Akin, Daniel L., David L. Allen, Ned L. Mathews. Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon. Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Publishing, 2010. 315 pp. $29.99.
Text-Driven Preaching, edited by Akin, Allen, and Mathews, presents a much-needed way forward for those responsible for communicating God’s Word. In it, various contributors demonstrate the need and method of preaching text-driven sermon – that is, “a sermon that develops a text by explaining, illustrating, and applying its meaning” (8). It is more than biblical preaching which strives to communicate a biblical truth. It is more than expository preaching which seeks to reveal (expose) the meaning of the text. Text-driven preaching accomplishes these goals, but does so by being wedded to the text, allowing the very Word and words of God to provide the scope, structure, and meaning of the sermon.
Allen argues that there is a biblical and theological foundation for such exposition: “God has spoken. God is not silent. He has revealed Himself in Jesus, who is the living Word, and in Scripture, which is the written Word. Therefore, the theological foundation for text-driven preaching is the fact that God has spoken!” (3).
There is much to commend in the book. Allen’s 12-step sermon preparation method serves young and experienced preachers alike – instructing the former and challenging the latter to examine their own practices. Hamilton’s chapter reveals the vast importance of studying Biblical theology for preachers who are called to preach the entire counsel of God, rather than just the gospel accounts, epistles, and a few psalms. Akin expertly provides the reader with the importance of application, and assists the reader by instructing him with its preparation.
However, one may find it peculiar that a book instructing preachers to be faithful to the text by allowing the text to speak for itself begins not with a chapter on the prophetic lineage of preaching found in the text, but rather one that focuses, “on the three famous rhetorical means of persuasion provided by Aristotle in his Art of Rhetoric”: ethos, logos, and pathos (17). One quickly discerns that the goal of preaching, according to many of the book’s contributors, is persuasion, for, “the objective of ancient rhetoric was to persuade” (15). This appears to be Allen’s objective as well, who writes that the text-driven preacher should attempt to affect the mind, the emotions, and the will (115).
Following this conviction – that the goal of the preacher is to affect or persuade the hearer – one discovers that when Bennett writes, “God accomplishes His purposes in the believer’s life by two instruments: the Word and the Spirit,” he means through the unctioned preacher, not necessarily the Holy Spirit’s action through the preached Word (60). This leads the reader to understand that the goal of text-driven preaching is to affect the hearer through the Holy Spirit empowered preacher who preaches a text-driven sermon. Sadly, this does not appear to be the impetus for the book, or even the desired message of the book, but stands as the cumulative instruction therein.
At the center of text-driven preaching should be the text itself, not the preacher or the hearer. They are necessary for the text to be preached, but too many books have been written that fail to acknowledge the prominence of the text in the preaching act. York stands alone as the contributor who provides an alternative goal of preaching: “communicating what God has spoken in the most accurate and compelling way possible” (232). York’s definition places the preacher’s concern on his own faithfulness to the text. Grudem writes, “The Holy Spirit speaks through the gospel message as it is effectively proclaimed to people’s hearts.”  The preacher has no power whatsoever over the hearts and actions of his hearers. Akin quotes Rick Warren stating the same even more emphatically, “You [the preacher] do not change people’s minds; the Word of God applied by the Holy Spirit does” (279).
This assurance – that it is not the persuasive power of the preacher, but the Holy Spirit who is at work affecting the hearers through the preaching of his inspired Word – provides the foundation for genuine text-driven preaching. No longer enslaved by Aristotle’s rhetorical triad – no longer shackled by the need for creativity to inspire and motivate – the preacher is freed to be transformed by the renewing of his mind (Rom 12:2) through thorough exegesis and study, to stand before his congregation confident that the Holy Spirit will overcome the failures and faults of such a brittle mouthpiece, and the preacher presses the text for its scope, structure, and meaning, for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). This is text-driven preaching. May God convict us to pursue this task.
Daniel L. Akin, David L. Allen, Ned L. Mathews, Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon