SCM Studyguide: Preaching
Peter K Stevenson
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18
“DISCOVERING the word of the Lord from the Bible, for this group of people, at this particular time, and then delivering that word in the power of the Spirit, in ways that people can understand, so that they can respond in worship and service.”
That is Peter Stevenson’s working definition of preaching. This book is a careful expansion of that one sentence, which alone is almost worth the cover price.
Stevenson, Principal of South Wales Baptist College, is clearly concerned to “sell” the concept of preaching to his readers: he has no truck with those who might think that the genre has had its day; in fact, he sees preaching as a properly countercultural mode of communication (which includes being very cautious about the use of PowerPoint). He is concerned that there be a seriousness of approach to the sermon by the preacher which requires a firm grasp of biblical texts and Christian doctrine — and that the preacher must actually believe what he or she preaches.
Such a book as this is inevitably prosaic and practical in content: after an opening section on why preaching matters in the first place, there are sections on preparing to preach, and how to construct and deliver a sermon. Appendices give working examples of sermon texts and their analysis.
All the author’s points are too various to mention. Again and again, he emphasises the importance of context, and that the preacher is not there primarily to “explain” the text, but to proclaim it.
I was reminded while writing this review of an old, dog-eared book, published the year before I was born, which I inherited as a child from my mother. Rudiments and Theory of Music gives the basic rules of music theory, based on the examinations then administered by the Royal Schools of Music. It gives the building-blocks, the vocabulary that allows musical utterance to take place. Stevenson does something similar here for preaching.
George Herbert says “thy word is all, if we could spell” in one of his poems. Perhaps this book will help to improve the spelling of those of us who preach.
The Revd Peter McGeary is the Vicar of St Mary’s, Cable Street, in east London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.