Matthew R. Perry

“Spirit-Led Preaching” by Greg Heisler (Book Review)

In Book Review, Preaching on November 30, 2007 at 11:06 pm

spiritledpreaching2.pngDr. Greg Heisler (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY) serves as assistant professor of preaching at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. His passion for the nature of preaching is quite clear:

Our students need to see the complementary relationship between the Word and the Spirit and to understand the proper function of sermon mechanics and sermon dynamics for preaching. They need to have as much zeal for the theological realities as they do for the dependence on the Holy Spirit (15).

He states this because the previous generations of homiletics professors and their works only offer a “passing reference to the Spirit” (11). In this volume, Heisler admirably makes the case in how the Holy Spirit must not be an afterthought in sermon preparation and delivery, but he must stand in the forefront in every step of the process of constructing a sermon as well as a holy life.

The preacher will appreciate Heisler’s chapter on “What is Spirit-Led Preaching?” He illustrates two differing models of expository preaching: “text-driven preaching” (18) in which the focus is on presenting the biblical text correctly, with the Spirit’s role seen as implicit; and “spirit-driven preaching” in which the focus is “on the dynamic of the Spirit and the Spirit’s text” with the result being a “Christological witness and Spirit-filled living” (19). He uses a picturesque illustration to drive home this concept:

I imagine the Holy Spirit’s power touching down on the tracks of the biblical text, and suddenly the combination of Word and Spirit together ignite into sermonic propulsion. The preacher’s responsibility is not to push the train in his own strength; nor it is the preacher’s responsibility to build new tracks to new places. The preacher’s responsibility is to keep the train on the tracks (19)!

Preachers would do well to internalize this concept and embrace this powerful picture.

Heisler rightly reinforces the complementary relationship between the Scriptures and the Spirit in Chapter Five. Given the problematic theology of the charismatic movement who puts the Spirit and the Word against one another, Heisler gives a strong argument demonstrating the harmony between the two.

Together Word and Spirit form the powerful catalyst that serves as the theological foundation for Spirit-led preaching. The Word activates the Spirit, and the Spirit authenticates the Word. The Word is the instrument of the Spirit, and the Spirit is the implement of the Word. The Word is the written witness, and the Spirit is the inward witness. In terms of preaching, the Word is the source and substance of our preaching, and the Spirit is the supernatural power of our preaching (62).

He rightly notes how the three testimonies of preaching (Scripture, the Spirit, and the Preacher) come together toward a Christological witness. “The Spirit’s ministry is a continuation of Jesus’ ministry, as the Spirit stands in place of Jesus until Christ’s triumphant return” (57). Heisler is correct when he says that preaching which claims to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led but fails to preach Christ-centered sermons are not Spirit-led sermons.

The strongest chapter in this volume is Chapter Seven where Heisler addresses “The Preacher and the Spirit.” Heisler makes a stunning statement that the preacher must absorb:

I believe that the passion and confidence the prophet of God experiences in his preaching ministry are directly proportional to the daily obedience and surrender to the call of God on the preacher’s life. . . . It’s as if God has subpoenaed us to stand before him, not in a courtroom in front of a jury but in a pulpit in from of his people. We are there by divine calling, and we are there by divine authority (72).

Heisler sounds a clarion call for ministers to incorporate the Spirit into their personal lives before they attempt to incorporate him into areas of their professional lives such as preparation, presentation, and delivery. Personal obedience to Christ and preaching the Word of Christ must coincide.

The only weakness found in this work is the lack of conciseness in Heisler’s working definitions. For instance, when he presents his definition of expository preaching, he states:

Expository preaching is the Spirit-empowered proclamation of biblical trust derived from the illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit by means of a verse-by-verse exposition of the Spirit-inspired text, with a view to applying the text by means of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, first to the preacher’s heart, and then to the hearts of those who hear, culminating in an authentic and powerful witness to the living Word, Jesus Christ, and obedient, Spirit-filled living (21).

While the construct of this definition reminds one of the Greek sentence construct of the Apostle Paul (see Ephesians 1:3-14), this structure does not allow for the reader to absorb the definition easily. Breaking this sentence down into two, three, even four sentences would be helpful. His vision of teaching homiletics commits the same faux pas — to which he readily admits (75).

Even so, this reviewer plans on using this book as a textbook in training expository preachers in his local church setting. The evangelical world in general and preachers specifically should be grateful to Greg Heisler for re-introducing the Spirit to expository preaching. Along with this volume, Arturo G. Azurdia’s book on Spirit-Empowered Preaching serves as an excellent compliment. Praise God for raising up Spirit-led preachers in our present age.

Heisler, Greg. Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishing Group, 2007. 156 pp. $17.99.

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  1. Hi Matt, thanks for this review – I am an AG Pastor and I the need is great for more AG Pastors to become aware of this book – Heisler is right, many charismatic folk do seem to pit the Word and Spirit agianst each other when they should be harmonized. Thanks again.

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