Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Book Write-Up: Preaching Old Testament Narratives, by Benjamin H. Walton

Benjamin H. Walton.  Preaching Old Testament Narratives.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Benjamin H. Walton has a D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has lectured at many Christian universities and seminaries.

As the title indicates, this book is about how pastors can preach about narratives in the Old Testament.  First, Walton believes that pastors should identify a pericope in the Old Testament, which he calls a “Complete Unit of Thought (CUT),” and he offers suggestions as to what one should look for in doing that.  Second, Walton stresses the importance of centering the sermon around a “Take-Home Truth (THT),” a theological or spiritual insight that is rooted in the Old Testament pericope itself as well as the pericope’s significance within the larger Old Testament narrative, while also being relevant to believers under the New Covenant.  In addition, Walton offers insights on how to craft an introduction, the usage of anecdotes and humor, application points, and delivery.  Walton’s sample texts in this book are II Samuel 11-12 (David and Bathsheba) and Genesis 11:1-9 (the Tower of Babel).  In the Appendix section, Walton includes two sermons on those texts, marking the sermons according to the sermon strategies that he has discussed in the book.

The book is very detailed.  Walton has definite ideas about what sermons should look like, where the parts of the sermon should go, and why.  While the book is rather dense in some places, I have to admit that the sermons in it are quite good: they are lucid, informative, insightful, compassionate, sensitive, empathetic, relatable, and coherent.  I doubt that a person could casually read this book and then “Go and do likewise,” just like that.  Rather, applying the principles in this book would take rereading and study of the book, or at least sections of it.  In some of my own preaching experiences, I spent lots of time researching the biblical text, and the result was highly academic sermons without a central thesis.  I then figured that perhaps “less is more” and I should spend less time in preparation.  But, actually, according to Walton, preparing a good sermon does take time: about fifteen hours!  But, for Walton, that time is not limited to researching the biblical text but also includes seeking anecdotes and jokes, crafting points of application, and practicing the delivery.

The book has many positives.  Its detail and its advice were definitely helpful, but I also appreciated its stance towards the Hebrew Bible.  Walton shies away from typological and allegorical approaches towards the Old Testament and prefers to allow the Old Testament narratives to speak in their own voice.  Yet, Walton’s approach is still Christian.  For Walton, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are different, and that should be acknowledged.  Still, Walton maintains that there are truths and principles in the Old Testament that are still applicable to believers under the New Covenant, even if believers may apply them differently from how they were applied under the Old Covenant.  Walton also believes that the Gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection should be included in sermons, often as the answer to issues that the Old Testament and the “Take-Home Truth” raise.  Walton allows the Old Testament to be the Old Testament and the New Testament to be the New Testament, respecting each on its own terms; yet, he manages to relate the Old Testament to believers under the New Covenant, in a sensible manner.

The book also offered advice as to how people can get their sermons critiqued.  Those who lack a social network may find Walton’s reference to a specific preaching web site to be helpful: a person can leave their sermon there, and people comment on it.

In terms of critiques, there may be readers who finish this book despairing that they cannot craft and deliver a perfect sermon, or thinking that they lack the insight or creativity to “Go and do likewise!”  Walton should have demonstrated an understanding tone towards people in that situation (like the understanding tone in the sermons).  While Walton did well to refer to academic books for the research aspect of the sermon, he should have also referred to books on sermon humor and sermon anecdotes.  Finally, Walton should have clearly marked the biblical texts with which he was interacting, since there were times when he was interacting with more than one biblical text, and that could get confusing.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest!

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