Many books are written on preaching every year, but not many of those books stand the test of time. Most of the books on preaching succeed in helping the reader understand theories on preaching, the history of preaching, or what the Bible teaches on preaching. Very few books on preaching are considered classics, and those that are combine what the Bible teaches on preaching, the history of preaching, and how to preach. Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today by John Stott is rightly considered a classic, a volume that has stood the test of time, because its author was a great preacher and statesman of evangelicalism for many years until his very recent death. This book demonstrates Stott’s immense knowledge of preaching and his desire to equip preachers, so they can faithfully proclaim the Word of God in their contexts.
In three hundred and forty pages, John Stott walks his readers through the history of preaching, objections to preaching, and theological foundations for preaching, preaching as Bridge-building, sermon preparation and being courageous and humble in preaching. The goal of Between Two Worlds is to address the “loss of confidence in the Word of God among preachers who no longer take the trouble to study the Word in depth and proclaim it without fear” (Stott, 7).
Between Two Worlds along with Preaching and Preachers by Dr. Lloyd-Jones are two of my favorite books on preaching. Between Two Worlds excels at grounding its teaching in the Word of God and then equipping the preacher to know and proclaim the Word faithfully. While no book on preaching can cover everything, Between Two Worlds accomplishes its purpose in addressing the “loss of confidence in the Word of God among preachers” (Stott, 7).
The greatest strength of this book is its emphasis on the Word of God, the Gospel of God, and how to proclaim the Word of God. The way Dr. Stott answers objections in chapter two should be emulated by other preachers as he writes plainly and points his readers to the truth of God’s Word.
I first read Between Two Worlds as a teenager in high school, and it helped formulate my views on preaching. Having read this book numerous times over the years, I’ve always benefited from it and learned a great deal on how to better communicate the Word of God. Between Two Worlds is a very helpful book on preaching that will help its readers to become better lovers and preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It occurs to me, as we bandy around topics like Christian manhood and how we as men ought to live, that the idea of “Christian Manhood” can be dangerously subjective and ambiguous. Finish the sentence for me: Real men _____.
Can’t say “quiche.”
Drive a Ford.
Spit the farthest.
Belch the loudest.
And the list goes on. Pretty much everybody has their own list of the things that you must do – or not do – to be a real man. If I’m making the list, it’d be sure to include things like hunting wild pigs with a bowie knife and avoiding hipster hangouts like Chipotle and Starbucks. And no man who wanted to keep his man-card would ever be caught wearing flip-flops or eating a veggie burger.
Of course, society – and particularly marketing and advertising – doesn’t help. Since a good deal of the money we spend is tied to our self-image, there are a lot of people with a vested interest in what exactly that self-image should be. Take this guy, for instance.
It doesn’t take a marketing expert to identify the underlying message here. You need this body spray to smell powerful. To be powerful. Without it, you are just an average schmuck in your average schmuck underwear.
Also, potato chips.
This version of manhood is big, powerful, loud, and at least a little bit obnoxious. In moderation, this kind of manliness can be humorous and even endearing. Taken to extremes, it has given us brutishness and chauvinism of the worst kind.
Then, of course, there’s the sensitive man. The “real” man who is “secure in his manhood” so that he doesn’t have to “over-compensate.” It isn’t even that being sensitive is a bad thing or that it’s bad to be secure – it’s just that these things are no more inherently manly than being able to bench-press 300 lbs. or do a pull-up.
And if Terry Crews breathing Old Spice out of his mouth was an over-the-top example of the muscles-and-testosterone crowd, perhaps the ultimate caricature of this particular flavor of manliness is the metrosexual. You’ve all seen him – in the mall or at the local starbucks. He’s sensitive, he’s sweet, and he’s in tune with his sense of fashion. And there are a lot of people that would like to tell us that this is the man of the future – that we are done being Neanderthals and that it’s time to don our eyeliner and “get in touch with our feminine sides.”
And no. Not every “sensitive guy” is a metrosexual, just as not every “he-man” is a chauvinist pig.
Much of this mindset has to do with a long-overdue backlash against intense chauvinism. But once again, this approach to the question of manliness misses a very important question – are these things, these external adherences to a stereotype – are they really what makes us a man, or is it something more?
This, in a nutshell, is the dilemma of the modern male. We have testosterone-hyped pro-wrestlers and fashion-savvy metrosexuals tugging in opposite directions on our mancard.
Oh yeah. That’s right. They even have something called a mancard. We’ve never seen one, but every man has one. And not only that, but if you do something un-manly (read: not on somebody’s “real man” list) you can apparently get it revoked.
Okay. So we have a problem. The problem is that everybody has their own ideas about what it really means to be a man – and let’s face it, all of these definitions are ultimately colored by our own identities and experiences. What we need is an absolute standard.
As a Christian male, I have a lot of platitudes and preconceptions about what manhood is and isn’t – but it occurred to me recently that I’ve never taken the time to step back and examine them and see how they compare in the light of Scripture. And so that’s exactly what I intend to these next couple of weeks.
Do you believe and live out the truth of the sweetness of the grace of God? Often times I find myself whether I am working on homework, reading a stack of books or walking around my neighborhood thinking about the sweetness of the grace of God. As I do this I often think back to previous mistakes and circumstances in my life and also to the present about what the Lord is doing in my life.
In Ephesians 1:18 Paul says this, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Paul teaches this in the context of Ephesians 1:15-23 a section in which Paul is giving a prayer of thanksgiving. Paul is praying that the church will gain deep insight into the Lord’s powerful working and rich gifts in Christ.
When I think of the sweetness of the grace of God I cannot help but turn to Ephesians 3:16-19. In Ephesians 3:16 the Spirit applies to believers the presence and power of God. The inner man refers to one’s inner self as a human being. Christ already dwells in Christian but Paul prays here for his indwelling with power. In v.16 Paul speaks of the indwelling “Spirit” and here of the indwelling Christ teaching about the deity of the Spirit as well as the Son. Love is the natural and necessary outcome of a living faith that is the fruit of Christ’s work in the Christian. Godliness leads to greater understanding of God and his works. Breadth, length, height and depth express the immeasurable dimensions of god’s riches in Christ. To know what surpasses knowledge is the sublime privilege of the Christian. The purpose ultimately is to be filled with God’s fullness.
Thinking about the sweetness and richness of the grace of God often leads me to tears. It causes me to examine where I am in my walk with God and where I am being stubborn or apathetic. Thinking about the grace of God and its riches is beneficial for one’s spiritual growth. Paul prayed the prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 and was struck in humble adoration of who God is and what He has done in and through the work of Jesus Christ. As you think about the grace of God you ought to be struck in humble adoration that because of all Christ has done you are saved, and secured through His bloody death and resurrection.
Do you think about the grace of God often? Do preach and mediate upon the grace of God? One of the greatest ways to combat apathy and to grow in the grace of God is to think of and mediate upon how God in Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit is working in one’s life. I know as I think through all that Christ has done for me whether I am studying for a sermon, a blog, reading a book or whatever I am doing- thinking about the grace of God always leads me back to the Cross.
The Cross is the place where you and I need to run to not only because it’s the foundational to our salvation but because it is also central to our growth in discipleship. Throughout the Gospels Jesus calls His disciples to come to the Cross. Jesus calls His disciples to the Cross to lay down our burdens and to lay down everything at His feet. The grace of God is extended through and by the Cross. Jesus not only calls us to come to the Cross but to look at the empty tomb and know He is a resurrected Lord.
I urge my brothers and sisters in Christ to come afresh to the Cross. Look there at the Cross as the Suffering Servant who died a bloody death for your sin. Look to the empty tomb and know that it is indeed empty. Whenever I do this, I am struck afresh by the sweetness of the grace of God. I am reminded afresh that I am both a sinner and a saint. Saint in that my sins are forgiven through Christ and I can come boldly before His throne on the basis of His death and resurrection. Sinner in that sin still dwells within me but that one day I will stand before Christ and He will remove my sin and clothe me in white robes.
As one thinks about the precious sweetness of the grace of God- one ought to be convicted of the truth that the believer is both saint and sinner. The believer has confidence—confidence to walk closely in intimacy with Jesus because he/she knows that Jesus covers over (atones) for their sin.
I appeal to you today my brothers and sisters in Christ to walk with confidence not in yourself but in Christ. Growing in confidence in Christ means that you appropriate what He has done for you in the Cross and resurrection. It means reading, thinking and mediating upon and about His work on your behalf in the death and resurrection of Christ. Grow in confidence in the work of Christ and as you do you will continue to discover the sweetness and richness of the grace of God.
The Christian preacher is not the successor of the Greek orator, but of the Hebrew prophet.
The orator comes with but an inspiration, the prophet comes with a revelation. In so far as the preacher and prophet had an analogue in Greece it was the dramatist, with his urgent sense of life’s guilty tragedy, its inevitable ethic, its unseen moral powers, and their atoning purifying note. Moreover, where you have the passion for oratory you are not unlikely to have an impaired style and standard of preaching.
Where your object is to secure your audience, rather than your Gospel, preaching is sure to suffer. . . . It is one thing to have to rouse or persuade people to do something, to put themselves into something; it is another to have to induce them to trust somebody and renounce themselves for him. The one is the political region of work, the other is the religious region of faith. And wherever a people is swallowed up in politics, the preacher is apt to be neglected, unless he imperil his preaching by adjusting himself to political or social methods of address.
The orator, speaking generally, has for his business to make real and urgent the present world and its crises; the preacher a world unseen, and the whole crisis of the two worlds. The present world of the orator may be the world of action, or of art. He may speak of affairs, of nature, or of imagination. In the pulpit he may be what is called a practical preacher, or a poet-preacher.
But the only business of the apostolic preacher is to make men practically realize a world unseen and spiritual; he has to rouse them not against a common enemy but against their common selves; not against natural obstacles but against spiritual foes; and he has to call out not natural resources but supernatural aids. Indeed, he has to tell men that their natural resources are so inadequate for the last purposes of life and its worst foes that they need from the supernatural much more than aid.
They need deliverance, not a helper merely, but a Saviour.
The orator stirs men to rally, the preacher invites them to be redeemed.
Demosthenes fires his audience to attack Philip straightaway; Paul stirs them to die and rise with Christ.
The orator, at most, may urge men to love their brother, the preacher beseeches them first to be reconciled to their Father.
With preaching Christianity stands or falls because it is the declaration of a Gospel. Nay more—far more—it is the Gospel prolonging and declaring itself.
Christianity in secular culture is often portrayed in a very negative even hostile way on television or movies. Christians are called to represent Christ to the world. In UnChristian David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, two men who love the Gospel and the Church investigate how Christians are perceived as hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, antihomosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental.
The author’s purpose in this book “is to open the hearts and minds of Christians, to prepare us to deal with a future where people will be increasingly hostile and skeptical toward us. A new generation is waiting for us to respond” (Kinnaman, Lyons, 14). The term Unchristian reflects “outsiders’ most common reaction to the Christian faith. The author on this point comment that outsiders “they think Christians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be. For many people the Christian faith looks weary and threadbare. They admit they have a hard time actually seeing Jesus because of all the negative baggage that now surrounds them” (Kinnaman, Lyons, 15).
Being that I grew up in Seattle Washington an area of the United States that is known for being liberal and very secular, I can attest that much of the concerns expressed in this book are the view of the world. The purpose of this book is to help Christians to gain an understanding of the perception problem that the world has with Christianity today.
The main problem with this book is I don’t see its approach taken in the New Testament. The Bible is clear that Christians should not put a stumbling block before other Christians (Romans 14-15) it is also teaches that the Cross is a stumbling block to the world (1 Corinthians 1). The problem with the approach the authors take in this book in my opinion is it leads to a fear of man rather than a fear of God. The Apostles for example before the Sanhedrin weren’t concerned with what the Jewish leaders thought of them. Instead of thinking about what the Jewish leaders thought of them the Apostles told the Jewish leaders in Acts 4:19-20, “But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
The Apostles weren’t concerned about how the Jewish leaders perceived them, but only with being faithful to what they had been taught in the life and ministry of Jesus. This is not to say that the approach of the authors isn’t helpful as it is important for Christians to understand how the world perceives them as they live as sojourners in the world. Rather than helping “open the hearts and minds of Christians” the authors instead point Christians to how the world thinks of them, which doesn’t help Christians to fear God but rather encourages them to have a fear of man.
Fear of man is unhealthy and unbiblical. By focusing on the concerns of the world Christians can easily begin to care more about what the world has to say than what God has to said in the Word of God. While the intent of the authors in this book is good, I have a further concern on who the authors choose to contribute their ideas to this book. Some of the contributors that the authors choose to contribute do not have a good reputation as solid Christian theologians in most parts of evangelicalism, which in my opinion diminishes the contribution of this book significantly.
Even with these concerns there is still much that the Church needs to consider from this book. The authors are right that “the church needs more people who facilitate a deeper, more authentic vision of the Christian faith in our pluralistic, sophisticated culture” (Kinnaman, Lyons, 17). I appreciate how the authors state, “Many modern-day Christians have lost touch with the all-encompassing gospel that goes beyond personal salvation and reaches every corner of society. When conversion growth is the single measure of success the hard work of discipleship gets ignored.” This gets to the heart of why Christianity has an image problem as Christians have forgotten who they are in Christ. In every letter Paul wrote he reminded Christians that they were sons and daughters of God. The authors are right that many Christians do not understand that the Gospel is for all of life.
At the heart of the book is the idea that “to shift our reputation, Christ followers must learn to respond to people in the way Jesus did. In other words, to reverse the problem of unchristian faith, we have to see people, addressing their needs and their criticism, just as Jesus did. We have to be defined by our service and sacrifice, by lives that exude humility and grace. If young outsiders say they can’t see Jesus in our lives, we have to solve our “hidden Jesus” problem” (Kinnaman, Lyons, 206).
The part I appreciate about this book is rather than bashing on the bride of Christ the authors genuinely want to help and strengthen the Church with the Gospel. The authors spend the last chapter discussing various ways to strengthen the church. In that chapter, I especially appreciated this comment by Dr. Rick Warren, “My dream is that thirty years from now, the church will be known more by what it is for than what it is against.”
UnChristian is a very challenging book that will challenge Christians to act consistently Christian. Christians are often known as the authors state for focusing too much on a political agenda or some other issue than the Gospel. Thankfully this is changing as many Christians are refocusing their attention on what the Gospel is and what the Gospel demands.
Even with the concerns I’ve noted about this book, I am still recommending this book, because I believe the goal of the authors to helpfully point people to the Gospel and to understand the issues the world has with Christianity today is important for Christians to consider. Read this book carefully but with an open Bible.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Baker Books as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”