I suppose an important introductory disclaimer to this review is that a) I am not a preacher and b) this is, to the best of my recollection, the only book on preaching I’ve ever read. Of course, I’ve sat under a lot of sermons, and I certainly have thoughts about what a good sermon should be. But still, take this review with a grain of salt.
Especially when I say that Joel Beeke’s latest book, Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People, is simply excellent. The first part of the book explains what Beeke means by “Reformed Preaching.” Actually, he explains what he means by “Reformed experiential preaching,” which was what he wanted as the title until the suits at Crossway made him tone it down a notch. In either case, what he means is:
“preaching that applies the truth of God to the hearts of people to show how things ought to go, do go, and ultimately will go in the Christian’s experience with respect to God and his neighbors–including his family members, his fellow church members, and people in the world around him. Even more simply we could say that the Reformed experiential preacher receives God’s Word into his heart and then preaches it to the minds, hearts, and lives of his people.” (41)
Through the rest of Part One, Beeke describes what the preacher does when he properly exposits Scripture. This involves the head and the heart working through Scripture with prayer, humility, and caring passion.
The second part of the book, which makes up the main body of the text, is a survey of some of the great Reformed preachers through history. As a non-preacher, this was the part of the book that resonated most with me, though again I’m not the target audience of the book so take that for what it’s worth. Beeke includes some of the obvious choices–Calvin, Bunyan, and Edwards all make appearances. But he passes over others (Spurgeon, for example) in favor of more some of the lesser-known Reformers (Oecolampadius!), Puritans, and participants in the Dutch Further Reformation. Later preachers show up as well, from well-known ones like J.C. Ryle to more obscure figures like Gerard Wisse.
Overall, the historical survey is fascinating, particularly as we often ignore the “preaching” side of the more famous of these figures. Sure, Calvin’s Institutes and Commentaries are classics. But how many of us have taken the time to dig deep into his sermons? Having read Beeke, I certainly want to take up some of these sermons and read now…
The third part of the book is a guide to “Preaching Experientially Today.” Here we get a systematized summary of what Beeke has drawn from the preaching styles of the great preachers of Part Two (and of course, more importantly a summary of what he has drawn from Scripture).
While I can’t speak to whether this book is a good guide to writing a sermon, I can say that this is a good guide to listening to a sermon, and thinking about how we ought to be praying for preachers (and holding them accountable). In an age when preaching is judged by how entertaining, casual, and off-the-cuff it is (or at least appears to be, in terms of the last two), it is refreshing to read a book and think “this, this is what we should be hearing on Sunday mornings.” Whether you’re a preacher or not, I hope you’re reading either Reformed Preaching or books like it. Even more, I hope it’s what you’re hearing weekly from the pulpit, however much my gut says that it’s not.
Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO