The Five Most Helpful Books I’ve Read on Preaching

Weekly preaching is both a privilege and a burden. It’s a privilege to stand before the people of God and open the Word of God and declare its truths to the gathered assembly. Calvin was right: “[I]t is a singular privilege that he [God] deigns to consecrate to himself the mouths and tongues of men in order that his voice may resound in them” (Institutes 4.1.3). It’s a joyful burden, however, because it is an awesome responsibility. Nevertheless, it is one that I cherish.

Thinking about the task of preaching got me thinking about which books have helped me the most throughout the years. Here’s what I came up with:

Ramesh Richard, Preparing Expository Sermons: A Seven-Step Method for Biblical Preaching. This is the book that taught me how to preach. Every week I use the method unpacked here by Richard. It’s simple but effective. If you haven’t read it, you should. In particular, I would recommend that homiletics professors us it for their first year students.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers. This book has blessed many preachers throughout the years. Sadly, I had to wait until I graduated from seminary to read it, but I’m glad I did. Perhaps his most famous words were that preaching is “logic on fire”; that is, “preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.” This book is packed with passion and wisdom. It’s a must-read.

Bryan Chappell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. This is another must-read. And again, I didn’t read this book until after seminary. Why?!!! If you’ve only read the book by Ramesh Richard above, or you’ve only read Haddon Robinson’s Biblical Preaching, then you need to (no, you must) read this work by Chappell. Christ-Centered Preaching builds on what you learned in each of those monographs. Chappell’s book helps preachers in at least two ways:

1) He takes your message from a lecture to a sermon. He does this by showing you how to locate a passage’s Fallen Condition Focus (FCF). That is, Chappell assists preachers in discovering why God inspired a particular passage of Scripture. At the end of our sermon preparation we should be able to answer the following question: What aspect of our fallen condition is being addressed in this passage? 2) He shows preachers the need for application. Let’s be honest: Most preachers right out of seminary are not good. Their sermons are usually highly academic, mere meanderings through a passage, a series of disparate thoughts, peppered with quotes from commentaries. It’s brutal to listen to. (Thankfully, our churches keep letting us try, and they encourage us in the process!). This is why we need the FCF. You are not finished preparing your sermon because you can identify the Sermon Big Idea. As Chappell says, “A sermon must tell us what is true and what to do.”

John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching. If Richard and Chappell taught me how to put a sermon together, Piper made me feel the glory of preaching. This is probably not surprising to those who read Piper because he’s all about the affections. The sentence that has stuck with me since I read this book is, “All genuine preaching is rooted in a feeling of desperation.” Those words so resonate with me because throughout my sermon preparation—from the reading of the text to the reading of commentaries to taking copious notes to the praying—I constantly feel a sense of desperation. I’m constantly saying, “God, unless you show up and do something, all of this is pointless. What’s needed is ‘a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).

Tim Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism. To be honest, I haven’t finished reading this book yet, but I’m very close. Like many others, I would have to say that this has been one of the best books I’ve read on preaching in a while. As Keller openly admits, this is not a comprehensive guide to preaching. Nevertheless, it is extremely helpful. Most of all, Keller is at his best when he’s deconstructing the late-modern mindset. Through it all, he helps preachers better understand and appreciate how people in our churches think. After better understanding how they think, we are in a position to lovingly confront and challenge peoples’ beliefs. Preacher, you’ll want to pick this one up.

One more for good measure.

David Powlison, Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the Lens of Scripture.

As you can probably tell from the title, this book is not about preaching. However, it has been of great help in preaching because Powlison understands people. Better yet, he clearly lays out what the Bible says about people. Consequently, this book helps you preach to the heart.

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