingenuity or ability of man. God sends forth his Word, and it does not return void.
What should post-ascension and pre-parousia preaching consist of? Meyer says preaching must re-present the Word of God in such a way that the preacher represents the God of the Word so that people respond to God (240). What will this task mean for the preacher’s heart? “Lack of worship over the Word of God betrays a stunning level of hypocrisy,” Meyer states. “Therefore, above all else, the steward and herald must be a worshiper” (248). Indeed, the act of preaching should be an act of worship over the text as the preacher exults in the God of the Word.
How much should the bones of preparation be visible during such exultation? With regard to showing homework during a sermon, pastors differ in their advice. Meyer writes, “The preacher needs to show enough of his homework so that the people are in a position to agree or disagree. . . . In other words, we must make a case for our reading of the text” (258, emphasis his).
One of the most helpful parts of Preaching: A Biblical Theology is Meyer’s defense of expository preaching, in which he gives a thesis (“the concept is thoroughly and demonstrably biblical”) followed by six arguments to substantiate it (272–79). And does expository preaching necessarily exclude topical sermons, he asks? Though topical preaching is a kind of black sheep among expositors, Meyer reclaims its proper use and explains its benefits (292–97).
Meyer is a gifted writer and passionate about the subject of preaching. He knows his way around a sentence, crafting phrases for effect and clarity. When at times he repeats a previous point, the redundancy is useful without becoming distracting. In each chapter he lays out his aim and then hits his mark.
After reading the book I wondered, “Is there anything Meyer said that I wish hadn’t been said?” Toward the beginning, in “A Word for Busy Pastors,” he downplays the necessity of part two (which surveys the stewardship of God’s Word throughout the Bible), remarking that readers can read part one and then just skip to part three if they wish. Yes, part two is the longest, and yes, it contains more technical details and theological reflection, but I don’t think busy pastors should skip it. Part two composes almost half the entire book! Meyer writes, “Structural supports are massively important [part one], but not everyone enjoys examining them to see how sturdy they are [part two]” (15). After reading part two, however, I say readers—and especially pastors, busy or not—should think through Meyer’s biblical-theological treatment of the stewardship of God’s Word. You don’t have this reviewer’s permission to ignore half of the book.
Preaching: A Biblical Theology is good for the mind and the heart. A careful read will repay dividends of insight and encouragement. Meyer does something I haven’t seen in other preaching resources: he approaches the subject with a whole-Bible scope and examines preaching in a true biblical-theological fashion. I echo John Piper’s words from the foreword: “I commend it for its uniqueness and for its faithful rendering of the heart of preaching” (12). May its readers be many, and may God be glorified by faithful stewards who tremble at his Word.