The Best Books On Preaching--Part 1

Part 1—Preachers and Preaching, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Last month, Nate Whitley, over at A Life of Study blog, sent me an e-mail asking me about what I might consider to be the best books on preaching.  He invited me to write a guest blog for him on that subject.  Because we were in the middle of our camp schedule, I told him that I would get back to him after we had cleared all of our camps.  During that period of time, I was able to give some thought to this matter of books on preaching. 

Most men who are involved in the week-in and week-out preparation of preaching clearly understand the responsibility of reading.  I once heard J. T. Pugh make a statement during one of his messages that has stuck with me over the years.  He said that a young man approached him one time with the question of what it took to be a great preacher.  Brother Pugh’s reply to this young preacher resounds even many years after he spoke it.  “Young man, to be a great preacher, you will have to be a great reader!”  Obviously Brother Pugh took that advice to heart for his own life also.  Brother Pugh in his “Passing the Mantle” sermon at General Conference in Columbus in 2006 or so, made some reference to the fact that he still continued to go to the University of Texas/Odessa branch library on Mondays and work to expand his mind.  At that time, he was well into his eighties. 

So, most preachers understand the necessity to read material that will help them to expand their mind.  If you are not taking something in, not much will be going out.  First, I owe it to my own spiritual growth to be a man of reclusive devotion.  Not much advancement of spiritual life is accomplished when you are always around the buzz of life.  My belief in this is so much so that I believe that four hours of my day belongs directly to God in the process of sermon prep, Bible study, and writing.  Sometimes this is hindered by the obligations of other necessary things but I feel that rigorous discipline is necessary to keep me on track.  Secondly, I have a responsibility to those who are showing up every week to hear me preach.  The church deserves my highest devotion to the art and craft of preaching and it is through the very force of the Scriptures that I can inoculate them against the attacks of the devil.  Preaching is important!  In fact, I believe that solid biblical preaching can fix a lot of church problems, if a man is willing to hang in there with his task. 

The discovery that I find in my conversations with preachers is that those who do read are gleaning good things.  However, what I have found is that few ministers read books about preaching.  We ought to read at least one good book on preaching every year and perhaps even determine to read two or three books on preaching every year.  It could fit under the category of continuing education.  Most people who work in the medical field have requirements for continuing education to help them stay on top of new developments.  I am certain that it would help many preachers to take up the same level of devotion toward reading some books about preaching. 

For the month of July, I plan on writing and reviewing books about preaching.  Some of them will be very much about the nuts and bolts of how to do it.  Some of the books will have to do with the development of the soul.  Some of the books will have to do with the defense of preaching but all-in-all, I think you will enjoy being exposed to these books.  To me, they are like old friends, that I visit with periodically and they help to inspire me to stay on track. 

I must start with the very first book that I was forced to read about preaching.  When I say forced to read, it means that this was a textbook for my senior homiletics class at Texas Bible College.  My instructor was J. R. Ensey and he had developed a plan to work through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book, Preachers and Preaching.  I was about 24 or so when I read it but I have to confess that I really did not grasp the value of its content until sometime in my ‘30’s.  Some of that was due to youthful immaturity and the other was due to the fact that I was not regularly preaching week-in and week-out.  The book is actually a series of lectures that D ML-J gave at the Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1969.  When you read the book now, it is amazing to see the insight this man had concerning the trends in preaching that have come to be fulfilled during the forty year time frame after the lectures were delivered. 

In the spring of 2012, it was reprinted as a 40th anniversary volume and had additional essays placed in it by Ligon Duncan, Tim Keller, John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Mark Dever, and Bryan Chappell.  You owe it to yourself to buy the new volume because it has been updated in a more organized format with new paragraphs headings, large quotes on the pages, and various numbered points.  If you really want to get the most out of this book on preaching, there are questions at the end of each chapter that can be quite stimulating in helping you to become more adept at thinking through the real process of preaching. 

D ML-J was probably the first preacher who stopped me in my tracks when he made the assertion that preaching itself is an act of worship; both the work of delivery by the herald and the work of listening by those in the pew.  If that concept could ever gain traction in the church, it would perhaps change some of the disparaging comments that we hear about preaching. 

Straight out of the chute in the opening chapter, we read this about preaching:

The work of preaching is the highest and greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called.  If you want something in addition to that I would say without hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also. 

He discusses the reasons for the decline of preaching in the Church:

1.      The loss of belief in the authority of the Scriptures.
2.     The diminution in the belief of the Truth.
3.     A suspicion of those who speak authoritatively.
4.     The wrong concept of what preaching really is.  [Not a talk on morality, self-enhancement, etc.]
5.     The elevation of music that has led to the idea that worship is about the so-called ‘seeker.’  It has evolved into entertainment instead of worship. 
6.     A greater emphasis on counseling.

The primary task of the Church is the preaching of the Word.  The preached Word leads to the growth and expansion of the Church.  There is no other avenue for real church growth to take place in the absence of preaching. 

Ligon Duncan’s input is a list of sixteen things that he observed from the book when he read it in seminary.  I was challenged by his summary of the book.  Duncan brings out one of the more popular quotes of D ML-J that has been quoted over the years:  “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.” 

Another element of this book that might prove to be a troubling thought is how often that D ML-J often brings up the fact that there are unconverted people sitting on the pews who think that they have an experience with God.  However, they have never been converted.  While we Apostolics find our core doctrine to be expressed in the fact that the initial evidence of the Holy Ghost infilling is speaking with tongues, it very well could be that we have a generation of people who have had some tongue-talking experience but really have never been converted.  That ought to cause all who are involved in preaching to stop and take a look at those we preach to.  Has a true conversion really taken place in their life?  Conversion is only truly reflected with a life-style change.  This change in life is one that honors holiness and reverence toward God and moves away from the numbing effect of worldliness.

I also particularly gained much from the chapter on the preparation of the preacher.  For a man to be a true preacher, he will have to be refined by the Word and the Spirit.  There are several elements that are involved in this:

1.      Self-Discipline—This is the first great rule of life that a minister has to learn.  He must not allow his schedule to be frittered away on the mindless and trivial distractions that can get in his way.  D ML-J states that the mornings must be safeguarded. 

2.     Prayer—This is vital to the life of the preacher.  It can be the hardest and most challenging of all of the tasks that come our way but we must be praying men!  D ML-J encourages ‘Get rid of a coldness that may have developed in your spirit.  You have to learn how to kindle a flame in your spirit, to warm yourself up, to give yourself a start.’

3.     Bible Reading—He encourages the regular systematic reading of the Bible.  When we randomly read the Bible there will be a tendency to gravitate toward our favorite readings.  He also cautions against just reading the Bible just to find texts to preach on.  He recommends that this Bible reading also have an accompanying legal pad to write down thoughts that appear to you as you read.  I can speak from personal experience on this matter of reading and writing as you go.  You will be utterly amazed at the things that present themselves to preach as you devotionally read through the Bible.  D ML-J notes that a preacher ‘has to be like a squirrel and has to learn how to collect and store matter for the future days of winter.’

4.     Reading for the Soul—He greatly encouraged preachers to read the Puritans.  John Owens, Richard Sibbes, Thomas Watson, and even Jonathon Edwards.  These kinds of books incite spiritual action.

5.     Reading for the Mind—He characterized this as categories of theology and doctrine.  Church history is another matter that should be undertaken and read.  He also encouraged the reading of books considered to be apologetics which means a defense of the faith. 

6.     Make Use of Music—D ML-J encouraged for ministers to listen to classical music.  While that may be a learned behavior, I would encourage our generation of preachers to revisit the old hymns.  The more of the old hymns I listen to the more I notice that most of these songs were packed with theology and doctrine that is greatly missing in our modern times.  

Lastly, I found myself very stimulated by reading Mark Dever’s article on “What I Have Learned About Preaching from Martyn Lloyd-Jones.”  He gives nine points that will inspire you to develop your own preaching. 

I have no hesitation in saying that this book does fall into the category of ‘the best books on preaching.’ 


Jonathan McNair said…
I have recently read this book and do very much recommend the reading of it. Some very insightful ideas about both preaching and the people you are preaching to. Also, some very keen insights into what I would call the "anointing" Overall a very good read!!
Ron Lichtle said…
Once again- great content, great post! Things to chew on and put into action.
Vance Bowman said…
Philip, I enjoyed this blog post and will revisit the book. As a side note, while assisting D.W. Tipton in Vicksburg, MS, my wife worked as Ligon Duncan's Administrative Assistant at First Presbyterian Church of Jackson. He had just become the pastor there when she was hired, we were able to attend his installation service and I was able to eat lunch with him a couple times. Great guy, studious, and he knows the apostolics well.


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