Monday, April 7, 2014

The Passion Driven Sermon (Book Review)

The Passion Driven Sermon: Changing the Way Pastors Preach and Congregations Listen by Jim Shaddix. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2003.176 pages. Reviewed by C. Walter Overman.
Shaddix was prompted to write after attending a preaching conference that had as its theme relevance in preaching. One speaker struck Shaddix when he said preachers are most relevant when they give people practical help and wisdom for daily living, which led Shaddix to ask of preaching: “Is [the purpose of preaching] really to answer all the questions that people are asking?” (p.3). The answer is a resounding no, according to Shaddix, who says the primary purpose of preaching is driven by a passion for God’s glory.

His thesis is that the preacher brings glory to God when his primary preaching emphasis is “to rightly expose the mind of the Holy Spirit in every given text of Scripture. Exposure to the truth of God’s Word rightly unfolded is the only way that those of us who listen to sermons will ever be re-created into the image of Christ” (p.4). Shaddix sets out to prove his thesis in three parts: Part one explores the biblical foundation for preaching (chs.1-3); Part two is based on part one and provides a philosophical framework for modern preaching (chs. 4-6); Part three emphasizes the practical implications of this study as it relates to weekly sermons (chs. 7-9).

Part one—biblical foundation of preaching—is based on 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. From this text, Shaddix argues that the preacher’s task is to report the facts of the gospel and the facts of what Scripture says, “reminding people over and over again of God’s Word and its claim on their lives” (p.15). The pastor who understands this will make the message of the Bible his priority, meaning he will not allow methods of communication and the felt needs of the congregation overshadow “the message in the presentation” (p.30). The pastor’s task, then, is to proclaim the meaning of the Bible every week for the purpose of building authentic faith in the congregation, a faith that “is birthed as a result of right content, preaching the very Word of God” (p.45).

In exploring the philosophy of preaching (part 2), Shaddix urges pastors to be good stewards of the Word by aiming to exalt God, explain the text and edify believers (rather than tailoring to seekers) in their weekly sermons. He also calls pastors to “deny any dependence on the resources of secular orators but totally rely on the authority of the Bible. Anything else would result only in glory for the preacher” (p.85). Finally, Shaddix addresses the issue of relevance, noting that nothing is more relevant than the Word of God. Therefore, applications from sermons should always come directly from the text. In this way, the preacher will ensure that “application is not the goal of preaching but the natural result of it” (p.117).

The practical implication of this study (Part 3) is that pastors should devote their preaching ministries to expository preaching, which Shaddix argues maximizes what God is saying while minimizing what God is not saying. In other words, expository preaching begins and ends with what God is saying, rather than emphasizing self-help and practical information foreign to the Bible. That means pastors must come to terms with the “fact that God never intended Scripture to address every issue in life or to answer every question that man may raise” (p.130). Shaddix closes with an exhortation to pass the faith to succeeding generations, a task best accomplished via expository preaching. “Biblical exposition is the only sure way for the pastor to equip the modern church to hand off the heritage of the Christian faith to the next generation” (p.173).

In sum, Shaddix argues that too much of contemporary preaching begins with the practical concerns of the audience, resulting in a generation of shallow Christians who have not been fed a steady diet of God’s Word. The solution, according to Shaddix, is to reclaim expository preaching, for this method allows people to “embrace the genuine faith of Scripture and walk with god accordingly,” which naturally resolves “all that stuff that needs fixing” (p.46). 

Strengths and Weaknesses
The primary strength of The Passion Driven Sermon is its high view of Scripture. Throughout the book Shaddix argues for the authority, sufficiency and timeless relevance of the Bible. Those who read this book will be forced to consider whether their goal and method of preaching aligns with God’s intent for preaching. The book’s passionate call for pastors to pursue the glory of God through faithful Bible exposition is a call that all pastors must weigh as they prepare to preach every week. Pastors who read this book will be challenged to give their people God’s stuff rather than the good stuff formed from human wisdom. Shaddix is right to emphasize the authority and timeless relevance of the Word of God.

Another strength is that this book demonstrates why expository preaching is superior to sermons driven primarily from application and the felt needs of others. Shaddix illustrates how sermons that begin with the needs of man often obscures the message of God, relying instead on the wisdom of man. Such sermons tend to minimize the Word of God and its power, exalting man at the expense of God. Alternatively, Shaddix shows how sermons that let God speak via the text of Scripture provide the audience with all that they need.

Finally, The Passion Driven Sermon will force preachers to consider their philosophy of preaching, regardless if the reader is just beginning his ministry or has twenty years of pulpit experience. All pulpiteers—regardless of experience—must evaluate their motive, content and source of power in the pulpit. Section two provides an excellent model for philosophy of preaching. Therefore, this work is a valuable resource in this regard, as it reminds preachers of the importance of preaching passionately for the glory of God.

The primary weakness is that Shaddix builds a philosophy of preaching solely from one text: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, stating that this text formed “the key convictions [Paul] had about the pastor and his preaching” (p.8). Using this as his platform, he speaks authoritatively of Paul’s preaching content on all occasions. As an example, Shaddix says of 1 Corinthians 1: 2:1-2: “This was Paul’s preaching topic in a nutshell. This is what he reminded the Corinthians of over and over” (p.16). That may be the case, but can it be said authoritatively? Certainly, preachers should have gospel-saturated sermons, but was there more to Paul’s sermons and oratory skills than what is alluded to in this small text?

This leads to the second and third weaknesses. Because of his narrow view of preaching, Shaddix may be guilty of overreacting against secular help in the pulpit, such as working on communication habits and practical applications. Similarly, he mostly ignores the validity of other preaching styles such as topical, narrative preaching and Bible storying, implying that all of the above should not be held to the same esteem of expository preaching. The weakness here is that he fails to recognize that other methods of preaching can exalt God when done properly.

Nevertheless, on the whole there is little to argue with, and to be fair, Shaddix tries to communicate that he is not entirely against practicality and other forms of preaching. Rather, he argues that such things should never be allowed to overshadow God’s Word. The starting and ending point for any sermon is the Bible. When preachers begin and end there, Shaddix argues they will give their listeners all they need. Overall, Shaddix provides an excellent study in the purpose and content of preaching that will instruct, challenge and at times rebuke preachers of all ages and experience. The Passion Driven Sermon is a worthy read for all pulpiteers.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a fan of expository preaching, and the overwhelming majority of my preaching is expository. But I'm hard-pressed to find Jesus preaching through a text. The best approach I've found is to unpack the text and apply it to life. We can do that because a) it's God's Word and b) it is relevant.


Your comments and feedback are welcome and appreciated.