Recapturing the Voice of God by Steven W. Smith
To observe what is counted as preaching in the modern day is one of the strangest journeys imaginable. In this thought-provoking volume, Steven Smith makes a claim in the title that, though stunning, should be obvious. How can it be both? The title is stunning because preaching is conceived in modernity as anything and everything other than capturing the voice of God. Nevertheless, as Smith points out, this alone is the distinctive of Christian preaching. As Smith observes, preaching at its best is “re-presenting the Word of God.” And this conclusion calls for the preacher to address with his congregation every aspect of God’s Word.
The average preacher does no such thing. The Old Testament is often avoided; nothing past chapter three of Revelation is expounded; the last eight chapters of Ezekiel might as well carry the Black Death; and Numbers is still foreign to most preachers. This wonderful volume introduces the preacher to an approach that opens the whole Bible to the congregation, enlivens texts throughout Scripture, focuses the attention of the congregation, and thrills the heart of the preacher as news vistas of divine truth rivet his soul to God.
After a brief introduction to text-driven preaching, its substance, structure and spirit, Smith evaluates the preacher’s assignment under the three headings of Story, Poem, and Letter. With those categories, the author next approaches the Old Testament. Smith evaluates prophecy under the category of poem, which to some will seem unusual. But when one follows Smith’s movement through the Old Testament text, this approach makes sense. The section on the preaching of Old Testament narrative is superb and is complete with how to avoid the mistakes usually made as well as how to follow the facts that are given and thus to emphasize what the Bible is actually saying.
For example, Smith observes that “the preacher that has a grasp of the way that Scripture relates to itself will be best equipped to lead his people to love the word” (39). He goes on to point to the Jewish background of the Old Testament narratives and finds the Messianic theme prominent in the stories. This naturally affects how these pericopes should be proclaimed. Smith’s segment on locating the New Testament parallel, noting as he does the most frequently quoted books of the Old Testament, is invaluable.
How to preach the Law is a problem to some preachers. But Smith’s chapter does more than just find the meaning of the Law for our own day and for the day of grace. It also provides insight to the preacher’s task of preaching these texts in a theologically correct way and at the same time holding the interest of God’s people with the voice of God.
Of great interest to this reader were the chapters on the preacher’s foray into the Gospels because this happens to be an area in which I have observed a stellar component in the preaching that I have heard from Steven Smith himself. For example, Smith notes that the preacher may often find surprises in the parables. Translating those surprises to the congregation is one of the better ways to help people discern the mind of Christ. Discovering the Psalms and the Wisdom Literature with its peculiar poetic structure, at least to western ears, is one of the highlights of the book.
Recapturing the voice of God in the Apocalypse also garnered my special interest. Here the author insisted on the Christological understanding of the text. Warning against the sensationalism of many interpretations as well as against the total neglect of this genre, Smith forges the way to a robust interpretation of the text, which will keep a congregation on alert for the events of the eschaton while also stationing the congregation at its unique moment in history. If I could only read one chapter in this manual for preaching, I would purchase the book for this chapter alone.
Sermon books and tomes on sermonizing are a dime a dozen. So what makes this one worth your time? On the back cover of the book the statement is highlighted, “Present the word of God in the tone of God’s voice.” As far as I can tell, few have ever approached the subject precisely that way. But to me, that is what preaching is really about. So if you are looking for a volume that strikes a fresh chord and brings life to the preaching of the text, this is your book. Leave your desk chair, pour yourself a cup of Earl Grey tea, crawl into your easy chair by a fall fireplace and delight yourself in a read that will capture you with the voice of God.
Paige Patterson, President
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, Texas