In the introduction of his new book, Preaching, Timothy Keller gives the general theme of the book:
“As we preach, we are able to serve and love the truth of God’s Word and also to serve and love the people before us. We serve the Word by preaching the text clearly and preaching the gospel every time. We reach the people by preaching to the culture and to the heart” (p. 23).
Keller’s book is not a detailed manual of preaching or homiletics. Instead, it is a short (240 smallish pages) explanation of the things Keller has learned about preaching over many years of pulpit ministry – grounded in Scripture and aimed at people’s hearts. There are three main parts: 1) Serving the Word (pp. 27-90), 2) Reaching the People (pp. 93-187), and 3) Preaching and the Spirit (pp. 191-210). There’s also a very short appendix on how to write a sermon. I did enjoy this book, and do recommend it; however, I would say that this book is good but not great. Let me explain:
1) Keller very clearly emphasized the need to preach Christ in every sermon and from every part of Scripture. There’s no moralism here. (As a side, I did have a few questions about how Keller got from a text to the gospel – sometimes his moves seemed bit far-fetched.)
2) The book gave some detail on preaching to actual people – people who have hearts, intellect, beliefs – the people listening to sermons. Yes, preachers must preach God’s truth, but they always do so to real people! Keller is good at helping preachers understand this.
3) The book is full of the wisdom of an experienced preacher. Keller has not only been a preacher for a long time, but he’s been a student of preaching just as long. I don’t have the time here to share all the excellent insights Keller gives about preaching God’s Word, but it does have many excellent themes and parts.
THE NOT GREAT:
1) Some of the material in this book is also found in other books Keller has written. For example, I’ve read “Center Church” and some of Keller’s work on apologetics and idolatry, and I could see clear overlap. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but about 60% of the material in Preaching is found in his other books (not verbatim, however).
2) I’m not convinced by Keller’s three levels of the ministry of the word: 3) preaching from the pulpit, 2) teaching (Sunday School, small groups, blogging, etc.) and 1) casual conversation. He says this book is meant for levels 2 and 3, but I highly doubt that blogging and preaching are as close as Keller makes them – nor do I think this book has much to do with Christian blogging!
3) The subtitle of the book should be tweaked to say something like, “How to preach to urban skeptics.” I enjoyed many of the sections where Keller explained how to preach to skeptics, but it did seem to be the major emphasis of the book. Again, it’s a good discussion, but preachers also need help preaching to people (Christians and non-Christians) in suburbia or more rural settings.
In a word, this is a short book on how to preach Christ-centered sermons with a focus on presenting gospel truths to urban skeptics. However, even if you’re not a preacher in an urban/skeptical context, you’ll benefit from this book quite a bit. Although I do have a few minor critiques of the book, I do very much recommend it. Christian preachers can always use more lessons in presenting the gospel!