Called to Preach: Fulfilling the High Calling of Expository Preaching
Steven J. Lawson. Called to Preach: Fulfilling the High Calling of Expository Preaching. By Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI 2022. 208 pp. ISBN 978-0-8010-9486-6, $18.99.
You will not read a more important book on preaching this year than Called to Preach. It serves as “a bold call to those summoned by Christ to preach the word” (10). Dr. Steve Lawson brings years of preaching and pastoral wisdom, providing a much-needed, practical, and comprehensive guide outlining the call to preach, preaching, and the preacher. Lawson is founder and president of OnePassion Ministries and Executive Editor for Expositor Magazine. He is Dean of DMin studies and Professor of Preaching at The Master’s Seminary, as well as host of the Institute for Expository Preaching. Lawson believes that preaching today has shipwrecked itself on the rocks of pragmatic strategies and the secular marketplace (9) and so, he calls for a return to “faithful preaching … a forgotten science and a lost art” (10).
Indeed, “the church is strongest when the pulpit is strongest” (11) and for every preacher to be effective, they “must be ever growing in [their] abilities in the pulpit, always striving to make progress no matter how long [they] have been preaching” (157). The reader will find that his book does not offer fresh solutions for the pulpit based on church surveys or asking the unregenerate their preferences on preaching, instead Lawson does a deep-dive into Scripture and consults the giants of church history, asking—Who should preach? How should preaching look? How should we prepare our sermons and deliver them to honor God? (11).
The book can be understood in three sections, Part 1: Being called and what you are called to (Chapter 1 Divinely Summoned—discerning the call, Chapter 2 The Preacher’s Mandate—proclaiming the word, Chapter 3 Behold Your God—exalting the Lord). Before time, God called men for the sacred task of preaching (13). Lawson rightly understands this as a summons which carries strict accountability, since the preacher serves as God’s mouthpiece (13-14). He points out the significance, solemnity, and seriousness of God’s call to preach, “No one yawned or felt apathetic when they were called” (31). Lawson considers 2 Timothy 4:1-5 as the timeless standard and signature text on proclamation, as well as the major building block for the proper understanding of expository preaching (36, 52). Since the Bible directs us in this way, one is not free to preach in whatever way pleases them (37). A correct preaching ministry must ceaselessly magnify the triune God, preaching: 1) the glory of the Father—preaching saturated with God’s awesomeness, 2) the gospel of the Son—declaring who Jesus Christ is … truly God and truly man—and what He came to do: save people from their sins, and 3) in the power of the Spirit—if there is no divine assistance, [there is] merely a recitation of notes (53-64).
Part 2: Sermon preparation and delivery (Chapter 4 In the Study—exploring the text, Chapter 5 Preparing your Exposition—crafting the sermon, Chapter 6 Stepping into the Pulpit—delivering the message, Chapter 7 Making it Personal—connecting the truth). As we explore the text, Lawson suggests seven initial steps for sermon development. Most notable among these steps is exposition selection—where Lawson shows that one can faithfully preach the Bible in numerous ways: sequential, sectional, representative, biographical, and topical (81-85). There are no shortcuts to crafting an expository sermon, it necessitates thoughtful and logical organization (97) because it has a unique literary and rhetorical form (98). Lawson thoroughly explores what delivering the message entails and the gravity of the task. Pulpit effectiveness depends on not only what you say, but how you say it (118). He provides seventeen key factors for effective sermon delivery. Among the more remarkable, preach with 1) sobriety—if the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then surely it is the beginning of all preaching (125), and 2) dignity— he urges ministers to dress in a manner worthy of your commission and message (135). Finally, the truth is connected to the hearer through application, “Where there is no application, there is no sermon—only a lecture” (139) and when application begins the sermon reaches its apex (155-156).
Part 3: The preacher (Chapter 8 Improving as a Preacher—elevating the exposition, Chapter 9 In Pursuit of Holiness—disciplining the life). Lawson admonishes every preacher, “Either you are progressing, gaining greater precision and power in the pulpit, or you are regressing … No matter where you are in your pulpit ministry, you should always strive toward greater excellence” (157, 174). Though the last chapter covers holiness, certainly it is not last in priority, power in the pulpit is directly equivalent to the preacher’s pursuit of holiness—God prepares the man before the man prepares the message (175).
Nine meaningful chapters, but two were stellar. The emphasis on the call to preach was refreshing—numerous preaching works either fail to discuss or simply tip their hat to the call. Lawson believes preachers are born, not made (13), and elaborates on God’s call to preach, “The one summoned to the pulpit will often be confronted with an overwhelming sense of the pull of God … because the living God is making a claim upon them” (32). Certain markers evidence the call to preach: 1) burden to preach, 2) Spirit-given ability to make God’s word known, 3) evidence of ongoing Christlikeness, 4) confirmation from others, 5) observation of spiritual fruit in those to whom you minister, 6) a great internal turbulence, and 7) providential opening of doors clearing your path to preach (16-32).
The second chapter of note is Chapter 7 Making it Personal—an emphasis on sermon application, “A sermon is not complete until it has been applied (139) … Anything less is not true preaching as measured by the standard established in Scripture” (142). Lawson calls for the preacher in his application to: 1) confront the carnal, 2) warn the wayward, 3) urge the undecided, 4) persuade the unconvinced, 5) comfort the downcast, 6) strengthen the weak, 7) equip the servant, 8) assure the doubters, 9) awaken the sleeping, 10) challenge the unaware, and 11) evangelize the lost (142-155).
Lawson is not seeking to impress; he is seeking to inform and inspire, and he admirably does so with simplicity and profundity. This work explains with precision the call to preach and the technical aspects of preaching in a clear and pastoral fashion. Lawson’s effort does not lose the preacher in homiletical minutiae, he keeps the main thing—the main thing. He states, “If today’s church is to be strengthened, decisive steps must be taken to recover authentic biblical preaching” (36), this book propels those decisive steps. Every conscientious pastor and homiletician will welcome this excellent edition and it will fit nicely next to Jason K. Allen Discerning Your Call to Ministry: How to Know for Sure and What to Do About It (Moody, 2016) or R. Albert Mohler Jr., Donald S. Whitney, and Daniel S. Dumas The Call to Ministry (SBTS Press, 2013). Lawson reminds us that “in every generation, the church of Jesus Christ rises or falls with its pulpit (9) … We cannot improve on what God has ordained” (10) and therefore we must be unyielding in Fulfilling the High Calling of Expository Preaching.
Tony A. Rogers, DMin
Southside Baptist Church (Bowie, TX)