I think many evangelicals would consider Piper to be one of the finest expository preachers in modern times, so if there was ever a subject he was qualified to write on, preaching would surely be it. But those looking for a practical how-to guide on effective public speaking will not find it here. This book is about the driving force that Piper believes must be behind all true preaching – a passion for the glory of God.
The book falls into two parts. First, Piper makes the theological case that what people need more than anything is a vision of the glory of God. It is the preachers task to give that to people. Piper is concerned that as preachers strive to be relevant, speaking on parenting, current events, AIDs, finances, etc, they actually become irrelevant as they focus on man not God. He contends that at the heart of all true preaching, whatever the topic at hand, is the glory of God. The gospel itself centres on his glory.
Piper moves on to demonstrate how the cross testifies to the worth of God’s glory and the immensity of our sin (as opposed to the popular idea that it shows how much we are worth). He reminds preachers of the need to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit if God is to get the glory. He also makes a brief but impassioned plea for preaching that is expository and patently based on the Bible. The texts must be quoted not just alluded to. Simply telling people without demonstrating it to them from the Scriptures is just a case of pulling rank.
To close off the first section of the book, Piper argues that the preacher’s task is both joyful and solemn (“gladness and gravity”). The modern trend is for more jokes and “bloodearnestness” is out of fashion. But this is not to say we are miserable and angry. There should be joy in the ministry of preaching.
The second part is about the life and theology of Jonathan Edwards, whom Piper has already used in the book as a fine example of what preaching ministry should look like. He gives a brief biography, before going on to discuss some of his theological emphases. Edwards stressed the importance of the emotions – the need to delight in God, and he preached to call people to persevere. He was intense but tenderhearted, preached for a response, was willing to use warnings of hell, saturated his sermons with scripture.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to any preacher. It’s short enough to read through in a couple of days. It serves as a timely reminder of what the real issues that are at stake when we are preaching. As someone who has the occasional opportunity to preach, I need to be reminded that its not about whether people like me and congratuate me afterwards, or view me as clever or funny, but whether I have given them a glimpse of the glory of God.