He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World. By R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008. 174 pages. Hardcover, $22.99.
One would expect that a seminary president and theologian, saddled with the daily wrangling of institutional administration, could hardly be a prolific or regular contributor to fields outside of his discipline. But, R. Albert Mohler, Jr, ninth president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology, is also an accomplished and sought after preacher. Now, with the publication of He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World, Mohler’s well-known adeptness and grasp of the preaching discipline comes forth prominently in this insightful and pastoral examination of preaching.
Mohler’s initial critique of the state of preaching is poignant, not biting, as he identifies contemporary problems with preaching: lack of confidence in God’s Word, infatuation with technology, embarrassment before the text, an emptying of biblical content, a focus on felt needs, and the absence of the Gospel. In response, this volume seeks to encourage pastors simply to “confront the congregation with the Word of God” (21). Mohler does this by moving from a theological foundation to the practice of preaching. Thus, the book serves both as a wakeup call for the church and an apologetic for expository preaching.
Chapter one, “Preaching as Worship,” assigns preaching as “essentially an act of worship,” and further that “[t]rue worship always proclaims the gospel, the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ” (24, 35). Ultimately this leads him to conclude that “[t]he heart of Christian worship is the authentic preaching of the Word of God” (37). This, of course, is counter intuitive to the contemporary designation of music alone as Christian worship, to which Mohler responds that “[t]he anemia of evangelical worship – all the music and energy aside – is directly attributable to the absence of genuine expository preaching” (38).
Moving in progression of thought, the second chapter, “The Ground of Preaching,” establishes preaching in the grace of God, rooted in a Trinitarian theology. Affirming Martin Luther, Mohler writes that “the Father had willed that the Spirit should work uniquely through the Word and not independent of it” (46). Thus, Christian preaching must be central to worship. Esoteric, emotional engagement cannot substitute for preaching, since the Word of God is God’s chosen means of revelation of Himself.
Chapter three, “Preaching is Expository,” provides a theological ground for preaching and affirms that “the only form of authentic Christian preaching is expository preaching” (49). This is true in so much as preaching is “reading a text and explaining it – reproving, rebuking, exhorting, and patiently teaching from the text of Scripture” (52). This is perhaps the best chapter of the book. Mohler displays his theological prowess on the preacher’s task, with deft simplicity stating, “In the end, our calling as preachers is really very simple. We study, we stand before our people, we read the text, and we explain it. We reprove, rebuke, exhort, encourage, and teach – and then we do it all again and again and again” (64). One could only want from this chapter even more theological engagement, an engagement that is beyond the bounds of this short prophetic treatment.
However, in Chapter Four, “Expository Preaching,” he does offer an explanation of what he understands exposition to be:
Expository preaching is that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible. All other issues and concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text. As the Word of God, the text of Scripture has the right to establish both the substance and the structure of the sermon. Genuine exposition takes place when the preacher sets forth the meaning and the message of the biblical text and makes clear how the Word of God establishes the identity and world-view of the church as the people of God (65).
This definition stands in relationship to others as focused on the Word, but the sermon’s reception, and the state of the one declaring it, is not considered in the definition. This approach further buttresses his argument that preaching is simply explaining the text of Scripture. The absence of discussion of other realities in the preaching moment serves as a corrective to the glut of literature focused on audience reception of messages.
Chapter five, “Steward of the Mysteries,” examines the authority of the preacher, and chapter six, “‘Did not our Hearts Burn within Us?,’” deals with preaching the big story of the Bible. This is a wonderful summation of that which others, such as Graeme Goldsworthy and Brian Chapell, have been arguing in monographs urging preachers to place texts in their place in salvation history and understand the message of the Gospel as the hermeneutical tool by which we handle the text of Scripture. Mohler argues,
We must read and explain accurately to our people what that text means and how it applies to their lives. Yet we have another task as well, for we must take that particular text and place it within the larger story of the Scripture. One of the reasons I encourage pastors to preach through entire books of the Bible is because that practice will force us to preach texts we otherwise would never preach (96).
To put a finer point on it, he asserts, “If our people think of the gospel as a small story in which they get to befriend Jesus and walk alone with Him in a garden, if they don’t understand what a massive thing their salvation from sin really is, then we are robbing them of the gospel” (101). Homiletic professors who are trying to communicate the holistic nature of God’s revelation of Himself can only affirm Mohler here.
Chapter seven, “The Pastor as Theologian,” provides a very helpful metaphor for the preacher’s initial task in a church that Mohler terms “theological triage.” In the same way that an Emergency Room doctor must quickly assess the priority of incoming patients, Mohler states that “the pastor must learn to discern different levels of theological importance” (109). The metaphor is an encouragement to pastors broaching their first months in the pulpit. Churches are at several different places in their theological development and, most predictably, are biblically illiterate. The triage metaphor enables the pastor to assess the most serious theological/biblical problems in the church and address those first, leaving important secondary matters to wait.
The remainder of the volume follows with a chapter on preaching to postmodern culture, and two chapters to exhort and encourage the pastor respectively. The book concludes with a brief introduction to Spurgeon as an exemplar of biblical exposition and personal conviction. Any look at Spurgeon leaves the would-be expositor breathless. And, in Surgeon’s shadow, we are all “would-bes”. However, the chapter is not a discouraging look at what the preacher will never be, rather it is an assessment of what God will do with one whose life is straight rails on which the Gospel may run. Mohler writes, “Long before Charles Spurgeon was a great preacher, he was a great believer – a man possessed by deep passion for the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ” (165). Thus, the breadth of his ministry is attributed to the working out of these convictions; convictions, that every preacher can imitate.
In terms of critique one could only want more of the same from this book, such as an entire theological treatise on preaching, or more practical insights for the pastor; it is in these discussions that Mohler is at his best. However, limiting the breadth of the book allows it to be an accessible tool to put in the hand of seminary students and pastors. This work should be included in introductory classes as a supplemental text to the many preaching manuals as a much needed answer to the “why” question that should proceed the “how” question. This is especially needed since many who do exposition do not clearly execute an argument for why they do it, leaving subsequent generations with a homiletic template, but not a divine mandate. This work serves as a concise corrective to that reality.
Steven W. Smith
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary