Thursday, February 09, 2012

Review: The Priority of Preaching by Christopher Ash

Marketers will tell you that in order to sell something, your product or service must be distinguished from the competition. When Christopher Ash wrote The Priority of Preaching, he explicitly stated that: “This little book is for ordinary pastors who preach regularly to ordinary people in ordinary places, who may dream of being world-renowned [i.e. impressive and strategic] but are going to be spared that fate” (p.12). Right from the start, you know this is not your ordinary book on preaching.

Ordinarily, those who wish to market the Gospel will tell you that you need to devise a unique message, in a unique way to the unique people of your audience. It is a dangerous attempt to gain prominence. That had been tried and warned about before (Mt. 20:20-28).
Ash takes the word of God at face value and shows how it in itself is unique, to each unique person and uniquely relevant. What Ash does is to put the confidence in preaching on God and His inerrant, infallible word. What a preacher will then be stuck with is the unique power, authority and world changing scripture

Beginning as a series of addresses given at the 2008 Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London, the Christian Focus Publishers/Proclamation Trust Media release of The Priority of Preaching, focuses on the preaching of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy. Ash states that his objective is to “persuade (or at least unsettle) those doubtful about preaching, and to deepen the conviction of those already converted to the priority of preaching.” (p.13).

The first section looks at The Authority of the Word Preached (Deuteronomy 18:9-22) Chapter one considers the authority of the expository preacher in speaking the very words of God (2 Tim. 4:2). It begins with a brief history of homiletics, as well as setting the stage with the ever real warning of those who will not tolerate sound teaching (2 Tim. 3:1-9; 4:3-4). Scripture is the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20) and do not let anyone despise you (ie. disregard what you say) (Titus 2:15). Ash warns the preacher to "beware the shortcut of mystical authority" (p. 40) with a lazy assumption that preaching does not require hard word in preparation (1 Tim. 5:17). Not too many should be teachers (James 3:1). It is a spiritual gift only given to some (Eph. 4:11).

With the case of the preachers' authority being the word of God, Ash makes an intriguing statement on how preaching is cross cultural: "Every culture knows what it is to sit and listen to an authoritative human being speak. That is not culturally specific. You don't need to be literate to do that. You don't need to be educated to do that. You don't need to be fluent or confident in debate to do that". (p.27). Many contemporary so called "group Bible studies" have practically placed their own authority over scripture: "discussion substitutes for submission to the word of God...people in fact sit above the Word of God." (p. 29). A better alternative is proposed where the group take the Sunday passage, seek to further understand it, and hold each other accountable for how they live it.

Ash provides an interesting transition from old covenant prophet (prophetic and revelatory) to new covenant preacher (proclamatory). I found Ash's discussion intriguing on how Paul himself found the need for preaching face to face necessary and not just with providing a scroll alone (2 Pt. 2:1). With the word preached, all the other ministries of the word flourish: "In all the other contexts in which we teach and admonish one another and speak the word of Christ to one another (Col. 3:16), we are much more likely to submit and not evade by endless discussion, if we have as our top meeting priority (alongside prayer) sitting together under the preached word" (p.36).

The second section shows Preaching that Transforms the Church (Deuteronomy 30:11-20). Ash deals with the reality of distractions yet having preaching that grips (p.46). He presents a series of four preaching themes. As interesting as they were, they were light on new covenant application. However, Ash makes some helpful practical applications such as envisioning preaching as "silent dialogue" (p.53), having "urgent passionate clarity" (p. 61), presenting in a language the audience will understand (p.62-63), and offering Christ in our preaching with confident grace (p. 72).

The third sections looks at Preaching that Mends a Broken World (Deuteronomy 4:5-14). Ash discusses how the world is broken (p.76ff) with the need for consistent order. Ash shows how Deuteronomy signals four ways the standard shape of the church as the pattern (p.79) word (p.80) place (p.81) and people (p.82) for the assembly. The new covenant transition from the book of Hebrews would have been better interwoven within these pictures instead of a few pages later. When Ash presents the assembly on its wider biblical canvas, the examples go from the world crisis of distress (false worship always leads to scattering (p.83) and how God promises to gather a reassembled world (p.84). The picture of fulfillment in Christ is now presented with great illustrations from the book of Hebrews. Practical applications are put into practice with illustrations on gathering to hear the word (p.91), how it brings unlikely people together (p.92), and how the word of grace shapes us together (p.98).

The appendix looks at Seven Blessings of Consecutive Expository Preaching. He notes and explains these seven blessings. He shows how Consecutive Expository Preaching 1) Safeguards God’s Agenda Against Being Hijacked by Ours. 2) Makes It Harder for Us to Abuse the Bible by Reading it Out of Context. 3) Dilutes the Selectivity of the Preacher. 4) Keeps the Content of the Sermon Fresh and Surprising. 5) Makes for Variety in the Style of the Sermon. 6) Models Good Nourishing Bible Reading for the Ordinary Christian. and how Consecutive Expository Preaching 7) Helps us Preach the Whole Christ from the Whole of Scripture

The only limitation I see to this work are those I believe the author self-imposed. This is not a Biblical theology of preaching, christocentric fulfillment's or an exegetical, grammatical technical guide. The work almost exclusively concerns itself with Moses' words from Deuteronomy as a helpful model of the confidence in God's word.

Ash is surprisingly candid with sharing feelings that many who preach the Gospel have privately felt yet are often reluctant to express. His influences are explicitly stated and he is not afraid to point out dangerous yet popular approaches to preaching today. As a reader, his writing is personal, practical and pithy. The layout of the book is clear and straightforward. The publisher has to be greatly commended for their efforts in aiding this clarity. With such a simple effort to cite references in footnotes instead of end notes, the reader does not have to ever be distracted with the points at hand.

Not only would this be a highly beneficial resource for anyone preaching the word of God it is also helpful for anyone who needs to understand how scripture uniquely empowers and directs. This would help in not only corporate decision making, but individual and familial as well.

Product Details • Paperback: 128 pages • Publisher: Christian Focus (June 15, 2009) • Language: English • ISBN-10: 184550464X • ISBN-13: 978-1845504649 • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5 x 0.4 inches • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces

1 comment:

jntskip said...

That sounds interesting indeed.
A very good review that I appreciate.
I'll have to put that on my wishlist.