Preaching by Timothy Keller
Keller’s book is of help in reflecting on the gloriously maddening task of preaching
By Timothy Keller
Hodder and Stoughton
Reviewer: Michael Docker
Having preached regularly over the last 28 years I must qualify as a member one half of the audience Christianity magazine recommends for this book – ‘the preaching veteran’; the other half being the ‘novice’. Mind you, since I often feel that I don’t know much more now about what makes a good sermon than I did when I started out, perhaps I’m a novice as well.
Whichever, it’s undeniable that Timothy Keller’s book is of help in reflecting on the gloriously maddening task of preaching. Of course, one has to make allowances for the US context. Timothy Keller is a major US evangelical figure, used to stadium preaching and instigator of a major church-planting network.
It is a world away from the experience of most of us in this country. Yet his approach in this book – thoroughly grounded in the Bible, analysing what he calls ‘the (late) modern mind’ and calling passionately for preaching Christ ‘to the heart’ – makes an easy leap ‘across the pond’. It also leaps fairly easily across theological oceans. Although I am less convinced of the centrality of biblical expository preaching than Keller (though as passionate about good exposition as him and quite keen on some of what he dismisses – notably the work of Fred Craddock) I warmed to the way he communicated his love of preaching and share his commitment to it.
There are very few places where the American context hinders an understanding of his message, though some of the references to writers, preachers and places do not, I think, travel so well. Still, the fact that he cut his preaching teeth in pastorates in ‘small town America’ helps considerably, both in elucidating the preacher’s task and in identifying the pastoral aspects of preaching.
Yet - that American context again. If a Timothy Keller can emerge and become a major voice in the US, talking, as he does here, about the need to ‘challenge baseline cultural narratives’ (in a way that reminded me somewhat of those stalwarts of US public theologising of a previous era, the Niebuhr brothers, though there’s a theological country mile - or ocean - between them and Keller) one wonders why so many other major US evangelical figures appear to have become obsessed with some of the troubling cultural narratives of the Trump era, and far from challenging them, swallow them wholesale.
To be honest, I had almost written off anything emerging from that world entirely; but then I read Timothy Keller’s book and, though it contains little that is new, I found myself newly hopeful.
Michael Docker is minister of Tyndale Baptist Church, Bristol