Stott, John R. W. Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982. 351pp. $22.00.

Summary

In writing Between Two Worlds John Stott has provided his readers with a refreshing book on preaching. Rather than provide a lengthy manual on the specifics of sermon delivery and the art of public speaking Stott brings the reader to face the essence of the preaching task. This study is both historical and biblical as he consistently points the reader to the historic witness of the church, to the faithful expositors of times past, and just as consistently he directs the reader to sacred Scripture. This work has several unique features which will prove beneficial to the reader, most notably, is his unique vantage point as an Englishman and an Anglican. Another refreshing feature of this work is that rather than writing a technical manual on exegesis he develops what could be considered a philosophy of preaching. The work is not without faults, as will be examined later; however this work should prove to be exceedingly beneficial and refreshing to all who read.

The book is divided into eight chapters, each with several subdivisions. The first chapter provides the reader with a historical survey of preaching. This is not the last mention of history; indeed examples from history, both positive and negative, arrive to illustrate and serve as evidence for nearly every major section of this work. He begins this section within New Testament history and looks at Jesus and the apostles as preachers. He then peruses church history beginning with the fathers, then working his way to the reformers, and up to the present day. His emphasis here is not on the demonstration of a particular homiletic method but rather upon preaching as a central ministry within the church.

The second chapter moves to summarize and refute various contemporary objections to preaching. First, he begins with the disestablishmentarian and antiauthoritarian moods which dominate society. He counters this with five arguments the most notable of which is his argument for dialogical preaching. Second, he points to the technological revolution and its effect upon human communication and education. Third, he points that ultimately the decline of preaching represents the church’s loss of confidence in the gospel noting that, “there is no chance of a recovery of preaching without a prior recovery of conviction. We need to regain our confidence in truth, relevance and power of the gospel” (85).

Chapter three outlines the theological convictions about God, Scripture, the Church, the Pastorate, and Preaching which undergird preaching. Here he proclaims that “The essential secret is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions” (92).

He lays fourth his conception of preaching as the construction of a bridge between two worlds, for which the text receives its title, in the fourth chapter. The two worlds between which a bridge must be built are the world of the text and the world of the preacher; the preacher must “struggle to relate God’s unchanging Word to our ever-changing world” (144). This particular reviewer greatly appreciates this chapter and finds it to be one of the richest discourses on the subject of bridging the historical, geographical, and cultural gaps.

Continuing to keep with the theme of bridge building he sets forth a method of both studying the text and the preacher’s context in the fifth chapter. He closes this chapter by describing several pitfalls which prevent study and how to discipline oneself to be diligent in study.

The sixth chapter is profoundly practical as he describes the art of sermon preparation. At this point it is most evident that he is writing a philosophy of preaching rather than a detailed and technical manual on exegesis. Throughout this work he emphasizes the need of a plural eldership, particularly a large lay eldership; his method will do well to equip these lay elders to rightly divide the word as it is simple yet textually focused.

Most appropriately he devotes the entirety of the seventh chapter to the topic of the preacher’s sincerity and earnestness. Here he touches on practical issues such as the use of humor and sermon length. However, what makes this chapter so useful is his explanation of the preacher’s character. This feature is found in some, but sadly not all, books on preaching and it is a testament to Stott’s character and pastoral concern that this is included here.
The final chapter covers the source of the preacher’s courage and the necessity of humility. Oddly enough this chapter is the first mention of systematic exposition.

Evaluation

Strengths

First and foremost the most important feature of this book is Stott’s conception of preaching as a bridge between two worlds. He does much to emphasize the cultural, historical, grammatical, and lexical elements of Scripture which must be understood. He speaks of these in philosophical terms and does not delve into Hebrew and Greek exegesis yet he points to resources which will aid pastors in this endeavor. Furthermore he emphasizes the importance of authorial intent, quoting E. D. Hirsh who says, “a text means what its author meant” (221). The other side of this coin is his emphasis on the context of the preacher and how he can exegete this context. Most helpful is his explanation of his use of study groups with whom he reads books, watches films, and attends plays. He engages in these endeavors with cultural exegesis and better communication of the gospel in view. In what should be one of the theological foundations of preaching he speaks of the incarnation as it applies to communication and preaching noting, “the great doctrines of inspiration and incarnation have established a divine precedent for communication” (145). Just as the word came to the prophets and spoke to them in their cultural contexts so Jesus came as a man and lived within a particular cultural context. This pairs well with his dialogical methodology of preaching which we would do well to emulate.

He places much importance upon a plural eldership, including lay elders, and a distinction between the eldership and the deaconate. He powerfully proclaims the necessity that elders “take seriously the New Testament emphasis on the priority of preaching and teaching” (124) by noting that tragically, “many [elders] are essentially administrators, whose symbols of ministry are the office rather than the study, and the telephone rather than the Bible” (124).
While this comes rather late in the work he says, “I commend the practice of systematic exposition, that is to say, of working steadily through a book of the bible or a section of a book, either verse by verse or paragraph by paragraph” (315).

It is also to be applauded that he approaches preaching and sanctification, or the maturity of believers, from a worldview perspective. As he explains, “a mind may be said to be Christian when it has firmly grasped the fourfold biblical scheme of creation, fall, redemption and consummation, and it able to evaluate the phenomena of life in light of it” (170).

With his two worlds model he understands that the context of the text will not be the context of the preacher. Here he limits his explanation of sermon delivery to generalities allowing the preacher to read this work and then determine what type of is appropriate to his cultural context and faithful to Scripture. Far too many works on sermon delivery and/or preparation describe the act of sermon delivery with such specificity that it fails to take into account the variance between the preacher’s culture and that of the one writing the text.

Weaknesses

His opening history demonstrates that there is continuity throughout the church with the preaching office, but it does not demonstrate the historicity of his method; it could but it does not. This is a major weakness of this work. While he does provide various historical examples throughout the chapters this particular chapter should have served as a historical witness to the grammatical historical method of exposition over and above other models found throughout history. He argues for a grammatical historical hermeneutic; however, his argument would have been greatly strengthened if he had began with a historical testimony to it. Furthermore, he fails to include Old Testament examples of preaching at this point in his work; rather they are mentioned at later points.

In chapter six he presents the reader with four methods of text selection; liturgical, external, pastoral, and personal. He fails to mention the importance of systematic exposition until over a hundred pages later in the work. It would seem logical to argue for it here, to note how the form of Scripture necessitates systematic exposition as it is composed of books and epistles not topical indices or a liturgical calendar.

In chapter four as he speaks of bridging the gap between the two contexts he begins to note how this applies when considering issues pertaining to politics. However, the logic he uses to argue that the pulpit should be fearlessly employed to enter into political debate cannot be consistently employed. He attempts to answer those who would object to his understanding of the role of politics in the pulpit, by noting the balance between two false approaches to political involvement. “The two opposite mistakes of laissez faire (making no Christian contribution to the nation’s political well-being) and imposition (trying to force a minority view on an unwilling majority, as with the American liquor laws during the period of Prohibition)” (166). In place of these two erroneous approaches he argues for a democratic understanding which realizes that public opinion “is open to Christian influence” (166). This particular reviewer is convicted that while public opinion may be open to influence our focus must be seeing men and women reconciled to God through the gospel. Our pulpits are meant for a far greater task than the petty squabbling of local and national politics. Much more could be said here, however, this explanation must suffice for now.

Remaining Questions

Since he mentions the importance of a lay eldership it would have been very beneficial if he included a section concerning how to train the lay eldership to rightly divide the Word. How is this done?

Conclusion

This work is a fantastically refreshing read. His down to earth writing style, emphasis upon dialogical proclamation, and worldview level philosophy of preaching make this work unique and exceptionally practical. The work has its faults, one of them particularly serious; however, this work presents the preacher with the gravity of his task and does so in a way that is practical and challenging. This volume should be read by all who are called to this momentous task.