Preaching (book review)

PREACHING Preaching_Beginners Guidebook
A guidebook for beginners
By Allan Chapple
The Latimer Trust. 167 pages. £7.50
ISBN 978 1 906 327 149

This book is, primarily, a very readable and practical introduction to expository preaching. It comes from the pen of an experienced preacher who desires to encourage others to give themselves to this vital ministry.

Throughout the book there is a rich vein of quotations from other sources that helps the reader to engage with the particular topic under discussion.

Total immersion

Allan Chapple encourages preachers to immerse themselves in the Bible passage they are studying and ask themselves ‘What?’ and ‘So what?’ What does the passage teach and what implications does it have for me and for those to whom I preach.

According to the author, the preacher’s aim should be to prepare a sermon that passes the PEST test: it should be Plain, Engaging, Structured and Targeted. The process of preaching will include discovering, digesting, designing, defining and delivering. The beginning and ending of the sermon are given careful attention. There is a timely reminder that a sermon is ‘delivered’, not simply when spoken but when it is heard and applied!

I warmly commend this book, but believe the benefits will be even greater if preachers read and discuss it together, preferably with a couple of experienced preachers in the group. The group may find the author’s preparation stage too prescriptive and may disagree with him on minor issues such as what we do with our hands when we preach! That apart, I am convinced that the reading and study of this book will be immensely beneficial, not just for the preacher but to the hearers as well!

David Chapman, 
an elder of Akeman Street Baptist Church, Tring, and formerly secretary of the Association of Grace Baptist Churches (South East)


(This article was first published in the August 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057)

The secret thoughts of an unlikely convert (book review)

THE SECRET THOUGHTS OF AN UNLIKELY CONVERT The secret thoughts of unlikely convert
An English professor’s journey into Christian faith
By Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
Crown & Covenant. 154 pages. £8.99
ISBN 978 1 884 527 388

Sometimes when I finish reading a book the ideas in it haunt me — the narrator’s voice echoes inside my head. I wish that I hadn’t finished it because it has been such good company and everything else I have to read doesn’t feel as satisfying. I have just had that experience on finishing this book.

So why my enthusiasm? It’s not the title — although the by-line, ‘An English professor’s journey into Christian faith’, appeals to me. It’s not its slick presentation or that it has a clear target audience — in fact I’m not sure who the target audience is because it ranges across and through so many themes. The title actually describes it well — ‘secret thoughts’ — and the reader is taken into the mind of a perceptive and articulate woman who loves God, but her journey has been anything but conventional.

The book opens with this declaration: ‘When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian. I was a teaching associate in one of the first and strongest Women’s Studies Departments in the nation’.

She considered Christians bad thinkers and anti-intellectual, but they also scared her: ‘Here is one of the deepest ways Christians scared me: the lesbian community was home and home felt safe and secure; the people that I knew best and cared about were in that community; and finally, the lesbian community was accepting and welcoming while the Christian community appeared (and too often is) exclusive, judgmental, scornful, and afraid of diversity’.

Like a train wreck

This book shows how God brought her to himself through the loving and gentle friendship of a pastor and her devouring of the Bible. It was not an easy transition; she refers to her conversion like experiencing a train wreck, as she moved from radical feminism to being married to a pastor of a Reformed Presbyterian Church (unaccompanied psalm singing). Yet this book is so much more than the story of her conversion, albeit a powerful witness to the way God transforms the most unexpected people. It looks at issues of sexuality and witness to the gay community, but it is not a book primarily about the gay issue, although it is worth reading for that alone.
This book shows a person working out their theology having come to church as a total outsider for whom everything must be questioned and grappled with. It looks at what it means to be part of a church, relationships in church, the value of worship, hospitality, and serving others. She examines the principles of Christian marriage, and is a passionate advocate of adoption, fostering and home-schooling. She discusses Bible reading, hermeneutics, worldviews and education. Her perceptions are sharp, witty and thought provoking, I don’t agree with all of her conclusions (if I did I would be in a psalm-singing church), but she makes poignant and pertinent observations.

‘I loved (and love) the Bible, gorging on huge chunks at a time. But these skinny verses, taken out of their rich context, were just sitting there on placards, naked and rude.’

‘Too often the church does not know how to interface with university culture because it comes to the table only ready to moralise and not to dialogue.’

‘I came to believe that my job was not to critique and “receive” a sermon, but to dig into it, to seize its power, to participate with its message, and to steal its fruit.’

‘We in the church tend to be more fearful of the [perceived] sin in the world than of the sin in our own heart. Why is that?’

Finding a friend

I could quote on and on. Reading this book felt like finding a friend. Like all good friends there is room for disagreement, but, like the best friends we have, there is much to learn. Rosaria defies easy categorisation but I believe this book, despite its American context, has much to teach us — and not least how to share the gospel with our gay friends.

Karen Soole, Chair of The Northern Women’s Convention; 
blogs at


(This article was first published in the June 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057)

Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: Working at the Bible

Last time we looked at starting a regular pattern of Bible study.

It’s a great discipline to cultivate, so that we constantly have input from the Lord into our thinking. Paul talked about the value of Scripture in terms of teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness in 2 Timothy 3.16 and we all need all these ministries as we seek to grow in our knowledge and love of God. But no Scripture exists independently of the whole.

Context is important

So, whether we are dealing with one verse or a whole book, we do have to set each text in its context if we are going to understand it properly.

I remember a missionary to the Arab world telling me that before he began that work he had several times been arrested by the command, ‘You shall not go down into the land of Egypt’. Was this a word from the Lord to him? Ought he to ditch his plans? He concluded that the original context of the words in Jeremiah 42 was very particular to the hearers of Jeremiah’s day and did not match his own circumstances in the same way at all. It was teaching Jeremiah’s hearers that they could not escape the judgment God was bringing on Jerusalem by fleeing south, back to the land of their earlier captivity.

It is rightly said that a text out of context is merely a pretext and that you can make the Bible mean almost anything if you ignore its original purpose and context.

Why here?

First, we have to look at the immediate context of what we are studying, in its own particular place in the book of which it is a part. I find the ‘why’ questions especially helpful here. Why does the writer say these particular things at this point in his book? Why does he say it here and why does he say it in this way? The more we can train ourselves to listen carefully to the detail of Scripture, the deeper will be our understanding and the richer our enjoyment of God’s life-giving words. ‘They are more precious than much pure gold and sweeter than honey from the comb’ (Psalm 19.10).

This means we have to ask ourselves exactly who is being addressed in our passage and what the surrounding verses tell us about their situation and need. If we can understand why these words were written for the first readers and what it meant to them, then it will start to become much clearer how the same unchanging message is vitally relevant to us, now.

That won’t always be obvious on the surface and we will often need to re-read and think hard, asking the Lord to open our eyes to see ‘wonderful things in your law’ (Psalm 11.18). Do you remember how Paul combined hard work with divine illumination when he wrote to Timothy, ‘Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this’ (2 Timothy 2.7)? Both are equally vital — reflection is our job, insight is the Spirit’s gift.

Theme tune

So if I’m doing my own notes on a book of the Bible, as suggested last month, I shall want to be working on what is the big idea, or theme tune, of the whole book. Why is it in the Bible? What would we not know if this book were not there? What is its distinctive contribution to the whole 66 books? This is sometimes called the ‘melodic line’ of the book — the major theme, which replays with different variations and applications, all the way through. If you think you know your Bible well, ask yourself how many books of the Bible you could write a theme-tune sentence summing up its essential contribution to the whole. You will probably find, like me, that you have quite a long way to go. But it’s an exciting journey!

Look for surprises

Another great tool for doing this work is to look especially for the things that surprise you as you read. Whenever I am pulled up by the Bible text and find myself saying, ‘I’ve never noticed that before’ or ‘Well, I wouldn’t have written that’, or, when I start to consider how this text questions my assumptions or rattles my cage, I rejoice because I know I’m going to be on a learning curve. It stops me thinking I already know it all and just applying my framework to every passage, like a mincing machine, reducing the Bible to a string of sausages, all much the same. Setting the text in its context will bring the truth alive and help enormously with its application. More about that next month!

David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the March 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Notes to growing Christians from David Jackman: Bible in a busy life

Many Christians find regular Bible reading difficult and the idea of study quite intimidating.

Alongside prayer and evangelism, Bible reading is one of those areas of our Christian lives which we think we ought to be ‘better at’ than we are and so we tend to feel guilty for our failures. It is a sure-fire winner for the preacher to launch those guilt-inducing rhetorical questions from the pulpit: ‘Are your reading your Bible (or praying, or witnessing) enough?’ To which the answer can only be, ‘No, probably not’, accompanied by a quietly despairing sigh. It’s another load I can’t shoulder very well.

But it really doesn’t have to be like that. If you receive a letter or a newsy email, from a loved one or a close friend who is currently away, it isn’t a chore to read it. It’s all to do with appetite. You want to find out how they are, what they are doing and thinking, because your relationship with them matters so much to you both. It’s a delight to refresh it, especially if you can’t make verbal contact.

Relationship with God

The Bible serves precisely that function. It is through its witness that we come into relationship with God in the first place, for we could know nothing about him if he had not chosen to reveal himself to us. He speaks in Scripture, because he is the only true and living God, utterly unlike all the man-made idols, which are merely projections of human imagination. Having created us in his image, he endowed the human race with language, the ability to express our thoughts in words and so engage with one another (and with him) at the deepest level of our being. The 66 books of the Bible are God’s word to mankind, culminating with supreme clarity in the word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all of the Scriptures find their focus and fulfilment.

Book of a lifetime

There is enough to occupy us for a whole lifetime in the Bible’s revelation of who God is and what he has done for us. But we need a way of accessing these riches to benefit from them. If you never actually read your emails, however important their message might be, you would never develop any relationship with their senders. And in our busy world today it is very easy for the Bible to remain a closed book, even to believers. We expect it to be remote, or difficult, or just perplexing in its size and variety and, when we dip into it at random, or always turn to a few favourite passages, our suspicions tend to be confirmed.

Here is a better way. Buy yourself a small hard-backed note book and decide to read progressively through a book of the Bible which you don’t know very well. If you can do this for a few minutes every day, that would be best, but you may find it easier to set aside on hour once a week at the weekend, and use what you discover as a set of daily messages to take with you into the coming week. Don’t go for an obscure or especially difficult book — Leviticus or Lamentations may have to wait a while! And don’t feel you must work non-stop all the way through a longer book. It can be sub-divided into manageable units and tackled in blocks, at different periods. The Bible is like the ocean. A child can paddle in its shallows and a whale can revel in its depths. The important thing is to be in it!

Ask the questions

So, try to arrange for a few minutes of undisturbed time daily. Sit at a table, with your Bible, notebook and pen (or laptop). Pray that God will reveal himself to you, so as to encourage your faith, as you read, and start on your chosen Bible book. Take just a few verses; it’s not a race to get to the finish. Quality matters more than quantity.

Here are four questions you can ask of any passage — most of which it will answer. (1) What is God teaching me about God here? Remember it is his book about himself, before it is mine. (2) What do I learn here about myself? This will usually lead me to repent, but also to rejoice. (3) What good examples are there here for me to follow, in the Lord’s strength? (4) Are there promises here, which I can claim for today, as I respond in trust and obedience? Write down whatever strikes you most and then pray it in to your own life circumstances. Next time, we’ll look at how to proceed from here.

David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.

This article was first published in the February 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Inspiration for final-year students

By Krish Kandiah
IVP. 160 pages. £6.99
ISBN 978 1 844 744 459

Are you devouring your final year dissertation but have no idea what to do after university? Have you graduated but still can’t find work? Did you leave all your best friends behind at the Christian Union? Do you want to know how God fits in it all?

Then Krish Kandiah’s book, Final, might well be for you. Krish is an increasingly popular conference speaker, CU missioner and culture-vulture blogger who has made the pithy soundbite something of a signature dish. Coming hot on the heels of Fresh, his book for first years, comes Final: bite-sized inspiration for final-year students.

As with FreshFinal is divided into five weeks of teaching, covering the themes of ‘Facing your future’, ‘Identifying your calling’, ‘Navigating your route’, ‘Anticipating the hurdles’ and ‘Leaving uni behind’ (rather tenuously forming the acrostic F-I-N-A-L, reminiscent of my own final year exam mnemonics!).

In terms of content, the themes are well chosen and well covered, each consisting of seven days of biblical reflection considering the various challenges and opportunities of approaching post-uni life. Wisdom is distilled down, without being too dumbed down, and is drawn from both key NT passages and OT characters. Each chapter ends with stimulating questions to work through, along with testimonies of people who’ve ‘been there, done that’. Addressing issues such as debt, CVs, gap years, job interviews, careers advice, and serving God through it all, Final would be great quiet-time material or for discussion in a prayer triplet or small group.

The combination of Krish’s wide range of graduate experiences and his clear biblical convictions makes him a reliable guide to steer students through the often choppy waters of transitioning into graduate life. Certainly one for the wish list of any finalist you may know.

Dave Gobbett, 
associate pastor, Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge