Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review: "Expositional Preaching" by David Helm

David Helm.  Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God's Word Today.  IX Marks Series.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014.  128 pp.  $14.99.

My conclusion, once I finished reading this little volume from the highly-touted IX Marks series, was simple--this is the book that I would write if I were to write a book about preaching. . .and I strongly disliked it.  I received the book to review for potential course usage, which would have been perfect since I am teaching Expository Preaching this fall.  However, after reviewing the book, I can safely say that I will not recommending this book to my students other than informing them of something that is available that is going to be promoted as the book on preaching.

 At its core, this is the book that I would (maybe still will) write on preaching.  My basic understanding is that the ministry of preaching is a process that leads to spiritual transformation that follows three stages: instruction, reflection and application.  Instruction focuses on what the text says.  What is going on in this passage (exegesis).  Reflection focuses on what the text means.  What does this text mean for us theologically (interpretation)?  And application focuses on what the text does.  Here we try to discern what this text is claiming on us (implementation).  Chapters 2-4 of Helm's book pretty much follow this same formula.  I believer there is a difference between preaching and sermons, with preaching being a continual action of ministry and sermons being individual presentations.  If Helm and I were to sit down and talk, we may find ourselves at a similar understanding.

The problem is, however, with his first chapter.  Well, I should say that this is the major problem with this book.  Some of the smaller problems come from misunderstandings on Helm's part, such as his blatant misrepresentation of lectio divina (do we really still think that Catholics are the theological bad guys?) and his apparent misreading of Karl Barth's theory of preaching (which, if he had actually read Barth, Helm would have realized that he is espousing the same approach).  There are a few other minor points of issue that I have with this volume, however I think that I make my case.

Moving on to the larger problem.  My book would start with defining a theology for preaching.  Helm starts with a discussion on contextualization, a discussion on why contextualization is a bad idea.  To Helm, contextualizing the Gospel for contemporary communication is bad theology and spiritually unfaithful.  Granted, Jesus preached to agrarian people using agrarian imagery, Luke used Greek mythology to describe the afterlife in the parable of "Lazarus and the Rich Man," and Paul quotes Greek poets in his Acts 17 sermon, not to mention the highly contextualized language found in Psalms and the Prophets.  So, perhaps Helm is correct and contextualizing God's message is completely unnecessary.  However, the Bible does not come to us as simple black words on white paper, a collection of writings disconnected from history and culture.  It is full of culture and contextualized rhetoric, something Helm is blind to which almost completely nullifies his argument.

And if that were not enough, Helm returns to the conversation in his final chapter.  Only this time, it seems that he has completely forgotten about his earlier argument that contextualization is an unfaithful practice because he spends the last chapter on how to contextualize the Gospel (within a certain amount of reason).  In the end, Helm undoes his own argument with this sharply distinct contradiction.  As a result, his book is disqualified from whatever place in the homiletics literature that it was intended for.  Further, if the IX Marks series intends to promote the best literature for church leaders, they have failed with this volume.  As a result, preaching, if this volume is promoted as the one to read, will continue to fail the church.

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