Excellence in Preaching: Studying the Craft of Leading Preachers by Simon Vibert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was attracted by the idea of this book. Study great preachers to look for the qualities that define the greatness of their preaching. Vibert starts with the greatest of all, Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount. He then explores the work of twelve others, ranging from Tim Keller to John Piper to Nicky Gumbel to Mark Dever and even Mark Driscoll (obviously before some of the controversies surrounding his ministry).
The plan of each chapter is a brief personal profile of the person, a digest version of an exemplary sermon with side notes on what makes it exemplary, followed by a summary of the particular qualities of excellence evident in this person. What is striking are both some commonalities and the differences. Common to all seems to be a faithfulness to scripture and a passion for the glory of God as well as an ability to connect personally through story and pastoral awareness of one’s audience. But there are unique lessons to be learned from each as well. For Keller, it is to anticipate objections, to read thoroughly and widely, to create intrigue, and to preach for a verdict. For Vaughn Roberts, it is careful interaction with the biblical text, a clear and memorable sermon structure, an economy of words, and a commitment to mentor the next generation of preachers. For David Cook, it is to be genuinely interested in people, to apply the sermon first to oneself, and to enter the congregation’s world before drawing them into the world of the text.
Vibert’s conclusion summarizes these qualities and then poses a really interesting question, “wherein lies the power of good preaching?” Is it in the Word of God, is it in the Holy Spirit, is it in the person of the preacher submitted to God? In the end, Vibert argues that the answer is “yes”, that it is an “intermarriage” of all three that can be observed in scripture, church history, and in great preaching in our own day.
I both preach on occasion and have been involved in the training of younger ministry colleagues in preaching so I found much of interest that confirmed my own convictions. There was a significant glaring omission that I could not overlook–the absence of women or non-white exemplars such as Isaac Canales or Ajith Fernando or Ken Fong, and many others. It seems that the unspoken assumption is that excellence in preaching can only be attained by Anglo men. The author does not address this omission other than it may reflect the result of a survey among ministry peers. This lack of cross-cultural awareness is disturbing and undermines the otherwise worthy ideal of this book.
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