Preaching Psalms 95

How do you preach the Psalms faithfully? The Psalms are prayers that are sung. Some call it the prayer book of Israel. They are Hebrew poetry and is designed to move the heart. Although there are wisdom psalms that may be more logical and cognitive in impact, most of the psalms touch our emotions and desires. How can I preach it and reproduce a similar impact? I find this difficult. I find myself dissecting, and analysing by breaking down and then synthesising and re-organising the material in didactic, conceptual and systematic. And what is meant to move the heart loses its power and fails to move the heart. In a way, it misses the mark.

A case in point, on Sunday I preached Psalm 95. It is a psalm that celebrates God’s greatness as King, Creator and Shepherd and why he deserves to be worshipped appropriately. It is punctuated with shouts of joy, and notes of “come let us”. Then it suddenly shifts into a poignant warning to about what true worship really is – a surrender to God’s will and voice. From joyous exaltation and call to worship to an unexpected warning to listen and obey.

However, the setting explains that sudden shift. The Psalm was to re-assure the Israelites in exile that God is great even as they ended up deported to Babylon and the Temple laid in ruins. It was meant to explain that they ended in this state because like the generation in Moses time, they too had not listened and obeyed God’s voice. Very hard-hitting and sensitive issue. It should anger the hearer, raise defensiveness or produce repentance. The question is how do you preach this text in such a way that it had the same impact that it originally wanted to achieve? True exposition should not merely bring out the real meaning of the text but to also seek to reproduce the original impact intended.

Here is the Psalm 95 in ESV:

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”

I came up with a title (GOD IS WORTHY OF WORSHIP) and an outline that was more targetted to the mind than the heart:

  1. We worship because God is worthy. (He is our King, our Creator and Shepherd).
  2. We worship with praise and adoration. (Expressions of praise: sing, shouts of joy, thanksgiving. Expressions of adoration: kneel, bow down, prostrate. We move from praise to adoration – which includes a loving reverence that obeys)
  3. We worship together. (The fivefold repetition of phrase “come let us”)

How do you think this could be preached to have the same impact on emotions and conscience that the psalmist originally intended? I would love to hear your opinion.

Pastoral ministry Preaching

Teaching in the Deaf Faith Fellowship

Teaching the deaf in the Deaf Faith Fellowship requires hard work. It is cross-cultural communications. The deaf is a sub-culture. This was what I found out when the pastoral team decided that we need to help the deaf pastor in teaching and helping the deaf with evangelism, prayer and emotional health.

I took the lead with a Sunday sermon on evangelism followed by an afternoon workshop after lunch. We were preparing them for the Celebration of Hope. Sounds simple right? Far from it.

We decided to subject ourselves to the scrutiny and input of the deaf pastor Barnabas and his part-time admin helper Mui Keng. I ran through the sermon and seminar with them and from their input and advice, I had to make quite a number of changes in content, presentation and methodology. I had to simplify the workshop and I had to add more powerpoint slides with pertinent pictures. I had to plan some role acting and drama into the sermon and workshop.

Preaching about Zacchaeus in the Deaf Faith Fellowship

As there were 40 of them and not sufficient interpreters, I went through all the material with the cell leaders and assistants the Sunday before, so that they could readily help the members do the workshop exercises.

They participated and were attentive during the workshop

I must say I quite enjoyed doing this double sessions and the additional meeting to prepare the cell leaders. This has been enriching and satisfying for me, and I do hope it was for them too.

During their worship I found myself quite charmed by the beauty of Sign Language and learnt quite a few signs like “Hallelujah”, “Jesus”, “Lord”, “overcome”, “save”. During the sermon I had Hui Bong to interpret my sermon and during the workshop it was Mui Keng. I observed that you need patience and love to work with the deaf, and these two had it in abundance. May God bless them.

Pastoral ministry Preaching


The preaching symposium was held on 8,9 March 2018 in celebration of Trinity Theological College’s 70th anniversary. It was one of many other events to be held.

Panel to answer questions n the second day

I saw the publicity information, the titles and speakers at the symposium, and it perked my interest. Topics included: What is Preaching? The Bible and Preaching, Theology of Preaching, Preaching and Liturgy, Preaching as Pastoral Care, Preaching in a Pluralistic Society, and Preaching and Church Growth. The workshops included: Preaching on NT Genre, Preaching on OT Genre, Preaching a word from the Lord, Preaching by Listening to the World, Preaching as Evangelism, and Interest Groups: 1) Preaching to Children 2) Preaching to Youth.

As it turned out more than 400 signed up including the Mandarin version. The English-speaking version was held in the chapel while the Mandarin-speaking version in the multi-purpose hall. I hope the organisers see the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing his servants to this conference. There is a real hunger among pastors to be more effective and faithful in their preaching ministry.

I have always been interested in the craft of preaching and for many decades have read one book a year on average, and even more in some years. So I would consider this symposium as an equivalent to my annual reading.

Anglican Bishop Rennis Ponniah giving his talk

What I liked about it:

The topics were relevant and interesting. They were comprehensive but I came away wishing they had added something about “Preaching and Prayer” and look at the role of silence, solitude and prayer in the formation of the preacher, in sermon preparation, and in gaining insights on Spirit-guided applications. Perhaps another one on, “Preaching to Today’s Audience”.

The panel discussion that answered the questions from the floor were helpful and enlightening. One person asked about the way the preachers in the panel have seen themselves changed in the way they preached today compared to when they first started out. Another great question was about what sea change in the audience that the preachers have observed over their decades of preaching? One answer stood out: today’s church member is consumer-oriented unlike the members from the older generation, who were loyal to their traditions and churches.

The sessions were back to back from morning to late evening, with “no rest for the wicked”. I had to skip a few sessions as I felt over-saturated with information. I also found the session after lunch particularly difficult to pay attention to.

I met my friend Rev Vincent Hoon, an Anglican priest from The Church of True Light

On the whole I was glad with what I gleaned. I would have preferred a wider and comprehensive treatment of the topics. A few of the lecturers picked a key passage as a basis for the support of their talk. This narrowed the number and breadth of the truths they can draw from the limited text. If they had a topical approach, more insights and balance could have been shared about the subject as “all scripture” can be utilised to shed light upon the subject instead of one key passage. For instance the talk on “Preaching as Pastoral Care” used the text in Isaiah 40 where comfort was emphasised and what was communicated was a truncated form of pastoral care: comfort, consolation, support and tenderness. However, real pastoral care included reproof and rebuke, and even church discipline. What is the role of preaching in communicating and implementing discipline? That would have been a helpful facet to learn about!  This was missed out because an expository approach was employed and it was based largely on one passage. Good thing this could be clarified and explained during the panel question and answer. It was the same for the lecture on “Preaching in a Pluralistic Society’ which was based mainly on an exposition of Acts 17:16-24. Perhaps the organisers wanted such an approach as a form of demonstration of how good exposition should support whatever case you make about those subjects, so I do not wish to dwell too much on this issue.

I was impressed that they invited Rev Dr Naomi Dowdy, a well known Pentecostal preacher, former senior pastor of megachurch Trinity Christian Centre, and Chancellor of a theological college, to sit in the panel and share her wisdom. Another woman who made an impression on me was Rev Dr Maggie Low. Her lecture on “The Bible and Preaching” was basic understanding for preachers but her delivery led me to conclude she is one of the best women preachers in the city! She was articulate, passionate and connected well with the audience.

On the whole, I enjoyed it and wished they would organise more of these, more frequently. I applaud the organising committee and say a big thank you to Trinity Theological College for organising this.



Preaching to Mandarin congregation

Kenny preaches to Mandarin congregation with Annie the interpreter

I have not preached in the Mandarin service for some years. With the young preachers of the English congregation taking the pulpit regularly as part of their development, I thought it good to deposit something of myself in the Mandarin and deaf congregations. Pastor Edmund the Mandarin congregation pastor welcomed me to preach yesterday.

I began my preparation last week praying for the congregation and thinking about the composition of the group of 60 plus believers. The age groupings, the needs I could imagine such age groups would have, the actual needs that I know of, and the challenges the congregation was facing.

I looked at a few of the messages I preached last year in the English Service and prayerfully thought of using one of them.  Truth is both timely and timeless. So I looked for a sermon with timeless truths that apply to their life situation making them timely!! I finally settled on one message and copied it and renamed the file and started editing it prayerfully. I call this a “microwave sermon”.  The microwave is the prayer preparation and the modifications.

I had to change the number of verses to exposit from five verses to simply one verse. From three main points in the sermon, I focused on two. The message was interpreted so the time taken would be double. I did not want it to be a lengthy sermon so I shortened the passage, and the number of main points.

The applications and the conclusion had to change too. I had to share more illustrations and stories. This modification went on right to the time when the service began. As we stood and worship the Lord in the Mandarin congregation, thoughts flashed by and I had to change the introduction.

The heart of the message remained the same. It was like a house renovation.

In the end, I preached the sermon and enjoyed doing so.  The Spirit was upon me to preach good news to the believers. I hope they enjoyed it and found it inspiring and that the message brought them closer to God.

After the service they had lunch. So I sat down and chatted with a couple there. It was a meaningful Sunday.


Preaching the first person narrative sermon

The first person narrative sermon is one of the more difficult types of sermon to preach. In this form of preaching, the speaker takes on a character in a narrative and speaks in the first person as though he was the character, for example, Abraham or Apollos, Moses or Samson, Esther or Ruth. I have never done a first person narrative sermon before. But Christmas changed this.

Tom Cannon as Mordecai

Recently, one of my colleagues, Tom Cannon, did it and I was impressed by his sermon. He spoke as Mordecai, the uncle of Esther who was used by God to help save the people of Israel. He used an ingenious setting: the opening speech of the Purim festival where he narrated what had happened and why they are celebrating such a festival.

He had to know what he wanted to emphasize, the angle to approach the story. He had to memorize the script and rehearse it. Then he delivered the sermon with a colorful shawl around his shirt. Besides giving a creative kind of “book survey”, it ministered to people at levels beyond the main thrust of his message. This is to be expected, as the narrative sermon, like the parable, is rich and multi-layered in conveying truth.

The first person narrative sermon in the Christmas Service

At the end of the sermons, I got the pastoral team (already out of their costumes) to worship with the congregation

During the Christmas service on 23rd Dec 2017, the whole pastoral team decided to do five first person narrative sermonettes. It was called, “The Voices of Christmas”, with the tagline, five narratives, one story. The pastoral team did Mary, one of the shepherds, one of the magi, King Herod, and angel Gabriel. Each sermonette was about 7 minutes. The order of service began with three songs, followed by two sermonettes, another song, three sermonettes and a closing song. At the end, we had a quiz for the children who were within the service. We gave out gifts for correct answers. For fun, we had a quiz for the adults too. The service ended earlier than usual with O Come All Ye Faithful, and we ended with fellowship and good food.

The pastoral team enjoyed preaching the first person narrative sermons. It took a lot out of them but the sermons were well received by both adults and children. It was a good learning experience for everyone including myself as it was also a first time for me. Initially I baulked at it, and was supposed to summarize and thread together the various strands in a concluding sermonette. But it flashed on my mind that I could do that as Gabriel the archangel. It was nerve wracking and my first draft was too theoretical giving an overview of God’s eternal plan. I realized that at the full-dress rehearsal and so had to redo the whole message and bring it down to a more accessible and practical level. I cried to the Lord and he helped me. I saw that the main characteristic of angels is authority, so I had to sound confident and authoritative to convey angelic presence. I wore all white but could not find wings. It did not matter because it was a sermonette, not a drama. Just symbolic hints would do.

Interesting insights

There are many insights that arise to the fore when we enter the narrative as a character and see, hear, taste, smell, touch and feel. It’s a different kind of exegesis. One that uses the sanctified imagination. These insights are exposed that otherwise would have remained buried treasure if only exegetical analysis was used.

Have you done a first person narrative sermon before? What was your experience like?

Contemplative prayer

Silence, solitude and prayer

This simple message was preached at New Horizon Church. It expresses my conviction about the great need for a more contemplative approach to prayer in the church. If we want to live a life that pleases God, we need to learn to silence the inner noise and listen to God. We need to learn spiritual discernment. This contemplative spirituality is akin to the old Pentecostal tradition of waiting on God. We Pentecostals should not be overly cautious about wading into the waters of contemplative spirituality.

Book and movie reflections Preaching


Most pastors aspire to be good preachers and teachers. We know that the one meeting where the most members come together is the weekly worship service. A half hour or more from the start of the service, the preaching of the word takes centrestage. Even though pastors have different strengths and passions, there is a general expectation that he or she should be able to preach well.

One of my habits since I graduated from seminary was to read a book or two about preaching every year. I would glean some insights to incorporate into my philosophy of preaching. I would seize practical tips and methods and eagerly test them out. In the last decade, even though this annual readings has reduced, on the average, it is one book a year. This year I picked up Timothy Keller’s book on “Preaching”. I read it during a vacation to Bangkok. Now I am reading it again and writing my reflections on it chapter by chapter. Today I look at the prologue or introduction.

Prologue: What is Good Preaching

Keller gives his answers to the question, What is good preaching and how is this different from great preaching? Good preaching depends on the preacher’s gifts and skills – his ability to crystallise the truth, give it good organization and order, punchy illustrations and images, strong arguments and persuasive reasons, and applications that reach the heart. On the other hand great preaching requires fire from heaven, the Holy Sprit’s power to persuade and motivate and change. He gave the example of George Whitfield whose sermons were great and saved and transformed many lives but were sometimes poorly interpreted and structured. Great preaching but not good preaching. Great preaching is preaching with unction. Good preaching is sound interpretation of the word, with truths ordered logically, and delivered clearly and convincingly. Good preaching becomes great when the Holy Spirit takes it and open the heart of the hearer to heaven’s choir. However bad sermons can also become great when the anointing is present.

Keller says good preaching comes from loving the truth and loving people. This love makes the preacher exegete the text in its context and larger theological context to uncover the truth that needs to be proclaimed. Good preaching loves the people and knows them in the culture that influences them. It is able to analyse the culture and its counterfeit gods. It is able to show how God’s truth addresses the falseness of the culture, and how Christ actually fulfils the aspirations of the culture. Proper exposition of the text, and the transforming power of the Spirit, meet together, when Christ is revealed and proclaimed in the text..

How important is rhetorics, the art of communicating, in order to persuade and motivate people? Paul’s “I did not come with eloquent words or human wisdom” and “my preaching was not with wise and persuasive words” (1 Cor 1:22-24) does not mean that we reject all oratorical and rhetorical skills. Paul actually refers to “verbal bullying”, trickery and manipulation. Rather like Calvin, we need to acknowledge that rhetorics has it proper role: “Eloquence is not at all at variance with the simplicity of the gospel, when it does not disdain to give way to it, and be in subjection to it, but also yields service to it, as a handmaid to her mistress”.

Every pastor wants to spend adequate time and give proper attention to preparation of the sermon and its application to the hearers. However, I know from experience that its tough to do it week in and week out. The pastoral ministry is multi-tasked. Your days would be packed with planning, organising and evaluating. There are people and cell groups to meet. There are administrative and routine tasks from bulletin input to answering WhatsApp. In addition there are always interruptions and emergencies as well as the emotional drain of handling people. So the weekly ideal of ten hours allotted to the preparation of the sermon is often sliced away by urgent tasks that yelp for attention.

It would be great if churches had multiple staff or active and wise lay leaders who shield the pastor so that he can devote himself more to the ministry of the word and to prayer (Acts 6:4). Such churches are blessed indeed! For then the pastor can do justice to preaching.

However, I find the labels “bad”,”good” and “great” reminding me of the teacher’s frequent  remarks on my exercise book in primary school. Our assignments and exercises were marked, Good, or V.Good or Bad or Do Your Corrections! The better term to rule all the terms Keller used may be “faithful”.

Faithful preaching is what God calls us to do.  We have to be faithful to the text to bring out its true meaning, fulfilled in Christ, and to deliver it persuasively. We have to be faithful to apply the gospel truth to people in a culturally relevant way so that it changes lives in the long run. And we faithfully pray before, during and after sermon preparation for the Holy Spirit to guide and anoint us. And all this has to be done in time that is at times reduced due to the press of other responsibilities. However the final impact our sermons makes on people we leave into the hands of God. “Great” preaching cannot depend on quick polls, or members shaking the pastors hands and appreciatively saying Thanks pastor for that word. The label “good” and “great” are subjective and synthetic. We need to strive to be faithful preachers who preach Christ.

Chapter 1: Preaching the Word

Keller cites a seven volume history of preaching by Hughes Oliphant Old. Old names five basic types of sermons preached throughout the centuries. They are the expository (systematic explanation of scripture week by week based mainly on a single passage), evangelistic (conveying truths to nonbelievers), catechetical (teaching church’s confession and theology), festal (related to observances of the church year like Christmas), and prophetic (landmark sermons that addresses a juncture in history, event or culture).

To Old there are two main types of sermons: the expository organized around a single passage; and the topical or thematic which communicates a biblical idea from many passages or texts. Keller is of the conviction that “expository preaching should provide the main diet of preaching for a Christian community” (32) even though both main types of preaching would be needed today as it has been throughout history. He gives several reasons for his view: 1) expository preaching is the best way to display your conviction that the whole Bible is true. 2) Such preaching “makes it easier for hearers to recognize that the authority rests not in the speaker’s opinions or reasoning but in God, in his revelation through the text itself” (36). 3) It enables God to set the agenda for your Christian community. 4) It also “lets the text set the agenda for the preacher as well” (37). 5) It teaches your audience how to read their own Bibles and interpret the text. 6) It leads you to see the one overarching theme of Christ.

Expository preaching is not without its dangers. In the first 500 years the church used the lectio continua method, systematically working through whole books of the Bible taking years to bring the church through the Bible. This was followed by lectio selecta because of the increase in special feast and holy days. Selected texts covering large themes and special days like Christmas are used. In the last century great expositors have risen to revive the lectio continua and it has garnered quite a following. Even so Keller gives his warnings about this.

Times have changed and people are much more mobile. They do not stay their whole lives in one city like in the ancient days. And they do change churches for a variety of reasons. And they are various stages of maturity. Just going through a large book like Isaiah may take 2 years. So the pastor will have to ask himself: do I want to follow a rigid whole book approach or do I want to be more flexible and arrange a richer diet for the members and expose them to a greater variety of passages and themes from both Old and New Testament? Keller advises expository mini-series that cover various parts and genres of the Bible: Old and New, narrative, didactic, poetry, gospels in a reasonable amount of time.

The other danger Keller warn of is the tendency of expository preachers to dwell so much on sharing the gleanings of their exegesis and research that they neglect another vital area. “Neglecting persuasion, illustration, and other ways to affect the heart undermines the effectiveness of preaching- first because it’s boring and second because it’s unfaithful to the very purpose of preaching” (42).

The third danger is a too narrow definition of what constitutes “expository”. To some it has to be verse by verse. To others it is the one central truth and a streamlined outline. For others there is only one main point for any passage and only one!

I like what Keller says. More flexibility and creativity is to be welcomed. I believe that expository simply means bringing out the real meaning of the text. It could be based on a single passage or it could be based on many texts as when you preach about the Trinity. The main thing is that the texts should all be properly interpreted in their proper context. That is expository preaching: whether single or multiple texts were used. The benefits of the single passage exposition (stricter definition of expository), applies to the multiple texts exposition (topical) too, if a lectionary was used, or if one intentionally worked out a plan for a balanced coverage of biblical themes.

Let me end with a summary of Keller’s idea of expository preaching: “Expository preaching grounds the message in the text so that all the sermon’s points are points in the text, and it majors in the text’s major ideas. It aligns the interpretation of the text with the doctrinal truths of the rest of the Bible (being sensitive to systematic theology). And it always situates the passage within the Bible’s narrative, showing how Christ is the final fulfillment of the text’s theme (being sensitive to biblical theology).”(32)

Chapter 2: Preaching the gospel every time

I love this chapter. I subscribe to what Keller teaches here. However I suspect that applying it to every passage I preach may prove to be difficult. But I am willing to give it a shot. Here are some lovely extracts from this chapter.

“To see how the text fits into its whole canonical context, then, is to show how it points to Christ and gospel salvation, the big idea of the whole Bible. Every time you expound a Bible text, you are not finished unless you demonstrate how it shows us that we cannot save ourselves and that only Jesus can. That means we must preach Christ from every text, which is the same as saying we must preach the gospel every time and not just settle for general inspiration or moralizing.” (48)

“To preach the gospel every time is to preach Christ every time, from every passage. Only if we preach Christ every time can we show how the Bible fits together.” (57)

“If you don’t see how the chapter fits into the whole story you don’t understand the chapter. So preaching Christ every time is the way to show people how the Bible fits together”. (59)

“Ed Clowney points out that if we ever tell a particular Bible story without putting it into the Bible story (about Christ), we actually change its meaning for us. It becomes a moralistic exhortation to “try harder” rather than a call to live by faith in the work of Christ. There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: Is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do or basically about what he has done?”(60)

Keller talks about two dangers to avoid in preaching the gospel every time. The first is that of preaching a text, even about Jesus, without really preaching the gospel. He gives the example of a sermon he heard about the demoniac’s deliverance in Mark 5. Christ is painted as the liberator. Jesus came to set free those in bondage, isolated from people, and emotionally and mentally fragmented. Jesus liberates the demoniac. He can also liberate you of your low self esteem, addictions, bondages, loneliness, emotional and mental oppression.

Then Keller relates another sermon on the same passage. The preacher showed that the demoniac was a picture of all of us as sinners. Enslaved to sin and the powers of darkness, estranged from God, and from others, and from ourselves. The big question: Why can Jesus forgive and restore him? Jesus could forgive because He took the man’s place: he was naked, a prisoner, isolated as he was crucified outside the gate, crying out My God My God why has Thou forsaken me? Jesus became his Substitute. He bore all the sins of the demoniac, and all of our sins on the cross.

Both sermons were about Jesus but the latter sermon laid out the gospel clearly. The former sermon may give the idea that salvation is about being healed of addictions, demon possession and loneliness – which is short of dealing with the root problem of sin.

The second danger of preaching Christ is that we fail to preach the text itself: “There is another mistake into which we can fall. It is possible to “get to Christ” so quickly in preaching a text that we fail to be sensitive to the particularities of the text’s message. We leapfrog over historical realities to Jesus as though the Old Testament Scriptures had little significance to their original readers. Ferguson writes that this mistake “is likely to produce preaching that is wooden and insensitive to the rich contours of biblical theology.” The result will be this: because we have not spent time in the text itself, the way that Jesus is described will sound the same from week to week. Jesus will not be truly the resolution or climax of the particular theological theme and the answer to the specific practical problem. If he is that, there will be as many different ways to preach Christ as there are themes and genres and messages in the Bible. But if you don’t go deeply enough into the original historical context, you will have two or three stock ways of bring in Jesus, and they will sound the same every time.” (66-67)

Keller believes that legalism and antinomianism have the same root. They are “non-identical twins from the same womb” (Sinclair Ferguson). At the root of both is a distrust in God’s love. This distrust has gone into human bloodstream since inserted by the lie of the serpent at the beginning. The only cure is the gospel of Christ.

The legalist feels that God is a reluctant giver. He does not trust God’s goodness and generosity. God withheld one thing in the garden: the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He is a stingy giver unwilling to freely give us all that he has. So the legalist feels that he has to perform and jump hoops to deserve the Father’s blessing.

The antinomian feels that the law is given to restrict his personal freedom and growth. “God does not want you to be like god,” the serpent had said. He cannot see that God forbade the eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil because of the physical and spiritual death that would come on us. The antinomian feels that God does not want us to be like him or to grow into our full potential.

So at the root of both poles is a distrust of God’s love and His commitment to our well being and highest good. The cure to legalism is not to give a bigger dose of grace. And the cure to antinomianism is not to give a bigger dose of the law. The cure to both is to preach the glorious gospel which reveals, in immeasurable depth and richness, the great unconditional love of God. This will dissolve the distrust of God over time as the hearer believes the gospel and acts on it and experience God’s love to be true.

What a great insight. May the Lord help us to preach the gospel of grace in all its richness from all parts of the Old and New Testament to avoid the opposite poles of legalism and antinomianism.

Chapter 3: Preaching Christ from all of Scripture

Timothy Keller believes preaching the gospel every time is synonymous with preaching Christ every time. How can we like the resurrected Christ on the road to Emmaus, show other believers how Christ is in the text from Genesis to Malachi? Keller gives 6 handles to help us preach Christ from all of scripture. These are supplemented with references to books that are explained in quite extensive and useful notes at the back of the book.


EVERY GENRE AND SECTION OF THE BIBLE – Each part or section of the Bible point towards Christ in a particular way. Christ is the hope of the patriarchs and the angel of the Lord in Genesis. He is the rock of Moses in Exodus. The the fulfiller of the law in Leviticus, the true tabernacle in Numbers, and on it goes.

EVERY THEME OF THE BIBLE – Some themes of the Bible are kingdom which points to Christ our King; the covenant which points to the new covenant Christ enacted for us; the theme of home and exile, with Christ being exiled from the heavenly home in order to lead us back; rest and Sabbath, justice and judgment and righteousness and sin.

EVERY MAJOR FIGURE OF THE BIBLE – Christ is the better Adam who passed the test in the wilderness; the better Abel whose blood cried forgiveness; the better Abraham who left heaven to come to sinful world; the better Isaac whose sacrifice brought blessing even to Gentiles; and on and on it goes.

EVERY MAJOR IMAGE OF THE BIBLE – these could be impersonal objects like the bronze snake and the smitten rock in the wilderness, the tabernacle objects, the tree of life, the Passover Lamb.

EVERY DELIVERANCE STORY LINE – any narrative that carries a deliverance story line, a grace pattern or event, can point us to Christ. Examples are David’s defeat of Goliath which resulted in every Israelite partaking of the victory and benefits they never fought for. Then there are the stories of Naaman the Syrian general, the salvation of eight from the great flood, the story of Esther, the exodus from Egypt, the exile to Babylon and the return from exile, and many more.

INSTINCT – “Perhaps most outstanding preachers of the Bible (and of Christ in all Scripture) are so instinctively. Ask them what their formula is and you will draw a blank expression. The principles they use have been developed unconsciously, through a combination of native ability, gift and experience as listeners and preachers. Some men might struggle to give a series of lectures on how they go about preaching. Why? Because what they have developed is an instinct ; preaching biblically has become their native language. They are able to use the grammar of biblical theology, without reflecting on what part of speech they are using.” (Sinclair Ferguson)

I like what Timothy Keller has to contribute here. He has done a lot of research on how to preach Christ as can be seen in his extensive quotations plus his valuable summaries of what the authors of these thick books had said. Great stuff in the amplified notes at the end. Hopefully with the great respect and following Keller has more preachers will learn to preach the Old Testament the way Christ did it with his companions on that road to Emmaus. Preach Christ from every Scripture is a great chapter.

Chapter 4 – preaching Christ to the culture

“Preaching Christ to the Culture” is a heavy chapter. I find myself in unfamiliar territory. But vital to understand. I never had this kind of training or knowledge or approach in homiletics. All I remembered from my homiletic class by Rev Denver Stone was, “The whole purpose of preaching is to be understood” and “Make sure you preach 20 minutes, two minutes more or two minutes less.” The former seems to relegate preaching to lecturing, and the latter, was an impossible challenge for me personally. So preaching Christ to the culture, is welcome emphasis that I find in Timothy Keller’s book “Preaching”. Maybe that is why he is so effective, so virulent, so penetrating.

My apologies for procrastinating on this chapter’s reflection.

Keller begins by exploring the question, How can we be more persuasive in an increasingly post everything age? Some think changing the mode of communication will help. Modern people want interaction and to discover truths on their own. Yet today TED talks are highly popular. Some think the content should be changed to make it friendly to the secular audience. Dispense with the word “sin” and “sinner”. Or in the sermon start with the problem and show how the Bible and theology tackle the issue and give solutions. In other words, Should preachers change for the culture or challenge the culture? Keller gives his answer as YES, BUT NO, AND YES. YES: let us affirm whatever we can of the culture, even baptize and use it, as John used the concept of Logos (a Greek belief) in John 1. We have to be sincerely appreciative and affirmative in doing this and not fake it. Secondly, BUT NO:  we have to confront what is wrong about the culture: we have to defy unbiblical worldviews and values and morals. And finally, AND YES: we show how in Christ we can have what we actually were searching for in the first place. How do we do it? Keller shows six ways, some of which most preachers are familiar with, but a few are harder to explain without examples. So I recommend you buy his book and read these in detail to learn the ropes from this expert.

Here are the six ways:

  1. Use accessible vocabulary.
  2. Employ culturally respected authorities.
  3. Demonstrate and understanding of doubts and objections.
  4. Affirm in order to challenge baseline cultural narratives.
  5. Make gospel offers that push on the culture’s pressure points.
  6. Call for gospel motivation.

The elaborations and explanations in points 3 to 6 are excellent and he does go into detailed explanations and examples which are an absolute help.

This is where Keller excels and fills a gap. I have read many, many books on preaching over many decades but few have dealt with this topic in a detailed, helpful, practical way that preachers will appreciate. And because Keller is convinced it is highly important to understand this in order to be persuasive in this increasingly secular age, he devotes many pages to this matter. Good preachers must be able to unravel the “foundational cultural narratives of our time” underpinning such commonly accepted statements as “Everybody has a right to their own opinion” or “You have to be yourself”. This will equip us to challenge these slogans in our preaching with winsome clarity.

There are four more great chapters of this book but I have run out of steam trying to finish a summary and reflection on these chapters. Apologies. What I can say is this is a very good resource on expository preaching that you would want to read and keep in your library!