I just finished reading the book “Preaching” by Tim Keller. He’s one of my most favorite preachers of all time, so this book was an easy read for me. I recommend you read this book if you’re interested in communicating well to our current culture. Tim Keller, in Preaching, looks at the power and importance of biblical preaching and how to do it well in today's world. Keller has a well-earned reputation for reaching modern people with good, solid preaching. Enjoy this synopsis taken right from the book.
The difference between a bad sermon and a good sermon is largely located in the preachers—in their gifts and skills and in their preparation for any particular message. Understanding the biblical text, distilling a clear outline and theme, developing a persuasive argument, enriching it with poignant illustrations, metaphors, and cultural assumptions, making specific application to real life—all of this takes extensive labor. To prepare a sermon like this requires hours of work, and to be able to craft and present it skillfully takes years of practice.
However, while the difference between a bad sermon and a good sermon is mainly the responsibility of the preacher, the difference between good preaching and great preaching lies mainly in the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the listener as well as the preacher. The message in Philippi came from Paul, but the effect of the sermon on hearts came from the Spirit.
Preaching has two basic objects in view: The Word and the human listener. It is not enough to just harvest the wheat; it must be prepared in some edible form or it can’t nourish and delight. Sound preaching arises out of two loves—love of the Word of God and love of people—and from them both a desire to show people God’s glorious grace. And so, while only God can open hearts, the communicator must give great time and thought both to presenting the truth accurately and to bringing it home to the hearts and lives of the hearers.
There are two basic forms of preaching: expository and topical. Throughout the centuries both have been widely used, and they must both be used. It is also worth noting that the two types of preaching are not mutually exclusive, and absolutely pure forms of either are rare. Just as throughout church history both kinds of preaching have been necessary, so Christian teachers and preachers today need to see both as legitimate forms they can skillfully use. Nevertheless, I would say that expository preaching should provide the main diet of preaching for a Christian community.
Expository preaching enables God to set the agenda for your Christian community. Exposition is something of an adventure for the preacher. You set out into a book or a passage intent on submitting to its authority yourself and following where it may lead. Of course, you still have to choose which books and passages of the Bible to preach, and any experienced student of the Bible will know basically what is within particular parts of the Bible. However, expository preaching means you can’t completely predetermine what your people will be hearing over the next few weeks or months. As the texts are opened, questions and answers emerge that no one might have seen coming. We tend to think of the Bible as a book of answers to our questions, and it is that. However, if we really let the text speak, we may find that God will show us that we are not even asking the right questions.
In order to understand and explain any text of the Bible, you must put it into its context, which includes fitting it into the canonical context: the message of the Bible as a whole. To show how a text fits into its whole canonical context is to show how it points to Christ and gospel salvation, the big idea of the whole Bible. Every time you expound a Bible text, you are not finished unless you demonstrate how it shows us that we cannot save ourselves and that only Jesus can. That means we must preach Christ from every text, which is the same as saying we must preach the gospel every time and not just settle for general inspiration or moralizing.
It is fundamental to preach biblically, and to preach to cultural narratives, but these are not enough. Unless the truth is not only clear but also real to listeners, then people will still fail to obey it. Preaching cannot simply be accurate and sound. It must capture the listeners’ interest and imaginations; it must be compelling and penetrate to their hearts. It is possible to merely assert and confront and feel we have been very “valiant for truth,” but if you are dry or tedious, people will not repent and believe the right doctrine you present. We must preach so that, as in the first sermon on Pentecost, hearers are “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37).
If you want to preach to the heart, you need to preach from the heart. It’s got to be clear that your own heart has been reached by the truth of the text. This takes non-deliberate transparency. Heart-moving preachers (in contrast to heart- manipulating ones) reveal their own affections without really trying to. What is required is that as you speak it becomes evident in all sorts of ways that you yourself have been humbled, wounded, healed, comforted, and exalted by the truths you are presenting, and that they have genuine power in your life.
How can affectionate preaching come naturally? I think there are basically two things needed. One is to know your material so well that you aren’t absorbed in trying to remember the next point. If your material is not at your fingertips, you will expend energy just to remember it, or else you will be simply reading from your notes. The other necessity for preaching affectionately is a deep, rich, private prayer life. If your heart isn’t regularly engaged in praise and repentance, if you aren’t constantly astonished at God’s grace in your solitude, there’s no way it can happen in public. You won’t touch hearts because your own heart isn’t touched.
Feel overwhelmed? Me too. However, a key to developing these traits is not to directly try to have them. Instead, glory in your infirmities so his power may be made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is a discipline by which you constantly remind yourself of what you are under your own power. It leads to desperate dependence on the Spirit – but along with this desperation will come the joyful freedom of knowing that in the end nothing in preaching rests on your eloquence, your wisdom, or your ability. Nothing ever has! Every success and blessing and fruit you have ever borne has been from him.
Tremendous freedom comes when we can laugh at ourselves and whisper to him, “So! It’s been you all along!” In some ways that day will be the true beginning of your career as a preacher and teacher of God’s Word.
Interested in purchasing the book? You can get it here: http://ow.ly/lU0m30dEJrL