Foundations: No.74 Spring 2018

Book Reviews

Preaching in the New Testament:
An exegetical and biblical-theological study

Jonathan I. Griffiths, IVP, 2017, 153pp, £15.32 (Amazon)

Jonathan Griffiths taught on the Cornhill Training Course and is now Lead Pastor of the Metropolitan Bible Church, Ottawa, Canada. He holds a PhD from Cambridge University. This book is in the excellent New Studies in Biblical Theology series from IVP. While there are countless how-to books on the subject of preaching, there is very little available that addresses what preaching actually is with any biblical rigour. Consequently, this is an important book.

The purpose of this book is to answer two questions: First, “is there actually such a thing as ‘preaching’ that can be differentiated in any way from other forms of word ministry?” Second, if preaching is “mandated in the post-apostolic context… how is it characterised and defined?” (2-3). It is so important that our theology be based on the teaching of Scripture, and that should include our theology of preaching.

Over the years I have been surprised how many people are ready to see preaching as a feature of church tradition and church culture, but not necessarily a biblically-mandated ministry. Even those who have a high view of Scripture are sometimes uncertain of whether preaching is a distinctive and required ministry in changing times. In the face of trends and trajectories that threaten the centrality, or even existence, of preaching, this book fills a critical gap on the preacher’s bookshelf.

Preaching in the New Testament is not a long book, with the body consisting of just 134 pages. It is divided into three parts. Part one surveys the biblical theology of “the word of God”, three “semi-technical” terms for preaching in the New Testament (εὐαγγελίζομαι, καταγγέλλω, and κηρύσσω – a very accessible study if you don’t read Greek), and finally a survey of other word-based ministries of the church such as counselling and leading a Bible study. This foundation is built on in part two with exegetical studies of 2 Timothy 3-4; Romans 10; 1 Corinthians 1-2, 9 & 15; 2 Corinthians 2-6; 1 Thessalonians 1-2; and of course, Hebrews (which you would expect from Griffiths – this chapter is a highlight in the section). The third part is a chapter that summarises the findings of the study.

The heart of the study is Griffiths’ analysis of the three key terms for preaching (euangelizomai, katangellō, and kēryssō). The usage of these terms is presented clearly in table form on pages 20-24. These three verbs are not synonyms. They have unique characteristics, but also share important commonalities. Griffiths writes that in the New Testament, “the verbs typically refer to the act of making a public proclamation; the agent is generally a person of recognised authority; and the substance of the proclamation is normally some aspect of Christ’s person and work, the implications of the gospel, or some other truth from God’s word” (33). Griffiths argues compellingly that preaching is thus a distinct activity that is well-defined in the New Testament.

The conclusions of the study are carefully stated, but very important. Preaching is a proclamation of the word of God (122). The preaching of the church stands in a line of continuity with the Old Testament prophetic tradition, which finds its ultimate fulfilment in Christ the great Prophet and then extends out from him to the church – “to the apostles, their agents and successors whose work is to preach God’s word” (123-6, see also 61-66). Griffiths rightly states that there are differences between the preaching of the church and that of the Old Testament prophets, but it would have been helpful to have some clarification on the distinctive ministry of prophets and prophecy in the New Testament.

The study underlines that the ministry of preaching is distinct from other word ministries in the local church, but rather than disenfranchising them, it drives and fuels them (133). Since preaching is distinct, this underlines the need for preachers to be commissioned to preach as leaders of the church (129 – a point that is derived from the exegetical study, but not developed much within the book).

Griffiths shows that preaching reflects the nature of the gospel (129) and is a divine and human activity that constitutes an encounter with God (130). Preaching has a natural context and particular significance within the Christian assembly (131). A significant proportion of the New Testament material either describes or recalls evangelistic outreach, so it is to be expected that the preaching in the New Testament includes a significant amount of focus on evangelistic ministry. Nevertheless, Griffiths demonstrates that the New Testament does present a ministry of preaching to believers in the local church.

Through a solid combination of studying the key terms and the key passages where those words occur, Griffiths has done us a great service in providing an accessible presentation of the biblical foundation and mandate for preaching in the ministry of the post-apostolic church. With this book on our shelves we should not feel swayed by pragmatic critiques or contemporary trends that might undermine our confidence in the ministry of preaching. Indeed, every believer has a calling to word-based ministry of some sort, but there is a unique role for preaching in the church.

Of course, we must seek to be good stewards of the preaching ministry, always striving to be biblical, clear, engaging and relevant, seeking to present the life-transforming grace of God in Christ as best we can. Nevertheless, our diligent efforts to develop our preaching ministry is built not on the pragmatic needs of the church or the shifting preferences of our culture, but on the biblical mandate to preach the word that Griffiths has presented so well in this book.

I believe every preacher should have a copy of this book on their shelves for reference, but let us be sure to read it first. Allow the plain evidence of the New Testament to establish a biblical conviction regarding the critical ministry of preaching in the church. Those engaged in other word ministries in the church would also benefit from this book as it is important to understand how those ministries interface with preaching.

Along with this short study, I would also highly recommend Paul’s Theology of Preaching: The Apostle’s Challenge to the Art of Persuasion in Ancient Corinth, by Duane Litfin (IVP Academic, 2015). Litfin’s longer work is referenced by Griffiths multiple times and is a fascinating study of what Paul meant by “preaching Christ” in 1 Corinthians 1-4. With Griffiths’ Preaching in the New Testament, and perhaps Litfin’s book alongside it, we will be better equipped to know what preaching is and why we should give so much energy to this vital ministry.

Peter Mead
Pastoral team, Trinity Church, Chippenham, & founder and mentor, Cor Deo


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