Timothy J Keller
Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Scepticism
Viking Books, 2015.

ISBN-13: 978-0143108719

Timothy Keller Preaching

 

"Keller warns that it is dangerous to fall into 'the unbiblical belief that the ministry of the Word is simply preaching sermons'. Preachers alone, though usually equipped with careful training, are not the only people called to do the heavy lifting of explaining the Scriptures. And no church should expect that if it is to be a community of life-giving Biblical witness."

Even for those not planning on preaching in a church any time soon, Tim Keller’s book on the subject is both an insightful cultural analysis and a helpful tool for creating a lens through which to approach sermons and personal study. Reading it carefully can inspire better listeners, wiser students of Scripture, attentive neighbours in a culture of ‘scepticism’, and of course, thoughtful ministers doing the deep pulpit dive week after week.

Chock full of challenges, insights, quotes and thought-provoking ideas for avoiding spiritual clichés while communicating with conviction, Keller opens by quoting Australian theologian Peter Adam who argues that preaching is only one form of what the Bible describes as the "ministry of the Word". Keller frames the book around the three levels of such "Word ministry". Level one means every Christian should be able to teach and admonish one another with all wisdom (as Colossians 3:16 says). Level two explores the spiritual gift of speaking (I Peter 4:10-11) which might involve preparation and presentation skills such as writing, blogging, leading or teaching small groups or discussions. And level three hones in on the obvious: delivering sermons.

In fact, Keller warns that it is dangerous to fall into “the unbiblical belief that the ministry of the Word is simply preaching sermons”. Preachers alone, though usually equipped with careful training, are not the only people called to do the heavy lifting of explaining the Scriptures. And no church should expect that if it is to be a community of life-giving Biblical witness. 

Even Keller, a well-known preacher, author, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and founder of the City to City global church planting movement, writes that it wasn’t through listening to sermons that he came to Christianity, but through reading other books and watching people live out their faith. 

After exploring the introduction’s question of what makes good preaching, Keller then divides the book into three parts to match the three levels: Part one, “Serving the Word”, discusses various types of preaching (which can be a bit academic) as well as how the Gospel message and person of Jesus are to be central to every sermon or study of all of Scripture; Part two, “Reaching the People” compassionately examines the current age of scepticism and how Christ offers the only answer to modern needs. And part three, “Demonstration of the Spirit and Power”, invites ‘preachers’ of all types to an intimate and ongoing relationship with the author of Christianity.

If the endnotes from each chapter showcase the range of Keller’s reading and study, his call for authenticity and integrity in caring well for listeners, whether in the pew, the office or the café, reinforces the gist of the book. People will be “convinced by your message only if they’re convinced by you as a person". And given the polarising pains of the present age, this seems like a pretty good place to start if the Christian message of grace is to engage others. 

So even for those who don’t find themselves in the pulpit but do listen to those who are, this book can be a helpful tool for navigating the culture and talking about the historic person of Jesus Christ.