There is a crisis in the church, a crisis of preaching that is both expository and biblical. Dr. Steven Lawson identifies this crisis in his newest book, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses. And while Lawson takes time to uncover the preaching crisis, the lion’s share of the book is a measured antidote; an antidote that is soaked in Scripture and is focused on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Kind of Preaching God Blesses is an expanded sermon based on 1 Corinthians 2:1-9 that Dr. Lawson has preached in several settings. The book is comprised of six headings and are summarized as follows:
1. Everything Except the Main Thing
The author reminds preachers that their task is to proclaim Christ crucified. Lawson writes, “Sadly there is enough dust on the average pulpit Bible to write Ichabod upon it.” Indeed, the glory has departed! What is needed is a new Reformation in the pulpit today: “To fulfill this sacred duty, every preacher must proclaim the full counsel of God. Every doctrine in Scripture must be delivered. Every truth must be taught. Every sin must be exposed. Every warning must be issued. And every promise must be offered.”
I can bear witness after serving in pastoral ministry for over 20 years that Lawson’s challenge comes with a price tag. As one who has sought to preach the full counsel of God’s Word, it is a sad thing to admit that the greatest criticism has come when I have proclaimed the doctrines of God’s sovereignty, predestination and reprobation, radical depravity, monergistic regeneration, and of course – the doctrine of hell. But price tag or not, preachers have this mandate before them: “Preach the Word!”
2. Slick Schtick
“To an alarming degree, an increasing amount of preaching these days can only be described as ‘slick schtick.’ By this I mean that form of communication in which the preacher has little to say, but tragically, says it very well.”
Here the author opposes the postmodern trend to tickle the ear and attract seekers by watering down the message. He notes, “Carnal ears will always want to be charmed and not confronted, captivated and not challenged. Those who stand in pulpits must not cave in to these demands, but maintain the apostolic standard of preaching.”
Chapter two is a primer on how not to preach. Using Paul’s model to the Corinthians, the author warns pastors to refuse to preach with superior speech or lofty speech. He repudiates the use of gimmicks in the pulpit. And he warns against the use of worldly wisdom and so-called human wisdom.
3. One Master Theme
The master theme that must resound in every sermon is the person and work of Jesus Christ. For “to preach the Bible means, chiefly, to preach Christ and him crucified.”
In one of my several visits to the former Soviet Union, I walked into a village church and noticed a sign with Russian characters inscribed above the pulpit. I asked the pastor, “What does it say?” He responded with a huge smile, “Oh, David – it says ‘We preach Christ crucified.'” And so must every man who steps up the preacher’s desk on a weekly basis.
Lawson pounds home the importance and necessity of preaching Christ crucified. He notes, “By His vicarious death, Jesus did not merely make salvation hypothetically possible based upon man’s response. He actually saved a definite number of sinners. True preaching declares the cross as the only way of salvation. Those in bondage to sin have been redeemed by the blood of Christ.”
And the author boldly challenges pastors: “Is Jesus Christ the dominant theme in your preaching? In the pulpit, do you magnify His sovereign lordship and saving work? In your ministry, do you continually point your listeners to him? Do you call people to commit their lives to him?”
4. Strength in Weakness
The focus of chapter four is the role of the Holy Spirit as He empowers the preacher. Paul writes emphatically, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:3–5, ESV).
So pastors must rely exclusively on the Holy Spirit to receive power when proclaiming the truth of God’s Word. Preachers who are empowered by the Spirit, therefore have a God-dependence about them. Additionally, they are passionate about the truth they proclaim. No passion – no preaching.
5. A Sovereign Wisdom
The kind of preaching God blesses is grounded in sovereign grace. Lawson remarks, “There is a foundational truth in preaching that must undergird every message – namely, that God is sovereign over all things. With all Spirit-empowered exposition, God must be proclaimed as the Supreme Ruler over all the affairs of human history.” So biblical preaching entails a strong message of God’s sovereign control over all things which finds its culmination in the cross work of Christ which was foreordained before the foundation of the world.
This chapter is especially encouraging to me – for over the years I have been challenged by some who questioned my emphasis on sovereign grace. Indeed, the proclamation of sovereign grace is not a mere footnote to the ministry of proclamation; it stands at the very center of a solid preaching ministry!
6. Marching Orders
Dr. Lawson concludes with an exhortation to preach with distinctly Trinitarian messages. Faithful pastors proclaim Christ crucified, emphasize the ministry and power of the Holy Spirit, and draw the attention of listeners to the predestinating work of the Father. This is the kind of preaching that God blesses.
The Kind of Preaching God Blesses is not a typical homiletics text, however it does speak to the topic of homiletics. Most preaching texts will prescribe specific nuts and bolts of biblical exposition. Lawson’s work serves as more of a stimulus – a “holy shove” if you will. It is less of a play book and more of a prescription book. Indeed, this book is the book that pastors everywhere need to read and re-read, absorb, study, and take the contents to heart. It is not a “t.v. dinner” that serves up empty calories that refuses to satisfy. Rather, this work is something akin to a prime rib feast with all the trimmings. Some will be put off by Lawson’s approach. Others will discount it as old and archaic. But those who ignore the message of this book, do so to their own detriment. This little book is destined to explode in the hearts and minds of hundreds of pastors around the world.
This little book is destined to explode in the hearts and minds of hundreds of pastors around the world. I am excited to see how God will use this valuable book; one that should be in the library of every pastor as a forceful reminder that concerns the magnitude of the preaching task.