Book Review: “Power In The Pulpit” (Vines & Shaddix)

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Authors

Dr. Jerry Vines served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida from 1982 until his retirement in 2006. He was educated at Mercer University, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Luther Rice Seminary. Vines also served as the President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1988-1989. Dr. Jim Shaddix is the pastor for teaching and training at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of The Passion Driven Sermon.

Purpose of the Book

Vines and Shaddix stated that this book’s specific purpose “is to give practical help specifically to the man who is faced with the responsibility of preaching weekly.” They emphasized that pastors who preach on a weekly basis, as opposed to itinerant preachers, have a difficult job before them on a consistent basis. In fact, they stated, “Much of the preaching of our day is dry, irrelevant, and deadening.” Vines and Shaddix both agree that effective expository preaching needs to be emphasized and that is exactly what they seek to do in this book.

Organization and Content

This book contains steps and instructions on preparing and delivering expository sermons.  Vines and Shaddix explained in detail the preparation for exposition, the process of exposition, and the presentation of the exposition.  All three are vital to the work of an expositor.  A main concern of this book is to define the task of expository preaching and the qualifications of one who takes on this task.  Vines and Shaddix stated that this person must be called of God and participate in activities that help build a healthy heart, mind, and body.

Vines and Shaddix also offered a five-step approach to develop expository sermons.  Each step is progressive and the final product is an expository sermon that communicates a central truth, which is applied to a contemporary audience. A major concern for Vines and Shaddix is that many people view expository sermons as lectures, which are often boring.  They stated, however, that the text has a message for a contemporary audience and this must be communicated effectively. A sermon is not complete unless the text is applied to the contemporary audience and Vines and Shaddix emphasized the need for application in expositional preaching.

One of the major aspects of the expository method is the systematic preaching through books of the Bible.  Vines stated, “more profit will be realized by a systematic, book-by-book approach” than any other approach to preaching. They encouraged expositors to approach preaching from a canonical perspective.  Not only did they insist that it is beneficial to preach the whole counsel of God, they also made mention that one should study and preach with an understanding of all Scripture.  They wrote, “You must determine how your passage fits in with the overall context of the book in which it is found, as well as with the total revelation and message of the Bible.” This method, if used, will allow the expositor to preach canonically, draw one central truth from the text, and apply it to the contemporary audience.

Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Vines and Shaddix offer an expository approach that pastors can implement on a weekly basis. Too often pastors stray away from the disciplined study of the text because of the time it takes to faithfully exposit the Scriptures.  However, the method in Power in the Pulpit allows the expositor to follow a step-by-step outline for accomplishing this task.  Scripture states the disciples gave themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Expositors must decide that to fulfill their responsibility, in feeding the sheep, they must be as committed as the apostles and this method offered by Vines and Shaddix gives a great weekly plan to follow.

The greatest weakness of this book is the lack of emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the expositional process.  While there is a great deal of information concerning the specifics of doing exposition, there is little mention that the expositor must rely on the Holy Spirit.  The expositor can only experience true power in the pulpit when the Spirit is upon him.  It would have been extremely beneficial had Vines and Shaddix explored and emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit more in the expositional process.

This book, overall, is a great work for expositors. Those who desire to preach expositional sermons will find it to be a great resource and step-by-step plan to follow. Vines and Shaddix offer encouragement and instruction in a way that the average pastor will appreciate.

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Book Review: “Famine In The Land” (Stephen Lawson)

lawson_famine_in_the_land__53510__69691_zoomDr. Stephen J. Lawson serves as the Senior Pastor at Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama. He has pastored churches in the states of Arkansas and Alabama for over 29 years. Lawson has received degrees from Texas Tech University (B.B.A.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.), and Reformed Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He is the author of 15 books including The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, Faith Under Fire, and Made In Our Image. Dr. Lawson is married to Anne and they have three sons, Andrew, James, and John, and a daughter, Grace Anne.

Purpose of the Book

Lawson wrote, “Famine in the Land directly addresses what, I believe, is the crying need of the hour, specifically that the modern-day pulpit be restored to her former glory of generations past, days when God’s truth was fearlessly proclaimed – days when doctrinal clarity, theological precision, and heart-searching application once poured forth from pulpits.” His desire is to encourage pastors to recover expository preaching so that their congregations can be fed the Word of God.

Organization and Content

This book is divided into four primary chapters that address (1) the priority of biblical preaching, (2) the power of biblical preaching, (3) the pattern of biblical preaching, (4) and the passion of biblical preaching. Lawson weaves in a tremendous amount of exposition as he works through each of these topics.

In the first chapter, Lawson examines the priority of biblical preaching that is found in the early church. He wrote, “With many ministries forsaking a steady diet of biblical exposition, where is an effective model to be found in which preaching and teaching God’s Word is the main entrée? What does it look like when a church is being served the meat of God’s Word? One need look no further that to the first church in Jerusalem, born on the Day of Pentecost and firmly planted in the soil of newly converted hearts.” The early church witnessed leaders who viewed dividing the Word of God as a solemn and great responsibility. This resulted in an explosion of growth in the early church and a people who were devoted to the Word of God. Lawson stated that the church must recover this vision for biblical preaching if it desires to make an impact in the world today.

In the second chapter, Lawson focuses on the need for biblical preaching that is courageous and compelling. He stated, “The crying need of the hour is for divine power to be restored to evangelical pulpits.” Lawson emphasized that this will only happen when God-called men boldly proclaim the Scriptures through the power of the Holy Spirit. He highlighted the preaching ministry of Jonah in this chapter and focused on Jonah’s courageous, compelling, confrontational, and compassionate preaching. This is a model for preaching in the contemporary church and needs to be recovered.

In the third chapter, Lawson emphasized the need for preachers to expound the Word of God. The Bible must be the central focus of the sermon regardless of the latest fad in contemporary preaching. He used Ezra as the biblical example and wrote, “All biblical preachers and teachers would do well to follow this pattern of Ezra’s ministry, which involved knowing (“study”), being (“practice”), and doing (“proclaiming”).” Ezra was a devoted student of Scripture, obedient to what the Scriptures taught, and diligent to preach it’s truth to others. These characteristics should also be true of contemporary preachers.

In the final chapter, Lawson discussed the need for passionate preaching in the church today. He wrote, “Passionate, biblical preaching from God-dominated men must be restored to the pulpit.” Lawson emphasized this point by looking at the charge Paul gave to Timothy in 1 and 2 Timothy. Paul exhorted Timothy to be passionate about the preaching ministry because if he was faithful to proclaim the Scriptures, people’s lives would be changed. Lawson closed by encouraging preachers to emulate the life of George Whitefield. He wrote, “May the holy flame of each God-called preacher burn brightly in this dark hour, faithful to the end.” This is a tireless call but one that preachers must pursue with every ounce of their being until the end of their lives.

 Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Lawson is able to communicate a great amount of truth in such a short book. He also uses a tremendous amount of Scripture to support each and every claim he makes throughout the book. This is beneficial because it demonstrates to his reader exactly what he is writing about. It is clear that Lawson has a passion for God’s Word and for preachers to faithfully proclaim it to their people.

The greatest weakness of this book is that it is more descriptive rather than prescriptive in nature. While Lawson calls for a return of expository preaching in the contemporary church, he never really shows how to accomplish this. It would have been extremely helpful if he could have walked through some of the steps that must be taken for this to happen. I believe this would have allowed him to address the great need for expository preaching in the church and then provide a solution to restore its practice.

This book, overall, is a great work for expositors. Those who desire to preach expositional sermons will find it to be a great source of encouragement. Lawson pushes all the right buttons to cause preachers to take serious inventory of their life and ministry. His passion is contagious and reflects his love of God’s Word and God’s glory.

Book Review: “Between Two Worlds” (John Stott)

betweenDr. John Stott was born in London in 1921 and served at the All Souls Church, Langham Place in London for 35 years (from 1945-1950 as vicor and from 1950-1975 as rector). He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge (French and Theology) and Ridley Hall Theological College, Cambridge where he was ordained as an Anglical clergyman. Stott was a central figure in British evangelicalism during his ministry and he founded and served as the honorary president of Langham Partnership International. He has written numerous books including Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ, and Evangelical Truth. Dr. Stott went to be with the Lord on July 27, 2011.

Purpose of the Book

Stott wrote, “I confess to being – for reasons which will emerge in the following chapters – an impenitent believer in the indispensable necessity of preaching both for evangelism and for the healthy growth of the Church. The contemporary situation makes preaching more difficult; it does not make it any less necessary.” His desire is to help preachers bridge the gap between the biblical and contemporary worlds, while also recognizing the necessity of both.

Organization and Content

This book is divided into eight chapters yet, these chapters can be organized into two sections: (1) History and theology of preaching and (2) Practical considerations of preaching. The first four chapters focus on the history, theology, definition, and objections to preaching while the remaining chapters address the more practical components of the preaching task. Stott emphasized that the historical and theological aspects of preaching must not be bypassed in favor of the practical aspects.

In the first chapter, Stott takes a historical look at preaching from the time of Jesus to the twentieth century. He emphasized that preaching has been the foundation of the church and there is a broad tradition of preaching since the time of Jesus. It is essential, then, to examine the historical basis of preaching in any endeavor to discuss contemporary approaches.

Stott focused on the contemporary objections to the preaching responsibility in chapter two. He addressed objections such as the anti-authority mood in contemporary culture, the cybernetics revolution, and the church’s loss of confidence in the gospel. Stott addressed each objection from a biblical perspective and settled on the proposition that biblical preaching will be the best way to address these concerns.

In the third chapter, Stott examined the theological foundations for preaching. He emphasized that theological convictions concerning God, Scripture, the church, the pastorate, and the task of preaching must be firmly established. When they are established, Stott believes that the objections to preaching will not deter preachers from the ministry to which they have been called.

Stott offered a working definition of preaching in the fourth chapter. The title of the book gets its origin in this chapter. Stott emphasized that the preaching task is one in which the preacher bridges the gap between the “revealed Word” and the “contemporary world.” When this is accomplished the preacher will be faithful to proclaim the Word while also applying the Word to the modern hearer.

In the fifth and sixth chapters, Stott discussed the practical issues surrounding studying and preparation for sermons. He insisted that preachers who determine to bridge the two worlds are called to study and prepare. Stott offered guidance for accomplishing both tasks and a step-by-step method for sermon preparation.

The final two chapters consist of Stott’s practical encouragement for the life of the preacher. He stated that preachers must be certain that their lives consist of sincerity, earnestness, courage, and humility. If the preacher’s life is not characterized by these qualities, it will be difficult to gain respect as one whose life has been transformed by the gospel.

Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Stott demonstrates a pastor’s heart throughout the work. It is evident that he has a passion for preaching and a passion to see biblical preaching recovered in the local church. His insights are piercing and he is able to balance both the theological and practical dimensions of preaching.

The greatest weakness of this book is that it there is an end to it! This is, by far, the best book I have read on preaching and the responsibility preachers have. I would have liked to see Stott address more issues (namely the mechanics of the preaching event) in the book simply because of his insight and profound wisdom. It is probably the first preaching book that I have finished and wished it were not over.

This book, overall, is a masterpiece for persons who are in pastoral ministry. Those who desire to see biblical preaching recovered in the contemporary church will find an ally in John Stott. He is accessible and yet profound. Between Two Worlds should be on every pastor’s shelf and it should be read at least once a year.

Book Review: “David and Goliath” (Malcolm Gladwell)

After we drop Anna off for her dance class on Monday nights, we head over to the library to pick up some new books for both of our girls. This past week I noticed Malcom Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath on the “new arrivals” shelf staring at me. I interpreted this “stare” as more of a dare – the book was saying, essentially, “I dare you to pick me up and read me!” I have not read any of Gladwell’s other popular books (Outliers, Blink, and The Tipping Point) even though I have heard from numerous people that they were superb. I made a quick choice that evening and dumped the book into the pile of other books were planning to check out that evening.

About the Author

Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, where he has been under contract since 1996. He is also a popular speaker (after publishing several best-sellers), delivering speeches at various venues throughout the United States. You can find out more about him and his writing at www.gladwell.com.

My Expectations

I had high hopes as I began reading this book. Amazon reviewers have given it 4 out of 5 stars, which caused me to assume that I would get my money’s worth (yes I know it was free to check out but I sacrificed a good 3 hours of my precious time reading it). Boy, was I disappointed. Apart from the first chapter about David and Goliath, I was not at all impressed. The writing did not flow and Gladwell’s premise was not argued well. There were times I thought about putting the book down and walking away for good. But, after hearing how great his other books were I thought maybe, just maybe I had hit a rough spot. I wish this had been true!

Book Overview

The book is divided into three sections:

1. The Advantages of Disadvantages (and Disadvantages of Advantages)

The premise of this section is that our strengths are not necessarily strengths and our weaknesses are not necessarily weaknesses. Gladwell focused on different people and their strengths/weaknesses. He used their failures to demonstrate that their perceived strength actually turned out to be a weakness (Goliath’s size was likely due to a medical condition that caused him to have difficulty seeing beyond a few feet). The opposite is also true according to Gladwell; perceived weaknesses can often be strengths (numerous people with learning disabilities have succeeded precisely because of those perceived disabilities).

2. The Theory of Desirable Difficulty

In this section, Gladwell examined the lives of people who have grown up in difficult situations (abusive childhood or loss of a parent at an early age) and yet done extremely well. One interesting fact mentioned by Gladwell is that 12 out of our 44 Presidents lost their father early in their childhood. He argued that this difficulty was instrumental in preparing them for their job as President. Gladwell also claimed that the revolving door of difficult circumstances experienced by African Americans, before and during the Civil Rights Movement, actually enabled them to persevere through these difficulties.

3. The Limits of Power

In the final section of the book, Gladwell examined how power can be a weakness. He used several stories to highlight this point. The first is the story of how the British army, who were more resourced and had more weapons, soldiers and military experience, struggled against a weaker army/people in Northern Ireland. He also relayed the story of the Huguenots’ resistance against the Nazi controlled government in France. Even though they were outmanned and outgunned, they still succeeded in resisting the oppressive government.

My Review

First, let me say that I struggled with the man-centered focus surrounding the biblical story of David and Goliath. We have all heard sermons preached from this text that focus on “slaying the giants in our life.” I am convinced this is not the point of the story. If me saying this puzzles you, take some time to watch Matt Chandler’s sermon on the glory of God. I recognize that this biblical story served as as a great backdrop to discuss what Gladwell wanted to discuss but I hate to see this story ripped out of its biblical context.

As I mentioned above, I thought Gladwell’s writing style was choppy and difficult to read. Several other reviewers mentioned this same thing but noted that his other books were not like this. With my reading time as limited as it is, I doubt I will pick up another one of his books. I was just not impressed.

Ok. Being the history nerd that I am, I did enjoy the historical stories that were used throughout the book and that may be its greatest strength. I wish my first experience reading Malcolm Gladwell would have gone better!

Book Review: From The Hood To The Hill

I am always challenged by biographies of Christian leaders and reading Barry Black’s life story was a treat. In his book, From The Hood To The Hill, I was freshly reminded that God often uses the most unlikely people to accomplish his mission. Black grew up in the projects in southwest Baltimore and through God’s providence and a ton of hard work on his part, became the 62nd chaplain of the United States Senate.

I have had the privilege of hearing Dr. Black speak on several occasions and was always mesmerized by his eloquent style and piercing words. He is a brilliant scholar (2 master’s degrees and 2 doctorates) and yet the love of Christ flows from his life. He has stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the most powerful men in the world and yet it is obvious that he knows none are as powerful as King Jesus.

I had heard some of Black’s story before but this autobiography helped fill in some of the details. If you are looking for an inspiring book, I would encourage you to pick this one up (or kindle it) and give it a read.

There were three things that stuck out to me as I read this book:

1. God’s Word is powerful. I have heard Dr. Black quote tons of Scripture during his talks and this book emphasizes the importance of Scripture memory in his life. I was freshly challenged to make Scripture memory an important part of my life.

2. Character is built in the crucible of life. Our circumstances can either define us or we can define our circumstances. Black’s life was difficult and yet God used those difficulties to grow his character and perseverance.

3. God is at work in the halls of power. Many of us have become disillusioned with politics and politicians. We seldom hear anything positive and often hear things that make us blush. Black reminded me that God is at work in the halls of power. There are believers in the Senate and I am encouraged that they have Dr. Black as a spiritual leader.

Favorite Quotes

“When one aims high, even when he misses the mark, he’s still on higher ground.”

“A quest for fellowship with God enables you to overcome the challenges that come with the unfavorable cards you may have been dealt at birth. It enables you to believe that God will bless all that you attempt for His glory, to believe that you will have success. And success means staying within the concentric circle of God’s will.”

“God prepares us for the doors He will open by equipping us with gifts to use for His glory.”

“The most solid Christian education begins in the home.”

“When you’re not going through tough times, you’re tempted to major in minors, to forget what’s really important. You become preoccupied with ephemeral things instead of investing your life in something that will outlive you.”

“When you don’t waste time, you’re better able to set you own agenda.”

“In a nutshell, who you are is more important than what you do.”

Book Review – The Measure of Our Success

A few weeks back, I finished reading Shawn Lovejoy’s book, The Measure of our Success: An Impassioned Plea to Pastors. I loved it. I was challenged to rethink what success looks like in my ministry and my life. Overall, it was a great read.

Summary

The book was broken down into three sections: (1) Standard Measurements, (2) Redefining Success, and (3) A New Set of Metrics. In the first section, Shawn emphasized that pastors are struggling as they attempt to measure up to what they believe the standard of success in the contemporary American church looks like. Pastors are burning out, losing their families, and forsaking the call of God on their life. He stressed that three C’s are to blame for a majority of this: (1) Comparing, (2) Copying, and (3) Condemning. He wrote, “Could it be that you and I are limiting the movement of God in our churches because we’re trying to fight the battle in someone else’s armor? Could it be that we relentlessly pursue church growth – numbers, activity, approval, or fame – because we are insecure in our own skin and in our own armor? Could our anxiety, fatigue, and discouragement be symptoms of ‘success syndrome?’” He concluded this section with a personal story about his struggle in his calling as a pastor and as a husband and father. This was one of the best parts of the book in my opinion because it showed Shawn’s vulnerability and openness. I was greatly challenged to consider my schedule and desires as a pastor in light of my primary calling – husband to Janie and father to Anna and Leah.

The second section was entitled “Redefining Success” and the first chapter focused on spiritual, emotional, relational, intellectual, and physical vitality. This was a great chapter and very practical in nature. He then emphasized that our primary focus should be making disciples and displaying Christ’s love to a lost and dying world. He wrote, “Jesus said, ‘Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples’ (John 13:35). Love is all that matters to him. Love is what makes me a disciple. Love is success. Love is the essence of the Christian life. There is nothing deeper than that.” He then challenged pastors to develop strong teams and work well with these teams to accomplish God’s mission. The last two chapters in this section focused on the expectation for pastors to fulfill the role of prophet within the church – challenging the status quo, accept criticism, and stand on God’s Word. Pastoral ministry is a calling and it is not for the fain of heart!

In the final section, Shawn offered a set of new metrics that should guide pastors. He stressed that we need to look at conversion growth and discipleship growth in our churches. “All of us would be counted as worthier servants of God if we would stop worrying so much about building the biggest church and start focusing more on building his kingdom through our church!” One of the most powerful chapters in the entire book was in this section – “Christology before Ecclesiology.” In this chapter, Shawn argued that we need to be certain that we emphasize Christ as the hope for the world and not the church. This was convicting!

One of my favorite things about this book is that Shawn included guest writers at the end of each chapter and several of my favorite quotes came from them. Overall, I thought this was a great book and would be a great read for any pastor.

Favorite Quotes

“God gave us a certain amount of talent, and he only holds us accountable for the gifts we have. Success is not reaching megachurch status. Success is using the skills and talents God gave each of us to live out the mission he assigned to us.”

“God doesn’t need you. Serve him because you love him and because you want to pour out your life in response to him, but not because he is in heaven wringing his hands with worry about whether you have what it takes. You don’t. He does. Your responsibility is to be faithful, not to be God.” (J. D. Greear)

“Daily I must decide if I want to substitute my work for God for my relationship with God.”

“The tyranny of the urgent keeps us from developing our strengths and improving our weaknesses.”

“Your primary responsibility as a leader is your own spiritual development. If you’re growing in the spiritual disciplines and in your love for Jesus, everything else will take care of itself. Don’t worry about church growth. Church growth is a byproduct of personal growth.” (Mark Batterson)

“Just like the Pharisees who lived in Jesus’ day, somewhere in the process we have forsaken love. Pastors, we must stop chasing models and start chasing Jesus again! The health of God’s church depends on it. There is no secret model or system that can guarantee success. It’s a myth. Only Jesus can draw people to himself. Not even well-thought-out plans can accomplish what only he is capable of doing.”

“In order to get the most accurate picture of the mission of the church, we need to have an accurate picture of Jesus.”

“If we really believe that Jesus was the hope of the world, we as pastors would spend more time with him. By our actions, most of us prove that we actually believe our music, preaching, programs, productions, and even meetings produce more life change than prayer.”