Geoffrey Thomas. Preaching: The Man, the Message and the Method. Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic Press, 2001. 73 pages.
Reviewed by Michael C. McKelvey, pastoral intern at First Baptist Church, Clinton, Louisiana and a Ph.D. candidate at Highlands Theological College, university of Aberdeen, Scotland.
While many contemporary books on preaching focus on the style and mechanics of a sermon, very few actually look beyond the practical aspects of this subject in order to consider the preacher and his preaching. Surely, the practical features of preaching are important matters for study and development, but the primary concern in preaching must be the biblical understanding of the preacher himself and his function.
At the heart of this office, there is a man who is called by God, through the church, for the task of proclaiming a specific message in a particular way. In Preaching: the Man, the Message and the Method, Geoff Thomas discusses the subject of preaching in a manner that is not often found in other modern-day writings. Originally given as lectures to students at Reformed Theological Seminary, Thomas is upfront and honest about what it takes to serve the church of Christ in the capacity of preacher. He examines each area of preaching (the man, the message, and the method) in a way that leaves the reader looking at his own heart before God, rather than seeking how to implement the newest concept on the homiletical scene.
In the first chapter, Thomas considers the prospect of full-time gospel ministry from various angles, covering the general aspects of the ministry. These aspects range from the privilege of engaging in this service to the benefits of committing one’s self to long-term labor in a specific community. One of the highlights of the ministerial calling mentioned in this chapter is that the richness of the pastor’s work cannot be compared to other forms of ministry. Whether para-church work, itinerant preaching, or various teaching opportunities, none of these can be related to the full-time office of pastor. They are very fluid, and do not necessarily involve day to day ministry with the same people, often times for much of their lives. For example, one of the benefits of the pastorate (particularly long-term) is that “preachers become rich in their knowledge of the ways of God with man, and of human nature” (11). This places them in a unique position for the shepherding of God’s people that is not found in any other vocation. Also, Thomas indicates that the man who is involved in this ministry must be one who serves the Lord “for no reward other than the immense privilege of having so great a Master as our Christ” (12). It is important for us to see that the life of the preacher must reflect this distinctive. The work of the ministry deals with the heart in such a way that it causes the preacher to grow in his love of Christ and thankfulness for God’s grace. Because of this, his desire to serve in this capacity should be void of any selfish ambition, and it must be rooted in a love for the Savior.
The main concern of Chapter 2 (“The Man”) is the issue of the preacher and his heart, as he submits to Christ in his life and office. At the beginning, Thomas provides a definition of preaching: “Preaching is Omnipotence regenerating, instructing, convicting and redeeming sinners that they may love God and be like him. In other words, preaching is a saving and sanctifying act of God” (22). This statement reveals Thomas’ conviction that preaching is a divine act in all of its faculties, from the beginning to the end. After providing that definition, he separates this chapter into two sections that examine, first, the call to the ministry and, second, the continuance in it. In the call to preaching, there needs to be a self-evaluation that involves five key areas: vitality, rationality, intellectual ability, mood and spirituality. So by this evaluation, “…the sense of call becomes an educated, an informed, and thus a conscientious human assessment. We make it about ourselves in self-examination, and other Christians make it about us” (26). Having evaluated one’s inward sense of calling, Thomas emphasizes that no one is truly “called” until Christ calls them through a local church, “because, ultimately, God’s call is mediated to you through his people” (26). This conclusion shows his unwavering commitment to preaching being a divine act, even in the call. Following this, in the continuation of the pastorate, it is the Word of God that establishes churches, and the Word must, therefore, be applied not only to the congregation, but to the heart of the preacher as well. In the light of this, Thomas looks at the necessity of the preacher submitting to the Word, not in a merely intellectual manner, but whole-heartedly. A statement on the final page of the chapter conveys his main point of this section. Thomas says, “The trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man or sink the man in the plan or organisation. God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than anything else. Men are God’s great method. The church is looking for better methods, God is looking for better men” (37).
As a man who is submitted to Christ, the preacher has a message of good news for everyone. However, it is not simply that he has a message of good news, but that he is gripped by that message. In Chapter 3, Thomas explains that because the preacher’s message is directly relevant to everyone who hears him, he must be consumed with what he is preaching. According to Thomas, this message consists of two things. First, it is the gospel of God’s grace, i.e. grace that has a purpose, is invincible and redeems. Secondly, the message is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thomas says, “The good news is Jesus Christ, in the glory of his person and the perfection of his finished work” (49). In other words, our message is a “message of grace, and it is centred upon the Lord Jesus Christ” (54). Thomas’ emphasis on the centrality of Christ in preaching is very refreshing. There is much discussion on Christ-centered preaching today, but very few books get to the crux of the matter. To be a Christ-centered preacher, it is essential for the preacher to be consumed with Christ Himself, not just doctrines about Him. A genuine love for the Lord Jesus is needed in the heart of the preacher before he can preach this message of God’s grace, which is revealed in Christ. Thomas’ effort to magnify the centrality of Christ in the message of preaching is greatly appreciated.
Regarding “the method” of preaching (Chapter 4), Thomas supplies “a sevenfold beginners’ methodology of the true work of the ministry.” The methodology is as follows:
1) The work of the ministry will only be achieved by unfeigned belief in truthfulness of the Bible.
2) The work of the ministry will only be achieved by enduring tough times.
3) The work of the ministry will only be achieved by toil.
4) The work of the ministry will only be achieved by dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
5) The work of the ministry can only be achieved in the defense of the gospel.
6) The work of the ministry will only be achieved by discriminatory preaching.
7) The work of the ministry will only be achieved by applicatory preaching.
Thomas examines each of these elements and their necessity in the work of the pastorate. In a very engaging and illustrative style, he brings his readers into his own experience of the ministry, by honestly showing them the demands, heartaches, joys and challenges of being a minister of the gospel.
Finally, I cannot recommend this book too highly. Reflecting upon a course that I recently taught on preaching and my own seminary education as well, I am convinced that there was something missing in all of the assigned readings. That something is a book that deals with the preacher and his preaching in a way that goes to the heart of the issue: his love for Christ, commitment to Him and His church, and attitude toward the ministry and persevering in it. This book addresses these things in one way or another, and confronts the reader with the great grace of God as the source for being a preacher of the gospel. It is my hope that many pastors and students will take the time to read this book and examine themselves as they consider the man, the message, and the method of preaching.
Reviewed in the Founders Journal, Issue 65 Summer 2006.