Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Review: The Archer and the Arrow

Last year I reviewed The Trellis and the Vine, a book looking at the importance of building the kingdom through training and discipleship. From the same stable comes a complementary book, looking, as the subtitle says, 'Preaching the Very Words of God.' Phillip Jensen and Paul Grimmond have produced a great wee introduction to the task of preaching, as well as some of the practicalities of preparing to preach.

It's a fairly short book, but very readable, and one that will whet the appetite to consider further the issues raised. From the outset, the authors are clear that they're not just talking about oratory, not just rhetorical flourishes and captivating public speaking. Rather, the task at hand is much more: 'Biblical preaching is not defined by the gift of communication... rather, they are commended for speaking God's truth.' (p. 11)

Speaking God's truth isn't just done by the preacher on a Sunday morning though: 'The aim for all Christians is to speak God's truth in order that we might all be encouraged to live for the glory of Christ as we await his return.' (p. 14) There's the striking comment that there may be more preaching done after the service than during the service, as individuals speak God's word to each other over tea and encourage each other.

However, the book is mainly focused on the task of the preacher in the more formal sense (given the wide variety of contexts even that allows for - Church meetings, Bible studies, one-to-ones, special events etc), and to that end, the theme sentence summarises the entire discussion of the book:

My aim is to preach the gospel by prayerfully expounding the Bible to the people God has given me to love.

Each chapter takes a phrase and develops the sentence, using the illustration of an arrow (the arrowhead of the gospel word, the shaft of exegesis, and the feathers of theology which help it fly straight) and the archer themselves in the grand scheme of preaching God's word. There are helpful insights and warnings for aspiring as well as veteran preachers ('One of the easiest shortcuts of all involves preaching what we hope that the passage is saying rather than what it is actually saying.'), with some worked examples of Phillip's preaching preparations, the blind alleys he chased down and the thought process to discern what the text is actually saying. These were perhaps the most helpful part of the whole book.

Alongside the book, there are several useful appendices made up of recycled material from Jensen looking at the difference between strategy and tactics (and how so often the church growth literature confuses the two), as well as preaching negatively and positively, and some tips for young preachers.

If there's a group of preachers in your church congregation, this may be a useful book to work through together, discussing the issues raised - that's how it's being used in our congregation. If there are aspiring Bible teachers, this would also be great to help them 'get into' the way of doing Bible talks. While not primarily aimed at the member of the congregation, it would also be a good book to help them pray constructively for their pastor, and to encourage them to be speaking God's words in the many informal settings even if they'll never be in a pulpit.

The Archer and the Arrow is available from The Good Book Company (who also currently have a special offer when you buy both the Trellis and the Vine and The Archer and the Arrow).

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