Review: 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching

12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching
12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching by Wayne McDill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent book. This is one of the most practical books on preaching I’ve read. McDill spends the major part of this book focusing on aspects of preparation and a little bit of space is given to pulpit delivery. I think this balance is right because preaching today suffers more from poor preparation than poor delivery. In fact, many preachers are trying to make up for poor preparation through their efforts in delivery, but that doesn’t work.

I had a couple of places where I differed with the author. He didn’t push a/v media in preaching, but I think anything that is short of denouncing it in the most strenuous terms is too soft. In this area, I might be a curmudgeon but I don’t see any reason to change the biblical definition of preaching. I think a/v can serve a good purpose in teaching and other settings, but I believe it has no place in preaching. I’m simply giving my view and understanding here, for every servant stands or falls before his own master.

The skills presented for use in interpreting a passage are very good. He gives real practical help for a preacher to work through the passage on his own before opening other books and such. The first skill a preacher needs to develop is getting the meaning of the text. In fact, it is a skill that preachers ought to constantly be developing and honing.

This is a textbook for seminary courses on preaching. It includes worksheets and samples that are very helpful. For this reason, it will be good to have a hard copy. I read it on Kindle but I will be getting a hard copy to make more use of the worksheets. I definitely recommend this book and I have two words particularly for young preachers. First, this book is packed with a lot of information. That can be overwhelming because you think how can I incorporate all this into preaching? You can focus on a skill at a time and give it the time you need. I certainly suggest starting with the skills of interpreting a passage. Second, I never approach a book like this with the idea of being a slave to it. The author doesn’t that idea for you either. For instance, he mentions mapping out your own plan of preparation. I will end with this caution. Before you can develop your own plan and way of doing things, you need to understand what you are trying to do and what tools can be used to do it. I think this book can help you with that.

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Review: Schizophrenic: A Diagnosis of the Independent Baptist Movement

Schizophrenic: A Diagnosis of the Independent Baptist Movement
Schizophrenic: A Diagnosis of the Independent Baptist Movement by Tom Brennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is written about the IFB movement by a self-proclaimed IFB pastor. The first part of the book summarizes what the author perceives as strengths in IFB churches and the second part calls out the sins of IFB churches. There is a small third part that delivers the author’s cure for what ails the IFBs and that cure is mostly repentance.

I was pleasantly surprised with how thoughtful and reasonable this book is. I was also surprised with how plainly the author addressed problems and the fact he addressed some problems that seem to never receive air time, such as pragmatism, bad preaching, americanism, and racism in IFB churches. My own experience in IFB churches confirms many of the problems he pointed out and that same experience makes his strength assessment look a little optimistic. IFBs are not known for the ability or willingness to self-examine and self-correct.

I recommend reading this book. If you take out a few particular IFB references here and there along the way, much of what he writes applies to most churches or groups. If nothing else, he has done us a great service in forewarning of numerous dangers.

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Review: Letters to a Young Pastor

Letters to a Young Pastor
Letters to a Young Pastor by Calvin Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an excellent book written by a veteran pastor to young pastors as a series of letters on various topics. Miller gives practical advice based on life experience. He is surprisingly open and honest as he writes and I found the book encouraging overall. The target demographic is limited, but young and middle aged pastors will benefit from reading it.

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Review: Billy Graham: The Pastor’s Dilemma

Billy Graham: The Pastor's Dilemma
Billy Graham: The Pastor’s Dilemma by Erroll Hulse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author was a supporter of the Graham crusades at one time and even worked for the crusade as a counselor, which meant he was one dealing with people who came forward at the events. Over time he began to have some concerns and wrote this brief book. The book is a dispassionate and discerning look at the crusades and raising questions about them on a biblical basis.

The author uses a number of different facts about the crusades, raises concerns in three particular areas, and answers the objecting replies to those concerns. While he is considering the Billy Graham crusades specifically, I noticed that the points he raised and examples he used are typical of all such crusades though most don’t reach the scale Graham reached. Let’s briefly look at the author’s three concerns.

1. The results
For or any such meeting to be successful there has to be results. There have to be measurables like the attendance and the number of conversions. Less tangible things such as excitement or sense of God’s presence are also reported. Hulse cites statistics that show during the most “successful” years of the Graham crusades, evangelical churches were actually declining in membership and not increasing. What was happening to all those people that were reported to be converted? The author mentions some of the follow up that was done that found very few of them even attended church after the crusade, fewer joined a local church, and few maintained a profession of faith and gave any evidence at all of being converted.

I think Hulse started here because it is the ultimate apologetic given any time any question is raised about such a crusade. The replies and defense were often that Billy Graham had the power of the Spirit with him and that thousands were being converted. If we boil that cabbage down, it means, “It works and that’s all that matters.” The worst sort of pragmatism is one that’s primarily concerned with what works and not what is right or what is biblical.

2. The doctrine
For any such crusade to go on being successful and to keep getting to that next level, doctrine has to be moderated, compromised, or set aside. Doctrinal precision cannot be maintained while seeking a broader appeal. The defense is that the crusade is just going to focus on the Gospel because that is what is most needed. I appreciated how Hulse dealt with this for the most part.

The problem with that approach, though it may sound good, is that you can’t just focus on the Gospel and maintain the Gospel purely. Even the Gospel has a context. You can’t just lift it out of the Bible and separate it from everything else. The Gospel is a part of the great commission that Jesus gave to his church. His church is to preach the Gospel to every creature, baptize the believing disciples into the local church, and go on to teach them to observe all things that the Lord has commanded, i.e, the Bible cover to cover. Paul said he was free from the blood of men because he had preached the whole counsel of God to them.

So, a crusade that just focuses on the Gospel is moving away from the Bible and not toward it. How can a movement away from the whole counsel of God be considered a revival? It is reported that Billy Graham, at least at a time, insisted on not calling his crusades a revival, but saying that he hoped they would start a revival.

3. The cooperation
The last component to a growing crusade is the necessity of cooperating with an increasingly diverse cast of characters. In Graham’s case, he increasingly worked with modernists and even Roman Catholics, though he vowed in his earlier days he would never do such. Hulse cites some statistics that show the Catholics certainly benefited from Graham’s later crusades in terms of gaining people. Doctrinal clarity is stifled and eventually the crusades are partnering with those who are in error and even those who are false prophets preaching a false gospel.

I could go on but I do recommend this book. All Scripture is given by inspiration and is sufficient and is the standard by which we measure all things. Experience does not ever trump Scripture. The Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture and if something truly is his work, then it will not contradict his word.

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Review: Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive
Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom S. Rainer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is painful. It is straightforward and plain. The book is a result of the study of fourteen churches that died, i.e. shut down or closed. Rainer has compiled some of the most common characteristics in those churches. Anyone who has pastored for any length of time, or if you’ve been a member of several churches, you have encountered some or all of these things. If you’ve been involved in church for any length of time, you probably know some churches that are dying or have already died.

Individual churches do die and most die from within. I could pick at some minor things here and there but this subject is serious. Acknowledging the problems in your own church are difficult but it must be done if there’s any hope.

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