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Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today Paperback – May 18, 1982
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From the Back Cover
Between Two Worlds challenges both pastors and laypersons to restore health and vitality to the church and encourages them to give themselves wholeheartedly to their calling.
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Top Customer Reviews
In laying the foundation to his book, Stott begins with a historical sketch in order to display “a certain glory in the preaching ministry (9).” His historical sketch is chronological, beginning with the apostles and early church, through medieval and the reformers, all the way to the 19th and 20th century expositors. After establishing the rich tradition of preaching, Stott jumps to the contemporary objections towards preaching in chapter two. The three main arguments against preaching from the contemporary society are: the anti-authority mood, the cybernetics revolution and the loss of confidence in the gospel (50-51).” In chapter three Stott lays out his theological foundations for preaching which consist of a number of convictions. The content involves convictions about, God, Scripture, the church, the pastorate and preaching.
After laying a strong theological and historical foundation for preaching, the author in chapter four looks to bridge the gap between the biblical and modern world. He does so by speaking about a number of ways the preacher can apply the word to a contemporary audience. These involve combining “…the authoritative and the tentative, the dogmatic and the agnostic, conviction and open-mindedness, teaching the people and leaving them free to make up their own minds…(178).” Chapters five and six seek to give practical advice for something Stott feels is very important, study and sermon preparation. Much of these chapters are filled with Stott’s personal habits, which reflect the wisdom attained from a number of years in pulpit ministry.
Stott ends his book by focusing on character traits of the preacher. In chapters seven and eight the author makes a case for the preacher being sincere, earnest, courageous and humble. These chapters are filled with examples of men who displayed the particular trait Stott was seeking to establish as an ideal for preachers.
The author attempts to show the necessity of preaching through various means as mentioned above. The strongest aspect and what separates Stott’s book from others similar books is his establishment of historical examples to prove his thesis. This is found not only in devoting an entire chapter to a historical sketch, but throughout the book the author is constantly grounding his point by looking at the rich history of Christian preachers. Two examples come to mind: the first is found in chapter four in the context of bridge-building. Stott assures the reader that these concepts he is espousing are not simply his own whimsical ideas, but “Christian preachers in every age have seen the need to relate God’s revelation to the times in which they lived…(147)” He then gives examples of Chrysostom, Edwards, F.W. Robertson, Barth and Lloyd-Jones. The second example is found in chapter eight where Stott lists and describes how Luther and Knox are exemplary of courage (303-304). Throughout the book Stott does not pretend he has come up with original ideas, but instead grounds his points in the history of the church.
Although establishing his thesis in the historical examples of the church might be the differentiating aspect of Stott’s book, his grounding of his thesis on the biblical and theological aspects is the most important. In a refreshing line of the book Stott says, “The essential secret is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions (92).” He continues, “In other words, theology is more important than methodology (92).” In the introduction Stott states, “…I believe that by far the most important secrets of preaching are not technical but theological and personal (10).” His chapter on theological foundations is convincing, but Stott demonstrates that his words in his introduction are true by appealing to the biblical text throughout his book. Similar to his historical examples where the author does not rely upon his own ideas, Stott constantly appeals to Scripture in establishing convictions about preaching. For example, in chapter two where the author is writing about contemporary objections and the anticipation of people’s objections in preaching, Stott appeals to Scripture to show that there is dialogue between speaker and listeners, or between writer and reader (62). Stott says, “The past master at this art, however, was the apostle Paul, and the best example is his letter to the Romans [3:1-6]. Throughout its early chapters…he is conscious of Jewish objections to his arguments (63).” A second example is found in Stott’s chapter on bridge-building and particular in the section on building bridges to ethical implications in preaching, Stott cites Titus 2:11-12 and writes, “Here Titus is told to give detailed ethical instruction to different groups in the congregation…(156).” The biblical examples to support the author’s conclusions are found throughout the book which gives the reader confidence in the ideas presented.
Another unique characteristic of Stott’s book is his audience. Although the author acknowledges who his target audience is (preachers), he wants the listeners of preachers to benefit from his book as well. He writes, “In nearly every church closer and more cordial relations between pastors and people, preachers and listeners, would be beneficial (11).” This serves not only as an invitation for congregations to be more involved , but also as a challenge to preachers to remember that they have an audience and the sermon is not about them. Stott continues this thought by saying, “The average congregation can have a far greater influence than it realizes on the standard of preaching it receives, by asking for more biblical and contemporary sermons, by setting their pastors free from administration so that they may have more time to study and prepare…(11-12).” Statements like these shows the desire that Stott has for biblical preaching that speaks to a modern society. This, of course, is a reflection of the thesis the author is trying to prove.
It is difficult to find anything wrong with Stott’s book. However, no book is perfect and there are two things which could be improved.
The first critique is found in the ordering of the chapters. Stott states in his introduction, “I want to put first things first…Hence Chapter Three on ‘Theological Foundations for Preaching’ and Chapters Seven and Eight on such personal characteristic of the preacher…(10). The reviewer finds it interesting that Stott does not put the “first things first,” but instead begins with a ‘Historical Sketch’ and ‘Contemporary Objections to Preaching’. As stated above, the sketch of preaching throughout history is a unique benefit of the book; however one should begin with theology before looking to church history.
A second critique is found within the chapter on theological foundations. The author begins with ‘A Conviction about God’ and then to ‘A Conviction about Scripture’. This may well reflect the convictions the author has on the proper ordering of systematics, but the reviewer thinks that the foundation to the theological foundations for preaching should be their conviction about Scripture. It is only when we have the Scriptures that we can then know about God and know that he even delights to speak. In many ways Stott gets the “cart before the horse” in this chapter.
Even with those critiques, the reviewer is convinced this is a classic text on preaching. The book serves as a great addition to every preacher's library and a resource to continually be referenced. It has already proved to be a book which can last through decades and it is my conviction it will continue to benefit those going into the ministry for another 30 years
John Stott's Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today is a comprehensive tool for the student of preaching or the various forms of church communication. By comprehensive, this writer means that his text begins with a concise but thorough history of preaching, addresses the contemporary issues and theological foundations of preaching, and finally moves to a handful of chapters on practical tools, helps, and applications. From beginning to end, Stott combines years of experience, research, and a wide-breath of knowledge of the art and science of communication within the realm of preaching.
Although Stott does not outline the book this way, the reader can see four major categories. The first major category is the history of preaching and the effect history (i.e. society developing) has had or will have on preaching (chapters one and two). The next section is the theological foundations of preaching (chapter three). The third section deals with the art and practice needed for being a communicator of the Bible, with ideas such as study, knowing the audience, and sermon preparation (chapters four through six). Finally, the last two chapters bring about essential qualities the communicator should possess and live out as a preacher of God's Word (chapters eight and nine).
The most advantageous strength of this book is the breath of knowledge Stott bring to the discussion. Although the book was written in the early nineteen eighties, Stott was beginning to address issues that are now coming to full fruition. Of note, his discussion on cybernetics and the digital age and the effect it was having and will continue to have on preaching and the church is engaging. This writer would like to know Stott's thought on newer venues of preaching being used today for multisite churches and Internet campuses. His research and thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of television and digital media continue to hold true almost twenty years later. Will the Internet church/campus face the same challenges for the engagement of viewers and listeners twenty years later as television has? Can community be built online? Stott has created a primer to begin to answer these questions, but it will take the astute learner to carry his work forward.
Another strength of the book is the multitude of footnotes that reference further study materials. The serious student can validate Stott's claims by the solid research he has already done, or further their own studies by exploring the plethora of references. Other books in this category can weigh heavily on the personality-practical side of the tools the particular author has defined and is promoting. This simply creates copycat styles of preaching and communicating from a successful preacher to one who would desires to be successful. Stott provides some of his own preferences, but spends more time providing tool for the student to discover and implement for their self. In this writer's opinion, the world can use more unique and authentic preachers in the church's pulpit.
Often, a strength can also be perceived as a weakness. Although the book is full of footnotes and references, this can create a staunch, academic feel. Further, Stott's style of writing, in this particular book, seems wordy and at times heavy. His style, at times, flows well, but the reader can get flustered by the frequent footnotes and research that requites the reader to do more research to fully understand and appreciate how Stott came to some of his conclusions. If the student is looking for a quick, practical read, they might need to take advantage of Howard Hendrick's Living by the Book instead of Stott's Between Two Worlds. In other words, the style of the book could limit those who try to tackle her principles.
Another weakness could also be the age of the book. Written in 1982, much has change in the world of the church and the art of biblical communication. Although most principles throughout the book are universal, chapters that deal with the information age are dated. Albeit, his research, even when done in the early eighties captured this writer's attention and caused serious reflection on the effects of the information age on preaching and teaching. Thus, how would Stott address the mass amounts of web-based development, Internet campuses, video teachings, and social media tools that permeate every area of church life and spiritual formation in our Wi-Fi frenzied society? It may be unfair to ask this of Stott, but if the student comes to this text looking for answers they could easily leave wanting more.
This writer has encountered Stott before through his prolific writing career. Many of his commentaries have provided ample information for my sermon preparation and academic research. His books continue to stand the test of time and pass rigorous academic standards that are pressed upon books in the categories, which he writes. Between Two Worlds will be a book I continue to go back to year after year during my tenure as a biblical communicator.
Of specific benefit are the final chapters that define the competencies and qualities needed in a solid communicator of the Scripture. Overtime, people will develop the process that fit their personality and styles of study and sermon preparation, but understanding the competencies that are needed are more universal. Sincerity and authenticity in the pulpit was key to this writer coming to know the Lord and desiring to follow Jesus. Humor in the messages, or even in teachings, when used appropriately, has opened my heart to accept difficult truths. Learning from Stott's research and experience has reminded me again of the type of preacher I want to be. Thus, Between Two Worlds has truly begun to bridge the gap for me between preaching the ancient scriptures in a manner that honors the Bible and the contemporary listener.