He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World. By R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2008. 208 pp., $22.99, hard cover.
Everything Al Mohler writes you should read. Mohler is probably the clearest, most thoughtful, engaging voice in Evangelicalism today. A scholar who writes clearly and addresses issues affecting people in the pew, Mohler contributes to the discussion in any area in which he is writing. He is Not Silent is just the same. Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY has hit a home run in a modern call to expository preaching. In a day when preaching is failing on hard times, Mohler’s book is a necessary antidote! With the poor state of preaching in the evangelical world today and many readers saying, “another book on preaching?” one must look at the content of Mohler’s book in detail to show the contribution it makes to the issue of preaching today in a postmodern world.
The structure of Mohler’s book is helpful as it leads in a progressive and logical treatment of the issue of preaching. The preface of the book identifies the problems facing preaching today. Preaching is falling on hard times and Mohler identifies keep issues facing preaching and areas where preaching is suffering today. This sets the stage by identifying the need in churches and the rest of the book provides the cure: expository preaching. Mohler’s first chapter outlines preaching as the heart of worship. Mohler writes, “If we as pastors are truly serious about giving our people a true vision of God, showing them their own sinfulness, proclaiming to them the gospel of Jesus Christ, and encouraging them to obedient service in response to that Gospel, they we will devote our lives to preaching the Word” (p. 38). All other issues aside, preaching is the hallmark and capstone of the evangelical worship service.
Mohler moves to address the ground of preaching next and rightly grounds preaching in the nature of the Triune God. God is a speaking God who has communicated to His people in propositional revelation. Preaching’s ground and power is from God’s revelation ultimately of His Son who through the cross saves men for God. The Holy Spirit finally is the one who is the internal minister of the Word of God who applies it to the hearers hearts. “The preacher is a commissioned agent whose task is to speak because God has spoken, because the preacher has been entrusted with the telling of the gospel of the Son who saves, and because God has promised the power of the Spirit as the seal and efficacy of the preacher’s calling” (p. 48).
In chapter 3 Mohler develops a theology of exposition. In this chapter he argues that the only form of authentic preaching is expository preaching. He looks at Deuteronomy 4 and the example of the preaching and hearing of the Word of God to effect change in the lives of people. God speaks, God’s people are those that hear God, and God’s people depend for their lives on hearing the Word. “We have the Bible, and if we truly believe that Bible to be the written Word of God-the perfect, divinely inspired revelation of God-then expositional preaching is the only option available to us” (pp. 63-64).
The next chapter deals with defining expository preaching and giving characteristics of it. He defines expository preaching as “that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible…. all other issues and concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text…. the text of Scripture has the right to establish both the substance and the structure of the sermon…. the preacher must make clear how the Word of God establishes the identity and worldview of the church as the people of God” (p. 66-67). This kind of preaching is characterized by authority, creates a sense of reverence among God’s people, and is at the center of Christian worship. “Worship is not something we do before we settle down for the Word of God; it is the act through which the people of God direct all their attentiveness to hearing the one true and living God speak to His people and receive their praises. God is most beautifully praised when His people hear His Word, love His Word, and obey His Word” (p. 75).
Chapter 5 delves into issues of the preacher’s authority and purpose. Mohler highlights the preachers authority as the Word of God and the preachers main responsibility. “The preacher’s authority lies not in profession, not in position, and not in personality. It lies in the Word of God alone” (p. 81). Colossians 1:28 reveals the preacher’s purpose in presenting every Christian mature in Christ. Thus, the preacher proclaims Christ, warns people, and teaches people, with the purpose of bringing them into maturity in Christ Jesus. “How are Christians going to grow? How are they going to be matured? How is the process of Holy Spirit-directed sanctification going to be seen in them? All by the preaching of the Word” (p. 86).
Chapter 6 deals most decisively with the issues facing postmodernism and that is “big story” preaching. Postmodernism rejects the idea of a “metanarrative” or a “big story.” Christianity, Mohler argues, is the big story that explains all other stories. “As Christians, we actually claim that we are possessed by the one story to which all other stories are accountable” (p. 92). Jesus’ explanation on the road to Emmaus to the two disciples about how all the Scriptures point to Christ is the foundation of our Christian metanarrative. Mohler argues that the beginning of the Christian metanarrative is creation, followed by fall, followed by redemption, and concluded with consummation. This is to be the content of our preaching. “Many of our people are dying of spiritual starvation because they do not know the Bible’s whole story, and thus do not find themselves in the story. True, they know many little stories. They have bag of facts. But a little bit of knowledge is not a big picture. As we preach, we need to bring every text into accountability with the big story of Scripture” (p. 102).
Chapter 7 is worth the price of the book. Every pastor is called to be a theologian. “In far too many cases, the pastor’s ministry has been evacuated of serious doctrinal content, and many pastors seem to have little connection to any sense of theological vocation” (p. 106). Mohler then goes on to highlight the theological nature of the pastor’s ministry and calling, and his concentration. Mohler discusses his “theological triage” in helping to identify what is the most important theologically over things that are of less importance. Preaching is theological in nature and therefore the pastor’s conviction needs to be theologically driven. “All Christian preaching is experiential preaching, set before the congregation by a man who is possessed by deep theological passion, specific theological conviction, and an eagerness to see these convictions shared by his congregation” (p. 113).
In chapter 8 Mohler returns specifically to the postmodern culture and addresses preaching to this culture. He discusses the deconstruction of truth, the death of the metanarrative, the demise of the text, the dominion of therapy, the decline of authority, and the displacement of morality. Looking at how Paul responded in Acts 17:16-34 to the minds of Athens, Mohler argues for an approach to dealing with our people today. This is an excellent section and must be read personally to see how it applies to today. “What is needed is a generation of bold and courageous preacher-apologists for the twenty-first century-men who will be witnesses to the whole world of the power of the gospel and who will proclaim the whole counsel of God” (p. 131).
Chapter 9 deals with the urgency of preaching. We must preach with urgency because sinners need to be saved, because the gospel saves, because people will not believe unless we preach. This thus makes for the preacher of the gospel to be one of great privilege. “This is not an option for us or for the church. It is our commission” (p. 144).
Chapter 10 is an encouragement for preachers. Preaching often seems ineffectual and it seems like the pastor’s task is in vain. But instead of giving up, we need to continue to pursue the preaching task as if dying men speaking to dying men. Using Ezekiel 37 and the dry bones, Mohler offers an encouragement in preaching. It is not the preacher who brings about change, but God who does. God calls Ezekiel to prophecy to the dead, and God uses the message of Ezekiel to bring new life. This is how it is encouraging to the preacher. God uses us to effect change. But it is God who brings change! “No doubt, the challenges are great, and the frustrations are sometimes even greater. But we do not preach because we thought it would be easy. We preach because our hearts are broken by the spiritual death and destruction all around us-and because we see the spark of hope in the question of our sovereign, life-giving God put to Ezekiel and now puts to us: ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” (p. 158).
Finally, Mohler uses the life of C. H. Spurgeon as an example of a passionate pastor-theologian boldly being used by God as an expositional preacher of the Scriptures. “In our era, distanced by more than a century from Charles Spurgeon, we would do well to remember this great man and the impact of his ministry. Beyond this, we should be reminded of the centrality of biblical confidence and theological conviction to the preaching task” (p. 169).
This book is not a “how-to” book for preaching or sermon construction. There are already a million of those out there. This book though serves as the biblical and theological foundation for preaching and should be the beginning of the study of preaching. Before we ever start diagramming a passage of Scripture or deriving a “big idea” for a sermon, we should seek to understand the biblical and theological foundation for expository preaching. This is what Mohler does for us so clearly and so ably. He studies the Scriptures and the culture around us and shows us that in this day we need more clear expository preaching of the Word of God, not less. We need men to know the Word and proclaim it and teach it faithfully. Mohler’s book will rekindle the fire in your heart as a preacher of the Word of God or may just motivate you to pick up that most noble calling and serve Christ as a preacher of the Word of God! Everyone, pastor and non-pastor alike, should read this book and be challenged and encouraged.