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Book Review: Biographical Preaching by R. Larry Overstreet

R. Larry Overstreet, Biographical Preaching: Bringing Bible Characters to Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2001) [Christianbook.com   Google Books]

Reviewed by Doug Smith

One of the turning points in my life occurred when I first began sitting under expository preaching.  Another happened when I began to learn what expository preaching was, and how to do it.  It’s not that God uses only expository preaching; He certainly uses other approaches.  However, there is nothing like taking a text of Scripture and explaining its content and urging its implications on a congregation.  Furthermore, it seems to be a logical implication of texts like 2 Timothy 3:14-4:4 and even the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

There are many helpful books available on the general subject of expository preaching.  Many authors helpful break down the steps of studying a book or passage of Scripture, analyzing it, and preparing a sermon that faithfully communicates the text.

Preaching consecutive textual units (through a book or portion of a book) is probably the most frequently promoted way to preach expository messages, but it is not the only way.  Dr. Larry Overstreet, an experienced pastor and seminary professor, has written a persuasive volume advocating Biographical Preaching as another approach for the preacher.  His book is clear, concise, practical, and of a rare breed.  While not the only book on the subject, it is one of few readily available, and it treats the matter with more depth than any subsection the present author has reviewed in other books on preaching (although the brief treatment by Irvin Busenitz in MacArthur’s edited book, Preaching, previously entitled Rediscovering Expository Preaching, is worth a look.  Its appearance in The Master’s Seminary Journal is here in pdf form:  “Must Expository Preaching Always Be Book Studies? Some Alternatives”).

Summary

The meat of the book is comprised of seven chapters.  In order, they deal with the definition, philosophy, value, method, mechanics, model, and variety in biographical preaching.  In addition, there are two appendices containing example sermons.

Overstreet views good biographical preaching as a subset of expository preaching.  He defines it as “the method of preaching that expounds a Bible character, based on careful exegesis, to deduce the principles that regulated his or her life and to apply the principles to the modern listener” (13).  He distinguishes between historical biographical sermons, which emphasize “the development of the person in history,” and character biographical sermons, which focus on “the inner nature of the person” in all areas: “spiritual, mental, moral, emotional, social, and even physical” (15-17).

One key issue in biographical preaching is the nature of the narrative portions of Scripture.  Most biographical material in the Bible is drawn from the narratives of Scripture, which do not directly relate commands to readers.  The issue at hand is whether narratives are intended to be prescriptive (telling us how to live) or merely descriptive (relating what happened in the storyline of God’s activity).

After setting forth the role of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the Bible (an act that guarantees its accuracy) and in empowering the preacher, Overstreet considers the purposeful intent set forth in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which teaches that “‘All Scripture’ is purposeful for (1) teaching, and/or (2) rebuking, and/or (3) correcting, and/or (4) training in righteousness, and (5) for an overall purpose stated in 3:17” (28).  In addition, he cites Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 to demonstrate that Christian believers can look to the Old Testament for instruction and hope (29).  He concludes:  “The biographical preacher, then, can approach the Word of God with confidence that the principles gleaned from the lives of the people included therein are pertinent and relevant to lives today” (31).

Although the author sees practical relevance in the narratives of the Bible, he does not lose sight of their theological significance.  Since the narrative portions of Scripture highlight “the working of God in and through the lives and actions of people,” the preacher must remember that “God is always the ultimate focus of a biblical narrative” (32).  Furthermore, each narrative can be viewed at three levels:  the ground level of the individual(s) in the story, the middle level of how the story figures into the bigger story of the people of God, and the top level of how the narrative functions in the overarching plan of God (33).  Proper exegesis is necessary to analyzing and applying the text appropriately and avoiding reckless spiritualizing or allegorizing (32).

Overstreet argues for the value of biographical preaching because of its popular appeal, practical nature, powerful ability to impact lives, and profitability in making the Bible come alive for people (chapter 3).  He then lays out a method for this approach:  examining the relevant texts, studying the background, analyzing the person, using imagination, and focusing the sermon (chapter 4).  He provides helpful lists of questions to ask to gather key data concerning the person’s life, character, and practical application (82-84).

Chapters five and six give further strategies and examples to promote thorough preparation, while chapter seven advocates the use of dramatic monologues in biographical preaching — assuming the perspective of the character (possibly including props and costumes).  Appendix one gives a sermon example, while appendix two shows how a monologue may be presented.

Evaluation

Overstreet lays a great homiletical foundation and reviews essential elements of sermon preparation.  His theology and view of Scripture are clearly articulated and underlie his views on preaching.  His focus on application and contemporary relevance appropriately shape his approach to biographical preaching (the sermon is not a lecture, but something to teach us about the life that pleases God).  Furthermore, I found the book convincing on the usefulness and propriety of biographical preaching.

The book is realistic and helpful for one seeking to preach a biographical sermon.  The author is honest about the hard work involved, but does not leave the preacher to guess how hard it will be.  Practical helps are given, such as the lists of questions to ask (an invaluable inclusion) and examples of sermons.  Overstreet walks the preacher through essential elements in preparing, such as outlining, transitions, titles, introductions, conclusions, and illustrations.  He leaves no doubt as to what is involved in preparing a biographical sermon.

I found the author irenic concerning other views.  He respectfully interacts with Sidney Greidanus (192, note 1; Overstreet refers to Greidanus’s Preaching magazine article, “The Necessity of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament”; cf. related article, “Biographical Preaching Revisited”, a response to “Salvaging the Old Testament Biographical Sermon” by Timothy Peck, an article endorsed by Overstreet), who does not see a legitimacy to biographical preaching.  He also disagrees with Warren Wiersbe in Preaching and Teaching with Imagination (where Wiersbe suggests that monologues should only be done by those with adequate training and talent; see 199-200, note 5).

My only caveat — and at this point it is a personal one — is the advocacy of dramatic monologue for a sermon presentation (chapter 7).  I understand that my opinion may be the minority in many circles today, but – with all due respect to those who disagree – I have not yet become convinced that drama has a place in the public worship meeting of the church.  I understand that some of the concerns overlap with much preaching:  using imagination to fill in some blanks; dramatic use of the voice, etc.  I am also aware that God sometimes commanded people, especially the Old Testament prophets, to do dramatic things (in those cases, as an illustration of a spiritual truth for the nation Israel or as an analogy for something God was going to bring to pass).  However, what I continue to come back to is that drama was not unknown in the Greek culture of the ancient world.  It was perfectly accessible in the apostolic age.  Yet, nowhere in Scripture is it commanded or modeled as a strategy of communicating truth to the church.  My fears are that it could contribute to an entertainment mindset (even if that is not the intention), and, perhaps even more significantly, inadvertently undermine its content because of the nature of its medium (truth being presented by someone who is pretending to be someone else).  Perhaps I am carrying things too far here.  Intelligent hearers will know that the preacher is not really the individual he is portraying.  Nevertheless, I daresay that those who are convinced that dramatic monologue has a place in the preacher’s toolbox will find in this book some very practical helps for preparation, even if I am not convinced of its propriety.

Conclusion

I heartily recommend Biographical Preaching as a valuable resource.  It is an enjoyable and clearly written resource that persuasively shows the value and propriety of biographical preaching and gives a clear strategy to walk one through the steps of preparing such messages.  For those of us committed to preaching through books of the Bible, utilizing resources such as this to give a little more variety to our preaching may help breathe new freshness into our preaching, as we show people today what we can learn from the individual lives recorded in the Bible.

Habakkuk Overview (Outline)

Wordle: Habakkuk

TRUSTING GOD IN TROUBLESOME TIMES

Habakkuk’s Message of Hope

I. Take Your Perplexities to God (1:1-2:1)

A. with alarm over unchecked sin (1:1-4) (Our prayers suffer when we are unconcerned.)

1. in our country

2. in our church

3. in our selves

B. with amazement at God’s sovereignty (1:5-11) (Our prayers suffer when we are unimpressed with God.)

C. with awareness of God’s character (1:12-17)  (Our prayers suffer when we are not gripped by God’s character.)

D. with anticipation for God’s answer (2:1)  (Our prayers suffer when we are proud, stubborn, and impatient concerning God’s answer.)

II. Think Upon the Payday of God (2:2-20)

A. Consider the vision God reveals (2:2-3)

1. Its transmission – written and plain

2. Its trustworthiness (cf. Hebrews 10:37-38)

B. Consider the verdict God renders (2:4)

1. On those who trust in themselves

2. On those who trust in God (cf. Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38)

C. Consider the vengeance God repays (2:5-20)

1. Description of the wicked (2:5)

2. Declaration against the wicked:  five woes – catalog of wrongs & corresponding retribution (2:6-20)

a. First set of woes

i. Plunder (2:6-8)

ii. Self-exaltation (2:9-11)

iii. Oppression (2:12-14)

b. But God’s glory will cover the earth (2:14)

c. Second set of woes

iv. Exploitation (2:15-17)

v. Idolatry (2:18-20)

d. But God is in His holy temple – let all be silent (2:20)

III. Triumph in the Person of God (3:1-19)

A. Plead with God in supplication (3:1-2)

1. Pray for revival

2. Pray for mercy

B. Praise God for His supremacy (3:3-15)

1. Remember His sovereignty over nature and nations

2. Remember His salvation for His people

C. Pursue God for satisfaction (3:16-19)

1. Recognize that circumstances are not guaranteed

2. Rejoice in the character of God

a. Rejoice in His salvation

b. Rejoice in His strength

Introducing the Spiritual Disciplines

“…Exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7)

WHAT ARE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES?

 Definition of Spiritual Disciplines The word “exercise” in 1 Timothy 4:7 KJV (can also be translated as “discipline”) comes from the Greek word from which we derive gymnasium and gymnastics.  In the ancient world, those who “exercised” in this way removed even their clothing to focus on working out and training without any hindrance.The apostle Paul, in this context, is warning Timothy of false teachers and worthless teachings.  He tells Timothy to “refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7 KJV).

Just as Timothy was to shun what was unhelpful and harmful, we too must say no to that which is unprofitable and actively exercise ourselves for the purpose of growing in godliness.  We need to practice specific disciplines, or exercises, taught in the Word of God if we are to become more holy and Christlike.

Spiritual disciplines, then, are exercises designed to strengthen one’s spirit and grow one in godliness – things we must actively engage in to see progress.

Biblical spiritual disciplines are exercises designed to strengthen one’s spirit and grow one in godliness that are taught by command or example in the Bible.

Spiritual disciplines

Biblical

Spiritual Disciplines

Bible reading

Yes

Yes

Prayer

Yes

Yes

Fasting

Yes

Yes

Journaling                 Yes

Yes

Labyrinth walking

Yes

Not Biblical

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  that the man of God may be perfect [complete], thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

TYPES OF SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES

Spiritual disciplines can be broken down into two further categories:  personal and inter-personalPersonal spiritual disciplines are those we can practice as individuals (individual Bible reading, prayer, fasting, etc.).  Inter-personal spiritual disciplines are those practiced with others (corporate worship, etc.).

 WHY ARE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES IMPORTANT?

I.             They are a means to an end – godliness.

We are to exercise or discipline ourselves “unto” or for the purpose of growing in godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).  The disciplines are not ends in themselves, any more than going to the gym, using an exercise machine, or practicing musical scales are ends in themselves – they are a means to a greater goal.

  • “…Exercise thyself rather unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).
  • [The ultimate destiny for believers is] “to be conformed to the image of His [God’s] Son” (Romans 8:29).
  • “…with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
  • “Follow [pursue] peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

II.           God expects them to be a part of our lives.

God commands them.  The word “exercise” or “discipline” in 1 Timothy 4:7 is a present active imperative verb, where we are commanded to keep on exercising or disciplining ourselves.

  • “Thou shalt meditate therein” (Joshua 1:8)
  • “Watch and pray” (Mark 13:33).

God assumes them.  Some of God’s commands speak to how to practice the disciplines with the assumption that we are practicing them.

  • “When ye pray…” (Mark 11:24); “When ye fast…” (Matt. 6:16)

III.         Spiritual disciplines have been modeled for us.

Scripture provides authoritative examples.

  • Jesus
    • “…He went up…to pray…” (Matthew 14:23)
    • “…when He had fasted…” (Matthew 4:2) 
  • Paul
    • “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do…” (Phil. 4:9)
    • “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you… making request with joy… and this I pray…” (Phil. 1:3-4, 9)

Church history provides encouraging examples.  Through journals and eyewitness testimony, we may learn of many believers blessed by God through their pursuit of Him through the spiritual disciplines.  Examples include:

  • The Puritans
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • George Muller

 IV.         We neglect them to our harm. 

  • spiritual weakness (Mark 14:38)
  • fruitlessness
  • deception?

 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.  For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)

 V.           We benefit greatly when we practice them rightly. 

  • Godliness – we become more like Christ
  • Joy – as we become more like God, we will enjoy communing with Him and serving Him more and more.
  • Usefulness – as we grow in godliness, we are more useful in ministry
  • Freedom – to quote Scripture; to pray spontaneously, etc.

Freedom and discipline have come to be regarded as mutually exclusive, when in fact freedom is not at all the opposite, but the final reward, of discipline. (Elisabeth Elliot)

Spiritual disciplines are a means to an end – getting to know God.  Not about performance, but about pursuing a relationship with Christ.

It is easy to get so distracted with things of no profit (1 Timothy 4:7) but we need to pursue God through the spiritual disciplines for the purpose of godliness!

For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.  (1 Timothy 4:8)

HOW ARE WE TO APPROACH THE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES?

The right approach to the spiritual disciplines sees them as a means to grow in God’s grace, NOT as a basis for acceptance with God.

I must take care above all that I cultivate communion with Christ, for though that can never be the basis of my peace – mark that – yet it will be the channel of it. – Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Let us see the spiritual disciplines as training exercises that will help us become stronger spiritually and more Christlike.  Let us head to the spiritual gym and devote ourselves to the workouts taught in the Bible – to exercise ourselves unto godliness.

Recommended book:  Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Resources for Preaching Isaiah 53

If there is any one passage in the Old Testament which seems to
the Christian heart to be a prophecy of the redeeming work of Christ, it is that matchless fifty-third chapter of Isaiah.  We read it today, often even in preference to New Testament passages, as setting forth the atonement which our Lord made for the sins of others upon the cross.  Never, says the simple Christian, was there a prophecy made more gloriously plain.”

– J. Gresham Machen (quoted in E. J. Young, Isaiah Fifty-Three: a Devotional and Expository Study)

I am presently in the middle of a series, preaching through Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – the fourth of four “Servant Songs/Psalms” in Isaiah, this being the one about Jesus the Messiah as the suffering Servant.  This is a glorious passage, well worth our time to study and share.  The heart of the gospel is revealed here, even in the Old Testament, as we read the passage in the context of God’s plan of redemption, unfolded in the Bible.  [UPDATE: I finished preaching this series today — although I certainly did not exhaust the passage; I hope to return to it someday.  Click here if you would like to view sermon notes and listen to or download audio mp3 files from the series.]

Due to the limited nature of my present study, I have not attempted to access very many works concerning that text.  However, I would like to compile a list of helpful resources for the benefit of others and possibly for my own benefit (I would love to study and preach this passage again sometime!).  Below are some resources I have found useful in this study.  If you have studied this passage and found useful helps, please share them by leaving a comment.

These resources are in alphabetical order by author/speaker:

  • Mark Dever, Sermon: “Crushed for Our Iniquities” (this link takes you to a page where you can download the free mp3 audio file) – click here to view or download Dever’s sermon manuscript (complete with his handwritten modifications)
  • Peter Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)” – scholarly article by noted Old Testament & Hebrew scholar
  • Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey & Andrew Sach. Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007) Pages 52-67 contain an excellent discussion of this passage, and extremely helpful book on the subject of substitutionary atonement.  Highly recommended.
  • F. Duane Lindsey, The Servant Songs: a Study in Isaiah (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985) (compilation of articles originally published in theological journal Bibliotheca Sacra – you can access much of this content by searching at http://faculty.gordon.edu/search/search.cfm) Click here to access the relevant material on Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in a pdf file or click here to view it as a webpage.
  • John MacArthur, The Murder of Jesus (Nashville: Word, 2000) – while not properly a commentary on Isaiah 53 (it covers materials from the gospels), it provides good illustrations of the extremities of pain suffered by Jesus (that Isaiah prophesied about), as well explanations of the kangaroo court that fulfilled the text
  • Arthur B. Walton, Portraits of Christ in Isaiah (Schaumburg, Illinois: Regular Baptist Press, 1995) – Adult Student Book – a remarkably meaty Sunday school curriculum with some great illustrations and explanation of the text
  • Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) (Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is covered in volume 2 of this 3 volume set) Very helpful commentary on Isaiah.  If one was only going to consult one of his works on this passage, the next recommendation would suffice.  But I hope to preach from other portions of Isaiah (maybe the whole book someday) and definitely plan to consult this commentary.  (Some audio of class lecture here.)
  • Edward J. Young, Isaiah Fifty-Three: a Devotional and Expository Study (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952).  A superb and helpful book.  (I found a pdf posted online, but not sure it’s there legally.  I have a hardcover copy.)

Any resources you have used and would recommend?

Bible Reading Plans in 2011

“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

To walk with God in 2011, we need to be in His Word daily.  Here are some resources for Bible reading plans:

There are certainly many other Bible reading resources and many ways to read the Bible… going through the books in order, reading selections for each testament, reading one book at a time in any order, using a One Year Bible (with selections portioned out for each day), combining reading it with listening to a recording of it being read, etc.  But the most important thing is to actually READ God’s Word.  However we do it, let us resolve with the help of God to pay even more attention to His Word this year than last and feast upon it in 2011.

Preaching in the Advent Season

When it comes to Christmas, some preachers are faced with one or more dilemmas:

  • Should I temporarily step away from the book I am preaching through to preach a special Christmas message or series of messages throughout December?
  • What texts and topics shall I cover?
  • How can I present the old, old story without coming across in a stale way? How do I stay fresh with texts and topics I feel I have exhausted?

Some preachers will not deviate from their normal preaching, but will continue through the book or series they are working through.  Some of these will probably recognize the season somewhere in the service.  Others will continue their normal preaching rotation, but may use the Christmas story as an illustration of the text.  If they are preaching on humility, they may point to how Christ’s first coming provides a perfect example of humility.

Others, however, will devote entire messages to the themes of Christmas.  If this is your preference, here are some ideas that may help you present fresh, helpful, Biblical messages for the Advent season, whether you are a pastor or are filling in this month.

Expository Series

  • Preaching through a portion of a book – the most obvious idea here would be to preach through Matthew 1 & 2 or Luke 1 & 2.  One year, I had the opportunity to fill in at a church in December and preached consecutive messages from Matthew 1:1-17, 1:18-25, 2:1-18, and finished with 28:18-20 (connecting the coming of the King to His marching orders in the Great Commission).
  • Preaching through selected passages – one could take a theme and preach expository messages from key passages related to it, for example: “Christmas prophecies made and fulfilled” or “Christmas with the patriarchs & prophets.”
  • Preaching stand-alone messages – one could select various passages to preach messages that are not part of a series, except that they share the Christmas theme (such as Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12:1-3, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:1-9, Micah 5:2, Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John 1:14, Galatians 4:4-7, Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 1, etc.).

Topical Series

  • Biographical studies – perhaps “the characters of Christmas”; could focus on the significance of the individual in the larger story and lessons we can learn (positive & negative) from individuals such as:  Mary, Joseph, shepherds, magi, scribes, King Herod, Elizabeth, Zacharias, John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna, the angel Gabriel, Caesar Augustus (well, maybe not a whole message on him, since he is just mentioned in passing… but there could be some great contrasts between him and the true Ruler), God the Father, God the Holy Spirit and of course, Jesus.
  • Geographical theme – trace the events from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to Calvary or something similar.
  • Christmas carols – take the song title as the sermon title, give the background to the song in the introduction and the preach on the main text or truth the song declares (make sure it does teach truth — see the next suggestion).
  • Christmas: fact or fiction? or “the myths of Christmas” – could debunk common errors (Really a “silent” night?  Is it true that “little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes?”  Did the shepherds look up and see a star?  Did the wise men visit Jesus immediately after the shepherds?) and focus on giving an accurate account, encouraging the people that it is necessary to know what God’s Word actually says for ourselves.
  • The scandal of Christmas – man finds fiancée pregnant before marriage! king born in a cow trough!  etc. — there is plenty of shocking material in the Christmas story that points to the glory of God in using the lowly and unexpected to bring His plan to pass.
  • The wonder of Christmas – could deal with all the wondering and marveling that the people in the narratives do (Luke 2:18, 33) and how we ought to be far more amazed at what God has done than we are.
  • The necessity of Christmas – we don’t need a lot of the stuff we have or get, but we desperately needed for Jesus to come; one could preach a series on our accountability to God our Creator, the punishment our sin deserved, how Christ was qualified to be our sacrifice, and what He accomplished in His life and death

There are many ways to preach helpful, biblical messages for the Advent season.  And they can be intermingled as well (for example, preaching a biographical message each year and using the rest of the Sundays for an expository series).  But none of them will be as helpful and as biblical as they should be unless you also remember to do the following:

  • Connect passage to its context and main point, even if you’re focusing on a minor point.
  • Locate the Christmas story in the storyline of the Bible – particularly in how it is fulfilling God’s promises to bring salvation to sinful mankind.
  • Be sure to bring out who Jesus is, and the wonder of the incarnation – God taking on flesh, fully God and fully man (but perfect)it is also good to connect His humble birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, exalted title, and His future glorious return.
  • Explain why Jesus needed to come – although you could preach a whole message on this topic (one of the suggestions above), it needs to be present in some way any time we preach, if we are to be “gospel” preachers who preach the gospel.  And the whole reason Christmas should be so glorious is that it is an announcement of the gospel:   “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

The Unashamed Workman blog also has some suggestions for dealing with the “Challenges of Christmas Preaching” here.

Two related articles:

“An Ambivalent Hallmark Calendar Guy” by Dr. Michael Lawrence

“100 Failed Human Predictions” by Dr. David Murray

Praying Scripture and Sermon Preparation

“One of the best ways to make sure you confront the text personally is to turn it into prayer.  Pray as a sinner needing forgiveness, as a worshiper expressing praise, as a servant accepting the Master’s will, as a pilgrim seeking companionship and guidance, as a disciple asking for truth.”

Warren W. Wiersbe, Preaching and Teaching with Imagination, page 212

You can learn more about praying Scripture here:

Dr. Don Whitney on Praying Scripture

Preaching Through James: Alistair Begg

Here is a brief biography of Pastor Alistair Begg from the Truth for Life website:

Alistair Begg has been in pastoral ministry since 1975. Following graduation from The London School of Theology, he served eight years in Scotland at both Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and Hamilton Baptist Church. In 1983, he became the senior pastor at Parkside Church near Cleveland, Ohio.  He has written several books and is heard daily and weekly on the radio program, Truth For Life.  The teaching on Truth For Life stems from the week by week Bible teaching at Parkside Church. He and his wife, Susan, were married in 1975 and they have three grown children.

And here is his expository series from the New Testament epistle of James (free download available after you click on link):

When Trials Come, Part 1 – James 1:1

When Trials Come, Part 2 – James 1:2

Asking God for Wisdom – James 1:5

Rich Man, Poor Man – James 1:9

The Genuine Article – James 1:12

When Tempted… – James 1:13

The Word of Truth – James 1:18

Don’t Kid Yourselves! – James 1:22

Do What It Says – James 1:22-25

Religion, Part 1 – James 1:26

Religion, Part 2 – James 1:27

Favoritism, Part 1 – James 2:1-4

Favoritism, Part 2 – James 2:1-7

Favoritism, Part 3 – James 2:8

False Faith – James 2:14

Faith: True or False? – James 2:14

Abraham and Rahab – James 2:21

A Warning to Would-Be Teachers – James 3:1

The Power and Danger of the Tongue – James 3:3

Who Is Wise? – James 3:13

The Wisdom from Heaven – James 3:13

Such “Wisdom” – James 3:14

Fights and Quarrels – James 4:1

Submitting to God, Part 1 – James 4:7

Submitting to God, Part 2 – James 4:7

Saying No to Slander – James 4:11

Only One Judge – James 4:11

Planning Properly, Part 1 – James 4:13

Planning Properly, Part 2 – James 4:13

Listen, You Rich Men – James 5:1

Ill-Gotten Gain, Part 1 – James 5:1

Ill-Gotten Gain, Part 2 – James 5:1

Be Patient, the Lord Is Coming, Part 1 – James 5:7

Be Patient, the Lord Is Coming, Part 2 – James 5:7

Telling the Truth – James 5:12

Prayer and Praise – James 5:13

If Anyone Is Sick…, Part 1 – James 5:14

If Anyone Is Sick…, Part 2 – James 5:15

Confession and Prayer – James 5:16

Bringing Back the Wanderers – James 5:19-20

Book Review – Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics

Goldsworthy, Graeme. Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007. Jacketed Hardcover, 341 pp.

(Review copy courtesy of InterVarsity Press.)

Table of Contents

Excerpts:

PDF Introduction: Can hermeneutics be saved? PDF 1. The necessity for hermeneutics

Graeme Goldsworthy (Th.M. & Ph.D., UTS Virginia) is a retired lecturer at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. His other books include Prayer and the Knowledge of God (IVP, 2005), According to Plan (IVP, 1991; 2002), Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Eerdmans, 2000), Gospel & Kingdom, The Gospel in Revelation, and The Gospel and Wisdom. These last three titles have been reprinted as The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Paternoster, 2001)

Is there a key to interpreting the Bible? What should our basic presuppositions for hermeneutics be? What do we need to take into consideration when we approach the exegesis and interpretation of the Bible?

Description

Graeme Goldsworthy argues that the gospel is the hermeneutical key to the Scriptures and reality. In this book, he considers the basic foundations of proper biblical interpretation. His book is divided into three major sections. He lays some ground rules, shows faulty structures that deserve to be torn down, and suggests how we should rebuild in their place.

Section one, “Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics” (chapters 1-4), looks at the foundations of hermeneutics, particularly the basic presuppositions that support a proper approach. In this section, the author stresses the importance of the doctrines of grace alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, faith alone, and the Trinity. He also deals with the effect of the fall upon the human mind and the significance of the role of the risen Christ as mediator.

The second section, “Challenges to Evangelical Hermeneutics” (chapters 5-12), surveys the history of interpretation and the problems of faulty presuppositions and approaches. The author admits that he relied on secondary sources for this section, in order “to show some of the reactions and evaluations occurring in recent scholarly comment, particularly by evangelicals” so that we can “see how the various trends in hermeneutical theory have troubled and exercised the critical judgment of evangelicals” (p. 87). From allegorical interpretation in the early church to Enlightenment rationalism, postmodern “reader-response” approaches, and even evangelical pragmatism, the author relentlessly sifts through approaches that have eclipsed the gospel. He shows that liberals do not have a monopoly on the eclipse of the gospel, but many approaches adopted in conservative quarters have also obscured its clarity, including literalist and subjective approaches. He argues that a “proper grammatico-historical exegesis stems from the fact of the incarnation” (p. 99).

The final section, “Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics” (chapters 13-19), gives Goldsworthy’s prescription for a hermeneutical approach that is faithful to the Bible and therefore centered upon the gospel. Goldsworthy advocates “typology as a method of relating the Testaments” that underlines “the perspective of both their unity and diversity” (p. 238) by asking every text “how it testifies to Jesus” (p. 252). An extensive chart demonstrates how a macrotypology of the Bible works (pp. 253-256). He deals with the literary, historical, and theological dimensions of gospel-centered interpretation and takes a look at the concept of contextualization, including considerations relevant for Bible translation. He includes practical suggestions for Bible study (such as reading plans, taking notes, and prayer) and lists resources for teaching sound hermeneutics to children.

Evaluation

I found this book to be stimulating and fascinating. At least three strong points distinguish this book. The book is stellar in focusing on Christ as the hermeneutic of Scripture and reality, whereas many standard (even “evangelical”) hermeneutics texts neglect the scriptural idea that Christ is the hermeneutical key (Luke 24:27, 44). It seems so obvious, but it has been so obviously forgotten: “the principles of hermeneutics are to be found within the Scriptures themselves” (p. 22). Goldsworthy also persuasively argues that our hermeneutical approach is part of our sanctification, the renewing of our minds, made possible by the gospel. The fall affected our minds and ability for correct interpretation, but Christ even died for this—to justify and sanctify us from our faulty hermeneutics. Finally, the author’s analysis of how the gospel has been eclipsed by flawed hermeneutical approaches is no pedantic exercise but a helpful warning of how quickly we can move from the approach to the Bible advocated by Christ Himself and that displays His gospel in all its clarity. Neither historical proximity to the time of the apostles nor an accumulation of centuries of knowledge are fail-safe measures to ensure proper interpretation; only a renewed mind submitted to the Scriptures will protect Bible-believing Christians from alien influences that undermine the gospel in their hermeneutics.

Goldsworthy addresses several practical concerns with helpful warnings. He warns that separating biblical theology from systematic theology puts one “on the road to liberalism” (p. 271). He warns that the more dynamic Bible translations tend to iron out its metaphors, obscuring the way the text was originally communicated (pp. 290, 293). He writes that “recourse to commentaries and other helps is best left until later rather than sooner in the process of dealing with a text” (p. 313).

Despite the strengths of the book, one should use this book with much discrimination.

First, this book is not a handbook on hermeneutics for the average person.

Its best use would be at the seminary and graduate level. Even then, it may not be a good choice for an introductory hermeneutics class. Its lengthy treatment of matters related to hermeneutical theory is helpful. The author gives some advice about putting theory to work, but the book lacks a comprehensive method for hermeneutics. I point this out, not to denigrate the book, but to help people like me who might assume by its title that it would contain a comprehensive method for its approach. I recommend reading it in thinking through hermeneutical theory, but if you must choose one book to help you interpret the Bible, this is not the one. To see a work designed more for the purpose of equipping one to practice the gospel-centered interpretation the author advocates, see his introduction to biblical theology titled According to Plan: the Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (IVP, 2002) or the shorter summary by Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (IVP, 2002 — see my review here). (He does provide a brief overview the role of biblical theology in chapter 4 of this book.) The purpose of these works is to help one interpret the parts of the Bible in light of its big picture (something often neglected in hermeneutics texts), but are insufficient to equip one to deal with the various literary genres of Scripture.

Second, the reader should be aware of the author’s view on “literal” interpretation.

Goldsworthy classifies literalism as one of the culprits for the eclipse of the gospel in evangelicalism (p. 169ff.). While conceding that the incarnation required some literal fulfillment, he argues that the New Testament does not support a literal interpretation of Old Testament promises for the restoration of Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple (p. 170). He asserts that the “one great hermeneutic divide that separated Jesus from the unbelieving Jews concerned this very issue of prophetic fulfillment . . . That the Old Testament Scriptures are, as he says, about him (John 5:39-47; 8:39-47, 56-58) must seriously qualify literalism, since Jesus (as Jesus) is not literally in the Old Testament” and adds that “the hermeneutical principle of the Old Testament could only be understood Christologically” (p. 170). As convincing as his arguments appear, some may counter that New Testament events do not decisively rule out a future literal fulfillment, particularly since the prophets often saw events of Christ’s first and second coming together, like peaks of a mountain range that look side by side from afar.

Related to these views on literal interpretation is Goldsworthy’s amillennial eschatology. “Instead of the expected glorious reign of the Christ in a renewed Jerusalem, we learn that the scepter of the risen Christ is the preached word that will be the focus of the worldwide missionary endeavor of the church . . . Pentecost is the demonstration that the millennium has begun, Satan is bound, and Christ reigns through his gospel” (pp. 224-225, cf. p. 82).

Third, the author should probably give more caution in his advice about utilizing critical scholarship.

He suggests that Fundamentalism desires a return to pre-critical exegetical methods (p. 138, cf. pp. 181-182), although he may be painting with a bit of a broad brush, as some fundamentalist seminaries do engage critical works and even recommend critical commentaries as resources. While Goldsworthy recognizes the problem “of the extent to which we can plunder the Egyptians without returning to the leeks and the garlic” (p. 138), it seems that a further caveat should be given. There is a time and place to engage such scholarship, but it is probably best done—with much caution—by the trained scholar or pastor.

Conclusion

In this book, Goldsworthy addresses key issues in regard to hermeneutics. It is a challenging and worthwhile read for the serious student (although a subject index could have increased its usefulness), but may not be the best choice for a stand-alone guide to hermeneutics.

Reviewed by Doug Smith

This review is revised from its original appearance at www.sharperiron.org.

Memorizing Scripture – Some Reasons & Tools to Help

Pastor John Piper lists six reasons we should memorize Scripture (click here to read the entire article):

1. Conformity to Christ
2. Daily Triumph over Sin
3. Daily Triumph over Satan
4. Comfort and Counsel for People You Love
5. Communicating the Gospel to Unbelievers
6. Communion with God in the Enjoyment of His Person and His Ways

Here are some resources on how to memorize Scripture:

  • Piper on his method
    Go to the 1:00 minute mark to hear see/hear him recite the entire book of Philippians from memory, until 18:35.
    [vimeo http://vimeo.com/50687239]
  • Pastor Andy Davis on “An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture” (pdf file)
  • I would also suggest forming a group or at least getting one other individual to memorize a particular passage or set of verses and hold each other accountable and encourage each other in this discipline.

Here are some electronic tools that are handy aids for memorizing:

  • e-Sword (free Bible software that includes an excellent Bible memory feature with multiple quizzing methods to really help memorize quickly and in an interesting way)

  • Bible Minded (ABS)   Android  iOS
  • Topical Memory System Android   iOS
  • Fighter Verses   Android ($2.99)   iOS ($.2.99)  (ESV & NIV)
  • CueCard (free windows-based computer program, creates flashcards which may include image, text, sound)
  • Flash (free mac-based computer flashcard program)
  • StudyDroid (free Android mobile phone and computer flashcard application)
  • Learn! (free Android mobile phone flashcard application, creates with still or video image, text, sound)

If you just set aside time to memorize one verse a day (and review them in the days ahead), you could memorize the whole book of Philippians in four months or less. Chapter 1 – 30 verses; Chapter 2 – 30 verses; Chapter 3 – 21 verses; Chapter 4 – 23 verses I am hoping to do this, or the book of James, in the near future. Screenshot:  Access Scripture Memory via the Tools menu in e-Sword  The original version of this post appeared on capsministry.com.