We Proclaim the Word of Life: Preaching the New
Ian Paul and David Wenham, editors
Church Times Bookshop £15.29
Encountering God Together: Biblical patterns for
ministry and worship
David G. Peterson
IAN PAUL and David Wenham's multi-author collection on preaching
explores the particular challenges of preaching on the different
types of book, across the range of the New Testament. This is
ambitious, and occasionally it declines into a brief introduction
to the books themselves.
Yet there are some real gems. Among them is one of Dick France's
last, posthumous, publications, covering the infancy narratives in
the Gospels. He deals brilliantly with the relevance of historicity
to the author's intention and the preacher's task.
Ian Paul tackles the Revelation of St John, which has been
largely ignored by lectionary-compilers and preachers alike. He
brings out particularly well the need to understand the context in
which the book was written, if it is to be understood and applied
in the life of the Church today. He also identifies, as not all of
the authors do, the need to understand the Old Testament background
to the New Testament. He has identified 676 Old Testament allusions
in Revelation alone.
Helge Stadelmann, a German Professor of Practical Theology,
provides a masterful survey of the "new homilectic". This seeks to
replace a move from exposition of the text towards subsequent ap-
plication with a more inductive understanding of human experience
encountering biblical witness. Sermon preparation becomes more like
getting ready for a jazz perform- ance than carefully crafting a
symphony in three movements. A preacher is more like an actor than
a teacher, and the aim of a sermon is to achieve today what the
original text achieved in its day.
There is much food for thought here, especially for those who
feel at home in the Evangelical tradition of expository preaching.
As in so many contemporary books on preaching, there is a tendency
to focus on technique rather than content, and on strategy rather
In Encountering God Together, David Peterson, a former
Principal of Oak Hill, has produced a conservative Evangelical
account of worship. The underlying theology is of the Church as a
community gathered and rescued from an unbelieving world. The main
purpose of worship is to build up the community, which is in
tension with the evangelistic outreach that would best be achieved
through specially designed events. The modern emphasis on making
services seeker-friendly risks a dumbing down of the worship itself
from its underlying purpose.
He has a point. Too much Sunday worship in the Church of England
has become rather banal, more like a human gathering than an event
with God at the centre. Peterson has some helpful observations -
for example, in warning about the danger of music leaders' being
regarded as worship leaders, and taking too prominent a part,
The strength of this book is that it portrays worship as a
participation in God's presence wherein we listen to him, and are
strengthened in his service. Prayer is the cement that holds the
whole act of worship together.
While worship will always include praise, there is a tendency in
many worship songs to regard praise as the all-embracing element.
Peterson has words of caution about regarding church music as
primarily an aid to our emotional expression in worship, a warning
that should not be confined to Evangelical contexts.
The final chapters on the sacraments are rather narrow in their
focus. Extraordinarily, he believes that the references in the Acts
of the Apostles to the breaking of bread are to fellowship meals,
not to the Lord's Supper. Similarly, any eucharistic reference in
St John's Bread of Life discourse is rejected. Few are likely to be
convinced, but this should not detract from the helpful analysis in
the earlier chapters.
Both books are further evidence of the lively and serious state
of Evangelical scholarship, despite its tendency to domesticate God
to the life of the Church alone.
Dr Peter Forster is the Bishop of Chester.