This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2004 vol. 161 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Preaching to a Postmodern World: A Guide to Reaching Twenty-first Century ListenersBaker Books, Grand Rapids July 1, 2001
The apostle Paul practiced a number of strategies to communicate the gospel, willingly becoming all things to all men so that he might win some to Christ. Like Paul, Graham Johnston, who pastors and lectures on homiletics in Australia, does not compromise the biblical message, but he does adapt the style of his preaching to his audience. His book is a call to preachers who address listeners caught up in the cultural shift going on around them. He urges preachers to move beyond talking to themselves in traditional Christian words or images in order to communicate with clarity and relevance to the postmodern world.
Johnston’s writing flows easily, with interesting illustrations and extensive documentation in endnotes. For those not acquainted with the postmodern shift and worldview, the first two chapters furnish an excellent entry-level overview. For those aware of the trend, the review will prove beneficial. Preachers must “reach the listener, a fellow human being, with the message of Christ, and at the same time uphold the Word of God, faithfully and with integrity” (pp. 18–19) Readers will sense the author’s passion for the lost from the introduction through the conclusion. A carefully limited bibliography provides suggestions for further study.
Chapters 3–7 identify the strategies preachers need to communicate the truth of Scripture successfully to distracted and uninterested audiences. Preachers should not expect to connect without first understanding who their listeners are and how they think and choose. Preachers will also be challenged to make the effort and take the risk necessary to reach out to a different kind of churchgoer. At the same time they must not surrender their expositional method by preaching culture rather than the message of the Bible. “Twenty-first-century listeners may prefer idols but they lack a God large enough to sustain their lives in complicated times” (p. 145).
Preaching magazine honored Preaching to a Postmodern World as “Book of the Year 2001.” Unquestionably this text is for preachers, not scholars of postmodernity. The goal is not to critique the culture as much as to engage it. While Johnston’s ideas are not new, they do bear repeating. Here is lucid, time-tested, God-honored rhetoric; communication that seeks to persuade men and women, to win them to the Savior.
—Timothy S. Warren