Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons that Connect with our Culture, by Zack Eswine, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008. 288 pages.
Zack Eswine serves the Riverside Community (Saint Louis, MO) as Senior Pastor. His role focuses his time on community development, preaching, leadership formation and pastoral care. Dr. Eswine has served in pastoral roles for nearly twenty years. He served as Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Director for Doctor of Ministry for six years at Covenant Theological Seminary. The book under review is his most recent book, which also won Preaching Today’s Book of the Year Award in 2009. He has also written, Kindled Fire: How the Methods of C.H. Spurgeon Can Help Your Preaching. His forthcoming books are entitled, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being and Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Handling the Darker Sides of Life and Ministry.
“Do you think a postmodern audience may render your preaching post-relevant? Think again…you can make an impact on the rising global village – starting now.” That’s the question and the promise on the back cover. Zack Eswine seeks to help the parish pastor “connect with our culture” in Preaching to a Post-Everything World. It’s an appropriate goal as connecting with our culture is a struggle every pastor faces as he reaches out to the community and even within his own congregation. And it’s a struggle for which there are many unsatisfactory solutions. Blessedly, the answers Eswine offers include neither changing God’s truth nor uncomfortable gimmicks for attracting those otherwise disinclined to listen. Rather, his advice is centered around the preacher’s need to rely on God’s power and potential for people in every context, particularly by proclaiming his Christ-centered Word.
Eswine begins by setting the stage. As he explains in his introduction, a “post-everything world” is one “saturated with multiple contexts and cultural assumptions” (12). Topics like AIDS and homosexuality, domestic partnerships and space stations are some of the broad range in which our world is engaged. To that mix are added multicultural neighborhoods, countless truth-claims, a general truth-skepticism, and evermore visible tragedies. Eswine’s answer to these is difficult, but simple: the preacher needs to recognize his own limitations and to rely totally on the power of God.
The book is essentially a homiletics textbook that is divided into three parts. Part one seeks to reorient the sermon as a concept for the post-everything world using various homiletic tools and processes. Part two assumes that “God already provided what we need to navigate a post-everything world” (19). It takes up God’s biblical models for molding our sermon practice. Part three lets biblical models guide our preaching to help contextualize the message with practical insights for a world that would not normally receive concepts like “Old Testament war passages” or “hell.”
As the back cover describes, the book is a “comprehensive and practical guide that will help you to preach God’s truth without compromising doctrine or ignoring the faithful.” And it is comprehensive at 288 pages. Consequently, there are too many specific tools and topics to do justice to the flow of each chapter. To name a few, the reader will find interspersed and oft-reference tools like: the COR (Context of Reality) that helps the preacher connect/relate listeners in their lives to the setting and lives of the Bible text; Bryan Chapell’s FCF (Fallen Condition Focus), a focus on the human condition contemporary believers/unbelievers share with those in the text, which condition that requires God’s grace to solve; and Haddon Robinson’s “big idea” where the preacher constructs a “what-is-true/what-to-do” statement to guide sermon formation. Along with these, almost every chapter unfolds its topic with four or five branches, with bullets under each. In chapter five, for example, Eswine encourages us to “Follow God’s Lead,” explaining that the Bible is our homiletics textbook. Under the heading “How God Preaches,” Eswine lays out the following: God Uses Multiple Preaching Postures; God Uses Varying Kinds of Language; God Preaches to the Culture that Challenges Us; God Preaches to the People Who Confound Us. These are but four of the 14 headings/subheadings in chapter five. The author thoroughly explores each of his concepts in this manner and follows the same pattern throughout.
This is not bad for the reader. The book is practical and engaging. Eswine’s material is well-organized, thoughtful, and straightforward. His style is at the same time poetically eloquent (the author’s own poetry peppers the book throughout) and refreshingly down-to-earth. The reviewer found himself smiling at (and noting for future sermons) engaging statements like this:
God is omnilingual and omnipresent. God is an expert in the writings of Plato and Confucius. He is thoroughly acquainted with postmodern thought and Eastern mysticism. He understands the political theory and economic indicators of each nation. God has seen The Matrix; he knows how to use an iPod. God can discuss pluralism and lecture on agriculture. (103)
Almost every chapter includes either a section of topic-related analysis questions to help the preacher engage with his text or a section of implications for sermon-preparation in which the author explicitly applies his ideas to the work of preaching. Appendices 1 & 2 give most of these questions in list-format for use in preparation.
In the final analysis, Eswine’s Scripture-centered answer for the problem of connected preaching is refreshing. He regularly and consistently expresses the need for the preacher to rely on the power of God’s Word to connect with audiences and contexts of all kinds. He mines the Word for a variety of avenues and methods of presenting the message. He displays a depth of biblical knowledge and insight. Given his Presbyterian background, the theological vocabulary will often ring different to our readers’ ears. And, of course, there are hints of the expected theological differences (emphasis on God’s sovereignty, etc.), but none that remotely disqualify the book from use. In general, Preaching to a Post-Everything World is engaging and interesting, very practical and inspiring reading – a worthy expansion of your homiletics shelf.