“Preaching” by Timothy Keller: A Short Review

Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism  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:

THE GOOD:
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!

Timothy Keller, Preaching (Viking: New York, 2015).

shane lems

The Limits of Science (John Blanchard)

Product Details   The kind folks at Evangelical Press sent me this book to review: Is God Past His Sell-By Date by John Blanchard.  It is a shorter version of his award-winning Does God Believe in AtheistsThe former is around 230 pages while the latter is around 650.  Is God Past His Sell-By Date is intended for skeptics, people who doubt or question the Christian faith, the existence of God, the person/work of Jesus, and so forth.  The book mostly deals with creation, humanity, evil, science, suffering, and the gospel.  Even though I’m not a skeptic, this book helped me think through some of my own doubts and questions I have about life in general as well as the Christian faith.  At the end of each chapter there is a short testimony written by different Christians who used to be skeptics.  I appreciated these testimonies; they were “real life” examples of how God brings people out of doubt and into [the] faith.

One section that stands out for me is where Blanchard discusses the limits of science (p. 64-5).  Drawing on several scientists themselves, he lists the following limits (which I’ve edited for the sake of space):

1) Science can tell us nothing about why the universe should have come into being.  It cannot answer the question that Stephen Hawking asked (and could not answer himself): “Why does the universe bother to exist?”

2) Science cannot explain the fundamental facts about humanity.  Even the three billion letters that make up the human genetic code can tell us nothing about the really important things in life.

3) Expanding on #2, science cannot explain the existence of each person and a unique being; it cannot answer the questions, “Who am I? Why am I here now and how did I get here – where will I go when I die?”

4) Science cannot explain why the mind exists and functions as it does.  Science can tell us much about the biological aspect of our brains, but cannot really intelligently and dogmatically explain the mind or human consciousness.

5) In spite of all the technological advances it has spawned, science can add nothing to the overall quality of life.  How can science overcome greed, violent anger, selfishness, and other harmful characteristics of humans?

6) Science cannot explain human purpose, meaning, and value.  It cannot explain the principles involved in human behavior.  It cannot give ultimate foundations for justice, good, evil, goodness, or love.

By way of summary, Blanchard quotes one atheist genetic scientist who admits,

“It is the essence of all scientific theories that they cannot resolve everything.  Science cannot answer the questions that philosophers – or children – ask: why are we here, what is the point of being alive, how ought we to behave?  Genetics has almost nothing to say about what makes us more than machines driven by biology, about what makes us human.”

This is a book worth owning and reading if you’ve not read Does God Believe in Atheists.  I’d recommend it to our readers who wrestle with the questions of science, creation, evil, suffering, and purpose in life.  Blanchard writes clearly and carefully – he isn’t out to demonize anyone, but lead them towards the living God revealed in the Word: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This book will strengthen the faith (and weaken the doubts!) of Christians, and point skeptics in the right direction.  To be sure, it is an intermediate book – not really for beginners, but skeptics who are willing to engage a detailed book that will challenge them.

Again, my thanks go out to Evangelical Press for the review copy.

shane lems