J. Kent Edwards, B & H, 2009, 211 pages
A few years back I read Unbroken, and while it was an exciting story, none of the author’s lines were memorable—way too many yawners. Deep Preaching is the opposite: Edwards really knows how to turn a phrase. His thesis is that sermons gain their greatest depth through “closet work”: prayer, meditation, fasting, and dependence on the Holy Spirit. “Deep sermons cannot be preached by shallow people. Profound sermons only come from people who enjoy a profound relationship with God” (43).
Preaching today is more difficult because of people’s higher expectations and the information overload (ch.1). We know that preaching is really important from Scripture (3) and history (4, like Calvin preaching 170 sermons per year—two on Sunday plus every day at 6 a.m. on alternative weeks). Preaching should be expositional (he gives seven reasons to preach through books) and aimed at one big idea (5; per Jowett: “[no] sermon ought to be preached or even written, until that sentence has emerged clear as a cloudless moon”). The secret to deep preaching is the Spirit’s aid in sermon prep (6). There are harmful implications if the preacher doesn’t fast (7). He demonstrates why preachers avoid the closet (people are fearful because they hate solitude and love multi-tasking) and closes by giving lots of questions and methods to use (8-9). He drives the point in every page that sermon preparation should not be rushed. Deep preaching means long meditation, fervent prayer, and intense study.
The book certainly had some silly-isms. Edwards footnotes all the biblical texts, references ad nauseum pop culture, and inserts some cartoons captions that doesn’t exactly help his thesis of ‘deep preaching’. He lost me on page 178, suggesting we should do anything to communicate effectively (no matter how embarrassing or humiliating), such as giving church members free gift cards to Starbucks and emulating Jay Leno’s Tonight Show.
He made me wonder. Is it true you must not put more than one idea in your sermon (60)? We agree its not right to preach a sermon on prayer and finding the will of God, but can I show from Mark 4 and the parable of the soils that true Christians will bear fruit and that Satan yearns to destroy the gospel? Those are two different ideas. And what about Haddon Robinson’s line: “A text cannot mean what it never meant.” Edwards says that if Moses heard your sermon on Exodus, he should not be surprised by your exegesis, and if he is, you are not preaching biblically. But if the OT is a shadow of the new, then he would be surprised in some ways, right?
Some favorite quotes
1. “When you want a reputation as a deep preacher—when you are not in a deep and passionate relationship with your Lord—you will be sorely tempted to fake it. Singers who lip-sync eventually get caught. So do preachers” (56).
2. “If the software embedded within your plastic laptop dominates your sermon preparation, your sermons will sound faked” (89).
3. “The more time that we spend in meditation the deeper its truths are pressed into our lives. Mediation does for your soul what stain does for raw wood” (97). How long should we spend in meditation over our sermon text? Rule: “The tougher the meat, the longer it needs to be in the marinate” (98).
4. “Nothing is so feeble, so insipid, so nonproductive as a little tedious praying. To pray over our sermons in the same way as we say grace over our meals does no good” (110).
5. “Superficial sermons result when truth is spooned from shallow hearts” (111).
6. “Great sermons, like great food, are not strip mined in Texas, do not roll off an assembly line in China, or slide across fast-food counters. Gourmet meals are created by hours of Closet Work. And meditation, prayer, and fasting are the kitchen tools used by homiletical master chefs” (122).
7. “Shallow preachers speak the truths of Scripture so abstractly that they are essentially meaningless. They speak, for example, of ‘the importance of holiness’ but never take the time to show us what holiness actually looks like” (124).
8. “If you can’t put the idea of a passage into a metaphor, you don’t really understand it” (126).
9. “Deep sermons have to be so riveting that people want to give us one of the rarest gifts of our generation: their undivided attention” (165).
10. Spurgeon used his own gift of metaphor-making. “He suggests a limit of eight metaphors per sermon a rule he broke with great exuberance” (131).
The lines you quoted make me want to get the book. And here are the sentences from Jowett before the line he quoted.
“I have a conviction that no sermon is ready for preaching, not ready for writing out, until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as a crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting, and the most fruitful labor in my study. … Every sermon he preaches shall express its theme and purpose in a sentence as lucid as his powers can command.”