Vines, Jerry and Shaddix, Jim. Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons. Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1999. 391 pp. $32.99
In Power in the Pulpit, Jim Shaddix has revised, updated, and edited the pivotal works of Jerry Vines, A Practical Guide to Sermon Preparation, and A Guide to Effecetive Sermon Delivery. Shaddix (former Dean of the Chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) and Vines (former pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL) bring decades of academic and practical insights regarding expository preaching to the table (the book has Vines’s voice with Shaddix’s redaction) and deliver what is commonly considered the preaching textbook for expository preachers.
The entirety of this project is written, “to give practical help specifically to the man who is faced with the responsibility of preaching weekly” (13). The book itself is divided into three primary sections. Part 1, “The Preparation for Exposition,” focuses on the theoretical and biblical foundation for preaching, as well as the preparation and requirements of the preacher himself. Part 2, “The Process of Exposition,” provides the real substance of the book, as it takes the hand of the reader and walks him through the step-by-step process from sermon text to sermon. Part 3, “The Presentation of the Exposition,” gives attention to sermon delivery, including communication style, a primer on vocalization, and the use of language.
Vines explains multiple sermon models and methods, but focuses his attention early in the book on the expository sermon. This sermon, he defines as, “a discourse that expounds a passage of Scripture, organizes it around a central them and main divisions which issue forth from the given text, and then decisively applies its message to the listeners” (29). This sermon type, he writes, may be used in the context of topical series, but is best utilized in what he defines to be systematic exposition, or, “the consecutive and exhaustive treatment of a book of the Bible or extended portions thereof, dividing the text into paragraphs and consecutively preaching from them” (31-32). This type of preaching, Vines writes, battles the biblical illiteracy faced in so many churches, demands the preacher to preach the full counsel of God as opposed to a pet theological topic or application, constantly challenges the preacher to adapt to the text rather than adapt the text to a pet sermonic style, and relieves the preacher of the panic of selecting a sermon text each week.
The strengths of Vines’ book are well-known and are the reason this text is still considered by many to be the seminal volume on preaching for those desiring to preach effective, expository sermons. He effectively invites the reader into his study and walks him through the process of exegesis, determining the central idea of the text, and crafting the sermon. This is by far the strongest and most important section in the book.
However, in his section that details the process of determining the application of the text, Vines instructs the reader to “do everything you can do to be a student of modern culture” (184). He recommends that they, “get outside of commentaries and lexicons and into the worlds where [their] people live” (184). While maintaining a sense of wisdom, this practice could possibly be perceived as a practical rejection of sola Scriptura.
God’s Word is not devoid of insights into the human condition and the state of man’s heart. In fact, one of the most incredible aspects of the Bible from an anthropological perspective is that it speaks to the human condition cross-culturally. There has never been a culture that is not addressed by Holy Scripture. One need only study the pages of God’s Word to know that the heart is deceitful and dark, full of malice and envy, covetousness and selfishness. What insight could be gained by the study of modern culture that cannot be known through God’s Word? However, when one makes note of Vines entire purpose of preaching, this development is not surprising.
The purpose of preaching, he writes, is, “to persuade the hearers to act upon the truth that was shared” (249). Thus for Vines, the end goal for preachers is the imperative. Vines wants his hearers to do something as a result of the text. In a similar fashion, Robinson declared that the goal of the sermon was to “secure some moral action” (Robinson, p. 107). An objection must be made at this point that this goal places too much emphasis on the preacher.
The goal of preaching must be the faithful proclamation of God’s Word, and through that proclamation the Holy Spirit moves in the hearts of the hearers and incites them to response. The preacher can do no such thing. He simply lacks such power.
One must be cautious, however, not to overstate the objection. Presented with this objection and the proposed alternate goal of preaching, Vines would not likely present a theological defense of his position. However, the nature of reviewing a book requires one to interact with what is written, not merely that which is perceived to be the belief of the author.
Jerry Vines’ Power in the Pulpit remains the premiere text for those seeking to sharpen their exegetical and homiletical skills for good reason. The objections noted are minor in comparison to the wealth of insight and wisdom to be found on each page. Vines writes in the introduction that, “the call to preach is also the call to prepare” (13). This book is a tremendous resource with which to begin that preparation.
Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix, Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons