Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Book Review – Preaching with Accuracy by Randal E. Pelton

There are many things in life that are difficult to know and understand without attempting them for oneself. Preaching is like that. It seems to me that, until one has grappled with a text and wrestled with the sermon writing process, and stood behind a pulpit and preached to a congregation, the whole process can seem a little mysterious or even down right scary. As a new preacher, I am finding the process of learning and growing as a Scripture expounder, sermon writer, and a pulpit preacher, to be a fair amount of work. And for that reason, I am usually quick to avail myself of any resources that can help me become a better preacher. Preaching with Accuracy: Finding Christ-Centered Big Ideas for Biblical Preaching is just that type of resource. This book by Randal E. Pelton is a powerfully helpful work that I found to be beneficial in some very practical ways along the lines of exactly what the title suggests; determining Scriptures meaning in light of the Gospel with preaching in view.

Before looking at the practical help this books provides, here is an overview of the entire book. This overview is derived from a thorough introduction which outlines each chapter of the book. I find these overviews useful and supportive for non-fiction reading. Chapter 1 is a mini-apologetic for expositional preaching that seeks to show from 1 Corinthians 14 that an “insider-directed message reaches both insiders and outsiders” (10). Chapter 2 discusses the presence of multiple meanings in passages and how preaching different meanings has different results. Chapters 3-7, the chapters I found extremely helpful in a very practical way, focus on finding Christ-centered big ideas for the purpose of preaching. More specifically, Chapter 3 indicates ways that preaching portions should be determined. Chapter 4 explores how various-sized ideas are recognized and how the textual big idea is determined. Chapter 5 progresses from textual big ideas to contextual big ideas; the big idea formed by the immediate context. Chapter 6 moves one step farther with the search for the canonical big idea which takes the core of Scripture–the gospel–and applies it to the passage in question. Chapter 7 elucidates two benefits of the process of finding the various big ideas of the passage.

The practical nature of this book is suggested in the introduction’s final section entitled Suggestions for Pastors Using This Book. The three main ways in which this book is and will continue to be useful to me as a pastor who preaches are 1) its pursuing of the various “big ideas” through the many genres in Scripture, 2) its step-by-step approach to many of the techniques, and 3) the try-it-for-yourself examples (with the authors answers) which occur throughout the book.

The first way in which the book provides helpful instruction is by not limiting its lessons to only certain genres of Scripture, but by demonstrating how techniques can be applied to many different types of passages. For example, when choosing a preaching portion, the author discusses how one “cuts the text” in didactic passages, narratives, parables, poetry, proverbs, prophecies, and visions. Similarly, Pelton describes the process for finding the textual big idea in narratives, didactic literature, wisdom literature, parables, and prophetic-type sections. I found this thoroughness brought clarity to the processes described and confidence in attempting some of the book’s suggestions. Adding to the practical usefulness of this book is the step-by-step approach offered for many of its techniques.

For a new preacher like myself, or for an experienced preacher who is new to theses concepts, breaking the techniques down into simpler steps makes the work accessible and far less intimidating. As an example, from the fourth chapter, the steps for identifying the textual big ideas are as follows: 1) Locate and write the broad subject, 2) write the narrow subject, 3) write the complements (answers to questions arising out of the narrow subject), and 4) write the textual big idea which is the narrow subject + complement. This gradual approach makes comprehending the author’s strategy accessible to all levels. And again, the author does not just formulaically run through the steps, but discusses the steps in each genre mentioned above. Additionally, the author is helpful in a third very practical way through the use of do-it-yourself examples with answers.

Pelton employs examples for many of his suggested techniques. Following an example of how he might use a technique, he then offers a different portion of Scripture and encourages the reader to try the technique themselves. He even provides space in the book to respond. I cannot emphasize how helpful this process was. I found it brought clarity to what the author was teaching, but also helped “cement” the ideas. I will certainly have to review the book regularly as I preach through various books of the Bible, but the hands-on examples did help key ideas stick. These do-it-yourself opportunities make it abundantly clear that Pelton wants this book to be of real, practical value for the preacher. In my opinion, he succeeds in that regard.

As a new preacher, barely into my second year of preaching, I found this book to be a very helpful resource that I am confident I will continue to use in the future. Pelton provides many useful tips and techniques that I have already used and expect to continue to use. The awareness of the need for teaching to various genres will help support other pastors as they work towards being a better preacher. The simple step-by-step approach to most of the methods presented in Preaching with Accuracy makes it accessible. And the do-it-yourself examples make the skills memorable and reproducible. I recommend this book to new preachers like myself, or experienced preachers who want to hone their skills in regards to preaching with accuracy.

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