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Thanks to Christian Focus for the review copy!
Alec Motyer was formerly principal of Trinity College and is a well-known author and Bible expositor. He’s written volumes in both New and Old Testament commentary series, 1 and is perhaps best known for commentary on Isaiah (which has a smaller counterpart in the TOTC series).
Here, he is sharing his wisdom on expositing the Bible in sermon form. As in, how to preach, not a collection of sermons. Its a short book, but it packs a punch. If nothing else, I think it’s a great book for someone who is just gettin started on thinking though how to put together better sermons.
The opening chapter orients readers the nature of his work, assuring us it presents no earth-shaking discoveries, nor is it completely novel (8). Instead, it is as the subtitle suggests, just some fairly simple thoughts on how to approach sermon prep.
Chapter 2 explains the type of work you are doing in sermon prep (distinguishing it from essay prep), while chapter 3 gives a very short theology of preaching. Chapter 4 talks about the nature of the person preaching, and with that the foundation is laid for the methodology Motyer will explain.
Chapter 5 is primer on the nature of exposition, explaining how it works, as well as giving tips on how to get the best mileage out of your studies (hint: take notes and then keep them organized, it adds up over the years). From here, Motyer covers 6 successive steps:
- Examination (initial observations of the text, chapter 6)
- Analysis (digging deeper into the text, chapter 7)
- Orientation (finding the organizing principle in the text, chapter 8)
- Harvesting (organizing your findings around the center, chapter 9)
- Presentation (stylizing your findings for oral presentation, chapter 10)
- Application (determining a point, a “so what?” of the text, chapter 11)
The constitutes the heart of the book, and as Motyer warned us, it is isn’t really anything that surprising if you’ve read a standard book on preaching before. His final 3 chapters wrap up with some wisdom on the importance of spirituality in the life of the preacher, as well as keys for a long term ministry of the word. Semi-inexplicably, there a 10 devotional appendices that give a thought a day for either 5, 6, or 7 days on a particular biblical or theological subject. These are interesting, and I would imagine rather helpful, but it was hard to see their direct connection to the main contents of the book beyond that they show how to examine a subject across several texts, or analyze a book in detail (which are both helpful skills to learn). They really weren’t introduced (from what I could tell), so I was a bit unclear on why they were there. But, hey there they are, and maybe it’s just best to think of them as a bonus (which is I guess what an appendix in a book is after all).
Overall, this book was a helpful overview for me. It is comparable to a book I reviewed a while back, Saving Eutychus. The difference is probably the Motyer is more focused on the studying side of preaching prep (though not to the exclusion of the others), which is its strength. Motyer is basically guiding readers through how to develop better sermon prep skills on the study side of things so that they can create a snowball effect over the course of their ministry.
That, I think is the particular value of this book. Besides that it is short and to the point, it carries the wisdom of someone who has been preaching and teaching for decades and knows how to explain to his readers how to develop a long term approach to studying the Bible for better sermons. If that is what you’re looking for, this is a great book. Also, it is great book if you want to just learn how to study the Bible a little better and know what you’re doing the next time you’re asked to speak somewhere (like me speaking at chapel every now and then for instance). If you want to avoid the anxiety that comes with last minute sermon prep, Motyer has some simple advice that will work wonders for your ability to prepare well for preaching.