A Little Book for New Preachers | Book Review


Matthew D. Kim is associate professor of preaching and ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, as well as director of its Haddon W. Robinson Center for Preaching. He describes A Little Book for New Preachers as “a primer or introduction to preaching focusing on the characteristics of what makes for effective sermons and faithful preachers” (p. 14). Kim divides his material into three parts:

  1. Why Study Preaching?
  2. Characteristics of Faithful Preaching
  3. Characteristics of Faithful Preachers

In a cultural era in which preaching is often denigrated, Kim makes a case for both the practice and formal study of preaching in Part One. After outlining several reasons for preaching, Kim concludes: “Preaching is essential to the life of God’s people because understanding and applying the Word of God is essential” (p. 52). The goal of preaching, in other words, is “to make disciples” (p. 44, cf. Matthew 28:19–20). Preaching is not the only way to do this, of course, but the Church has long found it to be an important, if not the most important way to do it.

Part Two turns to three characteristics of “faithful preaching: interpretation, cultural exegesis, and application. The material on interpretation and application is good. I especially appreciated the chapter on cultural exegesis, however. “Every congregation consists of people from different personal experiences, cultures, and backgrounds,” Kim writes, “even if outwardly they seem homogeneous” (p. 72). And that applies doubly outside a church’s four walls. The goal of cultural exegesis is “not to compete with the culture but rather to comprehend it for the sake of effective proclamation of God’s Word” (p. 73). I encourage pastors to pay attention to this chapter especially, and to consider reading Kim’s longer book, Preaching with Cultural Intelligence (Baker Academic). Those of us who preach need to know the cultural blind spots we all too often have when reading and preaching the Bible.

Finally, Part Three identifies three qualities preachers need to have to be effective: being pastoral and loving, being a person of character and integrity, and being prayerful and Spirit-led. “Preaching ability and charisma are inadequate to sustain a long-term, fruit-yielding ministry,” Kim writes (p. 106). Character is needed. In its absence, preachers are tempted to “fall into various destructive patterns of sin, which abruptly curtail their ministries and hurt their families and congregations” (p. 107). At the end of the day, the quality of the preacher matters as much as the quality of his or her sermons. Your whole speaks, not just your words.

Although Kim wrote his Little Book for “new preachers,” old preachers—which includes me—can read the book profitably as a refresher on homiletical basics.

Book Reviewed
Matthew D. Kim, A Little Book for New Preachers: Why and How to Study Homiletics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

How to Improve Your Preaching in 2020 | Influence Podcast


Preaching and teaching God’s Word is an essential skill in pastoral ministry, whether you’re a senior pastor, youth pastor, children’s pastor, or the like. As with any skill, your preaching can improve with intentional practice. In Episode 205 of the Influence Podcast, I talk with Matthew Kim about how to improve your preaching in 2020.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

My guest is associate professor of preaching and ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, as well as director of its Haddon W. Robinson Center for Preaching. He is author of A Little Book for New Preachers (IVP Academic) and Preaching with Cultural Intelligence (Baker Academic), among other books.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Balanced Budget, Balanced Life:

People don’t plan on having money troubles, which is exactly the problem: they don’t plan! Rollie Dimos shows you how to make a biblically sound financial plan and stick to it. Get back the time and resources you need to stop stressing out about money, and start enjoying the balance of a truly abundant life.

For more information visit BalancedBudgetBalancedLife.com.

The Character Gap | Book Review


The cover of Christian B. Miller’s book, The Character Gap, has a picture of Gandhi at the top and Hitler at the bottom with a graded spectrum between them. The picture is fitting, for one of Miller’s central theses is that most people are neither as bad as we could be nor as good as we should be. We are, instead, a muddle. The question that arises, then, is how we can become better than we are.

Miller is A. C. Reid Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University and Director of the Character Project. Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the project examines character from the perspectives of psychology, philosophy and theology. It maintains a website for scholars (thestudyofcharacter.com) and for a general audience (thecharacterportal.com).

What Character Is
The Character Gap is divided into three parts. Part I examines what moral character is and why it’s important. In general, as Miller defines it, character is the “unique collection of characteristics or traits that are centrally important to who you are and how you act.” Your unique collection includes moral elements (virtue and vice) and nonmoral elements (personality, aptitude, style).

But what are virtue and vice? Miller argues that virtue has four features: It leads to good behaviors that are “appropriate to a particular situation,” “performed in a variety of situations relevant to the particular virtue,” and “done for the appropriate reasons or motives.” Thus performed, these actions result in “a pattern of motivation and action that is stable and reliable over time.” A virtuous person, we might say, does the right thing at the right time for the right reason and does it repeatedly and reliably.

Surprisingly, vice shares “the very same features virtues that virtues do. The main difference is that they are oriented in the opposite way.” One further twist on vice is that it occasionally mimics virtue. “Like virtuous people,” Miller writes, “the vicious often do good things for others.” Why? Because they believe that other people are watching them.

The recognition that vicious people mimic right action for the wrong reason (to be seen by others) helps refine our understanding of character. “The real difference in behavior between the virtuous and the vicious emerges when they think they are not being observed.” As H. Jackson Brown put it, “character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”

Miller closes Part I by offering four reasons for being virtuous. First, “virtuous lives are admirable and inspiring.” Second, “good character typically makes the world a better place.” Third, and this is surprising, comes as it does from a philosopher: “God wants us to become good people.” More on this God-factor later. And fourth, “a good character can be rewarding.”

In Between Virtue and Vice
Now that we understand virtue and vice better, can we make any generalizations about the character of most people? We tend to rate our friends as virtuous and our enemies as vicious, but Miller thinks this is a mistake. Part II explains why.

Over the course of successive chapters, Miller summarizes empirical evidence derived from empirical studies pertaining to four topics: helping, harming, lying and cheating. As he reports the findings of those studies, a pattern quickly emerges: “most people have characters which are neither virtuous nor vicious. They instead fall in a middle space between virtue and vice.” Their character, in other words, is imperfect and unresolved. They have the capacity to act a lot better, but also a lot worse.

Instead of repeating all the evidence Miller cites for this conclusion, I’ll simply ask you to examine yourself. My guess is that you’re a decent person, a good neighbor. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll also admit that you don’t always do the right thing. Even when you perform the right behavior, you might do so at the wrong time or for the wrong reason. You are not as good as you should be.

By the same token, you’re not as bad as you could be, however. You might fail to help a motorist in need, or harm your spouse with a cutting remark, for example. You might lie to get yourself out of a jam, or cheat your way through your driver’s test at the DMV. These things are bad, of course, but the people who do them rarely do them to the nth degree.

In other words, we’re neither Gandhi nor Hitler. We’re somewhere in between. But we can become better, morally speaking. How to do so is the focus of Part III. Miller considers a variety of strategies for becoming more virtuous people.

Strategies for Improvement
He begins with what he calls “some less promising strategies.” These including doing nothing, virtue labeling, and nudging toward virtue. Doing nothing is a counterintuitive strategy, until you realize that some virtues come with age and experience. (If you don’t believe me, trying teaching a newborn baby patience when feeding time comes around.) Virtue labeling means naming and honoring those behaviors and traits that you want to see more in others. Nudging means structuring choices in such a way that good choices are the default option, while bad choices must be consciously chosen. The basic problem with these strategies is that they promote a desired behavior, but not necessarily the right motivation for it or an enduring character that alone can sustain it.

Miller thus turns to “some strategies with more promise”: moral role models, selecting our situations, and getting the word out. Moral role models are self-explanatory. Selecting our situations means that “we should actively seek out those situations which are going to inspire us to act well, while actively avoiding those situations that are fraught with temptation and other pitfalls.” Getting the word out means understanding the “tendencies” or “desires” that shape our behavior. If we understand what motivates us to do either the right thing or the wrong thing, we can identify our worse motives and choose better ones, thereby changing our behavior.

The Character Gap ends by considering strategies for “improving our characters with divine assistance.” To this point, Miller’s advice has been secular in orientation. Most religions offer advice to people for changing their character, however, advice that philosophy and psychology typically ignore. But Miller suggests that Christian faith offers unique resources for what theologians call “sanctification,” the transformation of our character to conform it to Christ’s. He specifically mentions Christian rituals and practices (such as prayer and fasting), participation in a community of faith, and the direct work of the Holy Spirit as three such resources.

About the Holy Spirit, Miller writes: “This idea turns character improvement upside down. Rather than people being left to their own devices in improving themselves, the thought is that God himself can intervene in an important way and actively contribute to the process.” As a Pentecostal Christian and a minister, I appreciate and agree with Miller on this point, offering a hearty “Amen!”

And yet, I cannot also help but think that while the Holy Spirit does not leave us only to our own devices, He does in fact expect us to use those devices in cooperation with Him. As Paul wrote, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12–13). In this passage, God works, but so do we.

Recognizing this truth helps me appreciate Miller’s philosophical and psychological insights. Though psychology and philosophy on the one hand often are pitted against religious faith on the other hand, Miller shows that they need not be in this instance. Becoming the people we ought to be is our moral responsibility, to be sure, but it is also a gift of grace. In the end, sanctification is not an either God or us, but both/and. The Character Gap is helpful precisely because it shows us what we can do to improve our character, even as it recognizes that divine assistance is needed.

Book Reviewed
Christian B. Miller, The Character Gap: How Good Are We? (New York: Oxford, 2017).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: