Greg R. Scharf, Let the Earth Hear His Voice: Strategies for Overcoming Bottlenecks in Preaching God’s Word (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2015). Paperback
Let the Earth Hear His Voice asks two questions of vital interest to preachers: (1) What is preaching? (2) How can we preach more effectively? The book provides answers to both questions that are biblically grounded, theologically sound, and proven by experience.
Greg Scharf is a scholar-practitioner. He pastored three congregations in three countries, and now serves as chair of the practical theology department and professor of homiletics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He authored or contributed to several books on preaching, including the revision and abridgment of John Stott’s classic book, Between Two Worlds, which was published as The Challenge of Preaching. (See my review here.)
In the Introduction, Scharf cites J. I. Packer’s definition of preaching as his point of departure: “Christian preaching is the event of God himself bringing to an audience a Bible-based, Christ-related, life-impacting message of instruction and direction through the words of a spokesperson” (emphasis in original). Elsewhere, he describes preaching this way: “God speaks to people through people.” Chapter 1 provides a biblical and theological rationale for this lofty understanding of preaching.
The remainder of the book — Chapters 2 through 10 — identifies eight bottlenecks that “keep God’s voice from being heard” in the sermon and then identifies strategies for overcoming them. The bottlenecks are:
- Unbelief (Chapter 3)
- Unqualified or disqualified preachers (Chapter 4)
- Faulty text selection (Chapter 5)
- Inadequate understanding of the preaching passage (Chapter 6)
- Inadequate contextualization to the preaching situation (Chapter 7)
- Faulty organization (Chapter 8)
- Inadequate or overused illustration (Chapter 9)
- Flawed delivery (Chapter 10)
The first two bottlenecks remind us that ineffective preaching does not always occur because of deficiencies in what might be called the mechanics of preaching, e.g., sermon organization and delivery. Sometimes, preaching is ineffective because of the spiritual, theological, and moral deficiencies of the preacher. In other words, sometimes we — because of little faith, no spiritual gift, or moral failure — are the bottlenecks hindering God speaking to others through us. That is a sobering thought, and preachers would be well advised to think it.
Still, for those called and empowered to preach, it is imperative that we hone our craft and become the best preachers we can be. Effective preaching cannot be reduced to considerations of text selection, organization, illustration, application, and the like, but it cannot be separated from them either. Scharf provides valuable advice about how to write and deliver sermons that deliver God’s Word to our congregations.
I should note, in closing, that Scharf is writing out of the Reformed or Calvinistic tradition. (P&R Publishing is also Reformed.) I recognize that the Calvinist doctrine of salvation is a controversial topic in Pentecostal and charismatic circles, whose doctrine has been shaped by Arminian and Wesleyan understandings of salvation. That said, Let the Earth Hear His Voice is nonetheless a worthwhile read because it articulates a definition of preaching that is the common inheritance of all evangelicals, not just our Reformed friends. No Christian fellowship has a corner on all truth, so it behooves us to read and listen to those outside our own theological tradition. As Scripture says, “Iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17). This book certainly sharpened me, and I believe it will sharpen you too.
P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.
P.P.S. This review originally appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.