Benjamin H. Walton (DMin, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)
Preaching Old Testament Narratives
Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Mi 49505-6020, ISBN 978-0-8254-4258-2.
Why a book on teaching Old Testament narratives? Mostly because it has become a challenge for Pastors in a Church culture that expects teaching that is “practical” to provide honest reflection on the Old Testament text. Rather than gleaning from the high content already provided by Old Testament narratives the popular practice is to treat the Old Testament narratives as something like Aesop’s Fables. Instead of unfolding the history of redemption, it is assumed that the Old Testament narratives are there to show us some moral or practical life lesson. This isn’t to say that moral or life lessons aren’t helpful. However, for Pastors the primary function is to Shepard God’s people with God’s Word and here in lies the challenge.
This way of preaching is what Walton calls “Preaching with Biblical authority” he goes on to say that this type of preaching “means that our sermons accurately proclaim and apply the message of their biblical preaching text”(29). Such an understanding realizes that our conception of reality is construed by finite understanding and thus requires an infinite God to explain His will to us. Therefore, unless the message comes from the text, we run the risk of misrepresenting God. What Walton wants to speak to is preaching whose authority is not derived from the pastor but from God’s word.
Preaching Old Testament Narratives is a comprehensive treatment of its subject matter. The 254 pages are broken up into two sections, Discover The Message and Deliver The Message. In Discover The Message, Walton provides a 5 step methodology beginning with selecting a complete unit of thought or what Walton calls CUT(47). As the name implies this is simply choosing the preaching text. This is very helpful for obvious reasons. For Walton’s approach the objective in this stage of sermon preparation is to select a complete unit of thought so that the original theological message or OTM can be identified.
Steps 2 and 3 involve identifying the theological and historical contexts (45) and plot. Here Walton observes that Old Testament Narratives teach about God, hence the theological context. However, one further important step for Walton is the historical. Since we are looking at a different time period or era the thoughts and feelings of the people of Israel are different than those in 21st century America. Thus a proper understanding of the text looks and both these contexts of theological and historical. This leads Walton into Step 3 which is to study the plot. In order to provide thoughtful reflection on Old Testament narratives one should have a thorough understanding of the plot found in the CUT.
After arriving at the proper contexts and understanding the plot the next step seems fairly logical, discover the original theological message (OTM) and craft the take home truth. Discovering the original theological message for Walton. A complete unit of thought will have an original theological message that was intended for its original audience. The tenancy is to by pass the step and fabricate a message familiar to 21st century American experience. The problem is created when we don’t first seek to find out what that message communicated to Old Testament hearers. Once the original theological message is understood we can then move on to the next step in crafting the take home truth (THT).
The second part of the book deals specifically with delivering the message. Here Walton lays out the process of sermon preparation consisting of topics such as: creating the introduction, preaching through the complete unit of thought, stating and getting listeners to “buy” the take home truth, picture painting, making the move to Christ, and the conclusion. Each of these topics are well thought out and given a thorough treatment. Walton’s goal here is to give the reader the tools to execute on what he calls the four pillars of excellent preaching: accuracy, relevance, clarity, and inspiring.
Overall this is a pretty important book. This is an area that many pastors struggle with and Walton provides more than a foundation from which to build. Rather he walks the reader carefully through each step. There are some sections that have more to do with personal style which isn’t necessary for preaching Old Testament narratives. However the section on making the move to Christ is very well done and would prove to be helpful . I highly recommend this book for those still trying to navigate Old Testament narrative preaching or even for those who are quite comfortable with preaching Old Testament narrative and would just like a different perspective on the matter.
RATING 4 out of 5
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”