On target

I still remember the first time I heard Phillip Jensen preach. It was in February 1981, and I was a fresh-faced, charismatically-inclined young Christian, just down from the country, eager to learn and grow, and ready to take on the world.

At St Matthias that night I heard preach­ing like I had never heard before. I was nailed to my chair with the challenge of God and the gospel. It was mind-blowing and life-changing, but in another sense it was very ordinary. There were no preacherly histrionics or lofty rhetoric. There was nothing special about the building or the atmosphere. All that happened was that someone closely and insightfully explained a Bible passage to me for around 50 minutes, and showed me how it demanded a complete turnaround in the way that I thought and acted towards God and the world and myself and other people.

Now those of you who have heard Phillip Jensen preach will know what I’m talking about. There is an undeniable power in the way that he expounds the word. He breaks many of the rules of classical homiletics, but somehow in his own idiosyncratic way he pulls it off. The word of God does its thing, and hacks away into your heart.

Is it just Phillip’s own particular genius? Or are there principles underlying his extraordinary preaching ministry that we can all learn from?

Well, with that kind of rhetorical set up, you know the answer is going to be the latter. And that’s what Phillip has done, with his co-author Paul Grimmond, in The Archer and the Arrow (which should be available by the time you read this). The book distils what Phillip has learned about preaching over the past 40 years, not just from doing it (a lot!), but from grappling with what the Bible itself says about the preacher’s task. In the book he offers his own summary of what that task is:

My aim is to preach the gospel by prayerfully expounding the Bible to the people God has given me to love.

The Archer and the Arrow is essentially an unpacking of that sentence, with all Phillip’s characteristic boldness, insight and biblical precision.

You’ll notice that the sentence includes the famous three P’s of Christian ministry: proclamation (or preaching), prayer and people. It shares this basic philosophy of ministry with The Trellis and the Vine, and in many ways the two are companion volumes. Trellis and Vine focused on how the three P’s relate to individual people and their growth, and how structures and programs can sometimes overwhelm our ability to nurture and train each person. It zeroed in on the need to train and equip every Christian not only to be a disciple, but to be a disciple-making disciple.

The Archer and the Arrow focuses on the public proclamation of the gospel through prayerful, Bible-based preaching, and—as with The Trellis and the Vine—a simple image illustrates the book’s main point. The job of the preacher is to craft arrows from the word of God and to fire them into the hearts of the people God has given him to love. The preacher’s job is to speak the “oracles of God” whenever he speaks (as 1 Pet 4:11 puts it)—not to preach his own words, but to understand God’s words in the Scripture, and to proclaim and unfold and explain those words to his hearers. (This is ‘expository’ preaching, which is one of those labels that many people claim but few actually practice.)

If your approach to people-work was challenged and provoked by The Trellis and the Vine, then consider it very likely that your view and practice of preaching will be similarly upended by The Archer and the Arrow.

It’s a brilliant book.

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