Bret James Stewart's Reviews > Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century

Between Two Worlds by John R.W. Stott
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really liked it

Stott has written another great book.

Brief Summary

This book deals with preaching in what was recently the contemporary culture. The concepts are timeless, so one must ignore the occasional reference to typewriters or overhead projectors and stick to the ideas Stott is attempting to convey. Of all the functions in the church, Stott believes preaching is the most important. His book provides information and strategies for the modern preacher to use in the pulpit. The first section of the book contains a historical sketch of preaching to set things in context. Second is a discussion of (post)modern audiences and the things that vie for their attention. Third, Stott lays out the theological foundations for preaching. Fourth, he uses the metaphor of bridge-building as the task the preacher has of connecting with the world. The fifth portion addresses the need to study. Sixth, Stott provides information for the preparation of sermons. The seventh deals with the first of two pairs of qualities that Stott feels are vital for the contemporary preacher: sincerity and earnestness. Eighth is the second pair of fundamental characteristics: courage and humility. An epilogue and select bibliography finish out the text.

Chapter by Chapter Summary

The introduction, as expected, introduces the perceived need this book addresses. Stott holds that preaching is and always has been the most important part of the church function if one includes the pastorate as well as any other sort of preaching. The proclamation of the Word is a fundamental task of all believers. Still, in most settings, it is the preacher (pastor) who is the most visible and, therefore, recognizable professor of the Word, so the book is geared toward helping pastors know their history and how to perform optimally in the pulpit.

The first section is entitled The Glory of Preaching: A Historical Sketch. This section covers the history of preaching beginning with Jesus Himself and His Apostles all the way through the late twentieth century. Stott evidently considers the Roman Catholic and various Orthodox Churches to be legitimate members of Christianity, and he sadly includes them in this roster.

The second section, Contemporary Objections to Preaching, deals with the anti-authority mood of most congregations that result from a strong (post)modern humanism cultural context. The influence of television is specifically covered, along with the resulting loss from all the above in the authority of God’s Word. Stott closes the chapter with some strategies for the recovery of Christian morale in congregations.

The third section is Theological Foundations for Preaching. It provides information about the biblical reasons for preaching. The theological impetus for the church, scripture, the pastorate, and the act of preaching are described. This allows the pastor to approach his job with confidence of biblical authority in that occupation.

The fourth section is entitled Preaching as Bridge-building. In it, Stott explains that the average pastor and the average congregant live in two different worlds. He then provides strategies and examples of how to effectively communicate with both “sides” of the bridge. This section is presumably the basis for the title of the book, so I imagine the author felt this segment to be especially important.

The fifth section, The Call to Study, argues the need for the preacher to be in a constant state of learning about the Bible, Bible-related materials such as commentaries, and secular topics such as literature. Regular Bible study and study for sermons are vital for the pastor. Methods for effective study are provided as are some third-party aids such as reading groups. A learning pastor himself grows in the Lord, and he is then better able to help others in their Christian walk (or begin it, as the case may be).

The sixth section is Preparing Sermons. This is the most hermeneutical portion of the text, and those interested in this topic will appreciate it. Essentially, what is usually called expository preaching is the best, conservative way to approach the Scriptures, and this is what Stott promotes. He walks the pastor through the sermon-creating process and provides some tips for effective sermon making.

The seventh and eight sections, entitled Sincerity and Earnestness and Courage and Humility, respectively, are about the four characteristics Stott feels are fundamental to the preaching profession, so I will treat them together as the reasoning is essentially the same. People/congregants can tell if a pastor is legitimate. Preachers without these four qualities lose the respect and interest of those hearing him. Cultivating these traits is prerequisite to effective preaching, and the pastor should be aware he serves as a witness to God, so this is no small matter. Stott provides practical examples and a strong defense for their value. This is, perhaps, the least practical chapters of the book, but this does not reduce the importance of these four characteristics in the contemporary church.

The epilogue provides a few more examples of the importance of preaching with integrity and seeks to provide some encouragement for the procedure. The selected bibliography is the last section.

My Take

I really like this book. I think that the material Stott has provided is necessary for preachers/pastors as they fulfill their divinely-inspired call to preach the Word of God to all and sundry. The inclusion of some of the stars of the historical preachers is especially nice as this is not biblical material, per se, and the pastor would not know this history without a resource such as this. Our current favourite, (a young!) Billy Graham, is mentioned here and elsewhere in the book. Stott also spends a good bit of time on the Puritans and Congregationalist preachers, which I appreciate because I find their methods and stories both quaint and powerful. Some of the past preaching superstars such as Whitefield and Edwards are given some attention. Luther and Calvin are included, as one might expect, as are some lesser known personalities who, despite their relative obscurity, provides wonderful examples of men sold out to Christ who devoted themselves to the task at hand. Stott includes a number of quotes from diaries and letters, so this portion of the book also provides a number of interesting historical tidbits in an off-hand manner.

The book is somewhat dated, as might be expected with a book from the early 1980s. Still, as I mentioned in the brief introduction, the subject matter of the tome is really about the history, need, and methodology of preaching as well as the important character/personality traits that correlate with them (and how to cultivate them). All of these things are as important now as they were in the time Stott wrote them, and it is the wise preacher who is willing to overlook the few dated segments to mine the riches Stott has provided in this book.

If you haven’t read John R.W. Stott, you really should. He is a good writer, a faithful man of God, and thoughtful in his arguments and critiques. I highly recommend this book. I deduct one star for his inclusion of the Roman Catholics and Orthodox religions in a book about Christianity; I refute the “two branches” concept of Christianity whole-heartedly. I would also deduct half a star for the lack of general subject and Scripture reference indices, which I think should be present in a non-fiction book such as this. This results in a 3.5 star ranking, but Goodreads does not allow half-stars, so I will raise it 4. I believe this book is out of print, so you can pick it up inexpensively; it is well worth the investment.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
February 22, 2016 – Shelved

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