This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2004 vol. 161 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository PreachingMoody Publishers, Chicago July 1, 2003
Like a twenty-first-century prophet standing alone in a wasteland of relativism Lawson passionately cries out for a fresh outpouring of God’s truth through expository preaching. Pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, and guest lecturer in preaching at several seminaries, Lawson argues that “a return to preaching—true preaching, biblical preaching, expository preaching—is the greatest need in this critical hour” (p. 17, italics his). Today’s culture, he writes, desperately needs “the man of God opening the Word of God and expounding its truths so that the voice of God may be heard, the glory of God seen, and the will of God obeyed” (p. 18, italics his). Lawson wishes to fortify the commitment of all who proclaim the Word, to rally the faithful as they resist contemporary influences away from biblical authority, and to encourage the church with hope that true preaching, life-changing exposition, will emerge out of the present famine in the land.
While the author’s concern demands attention, he unnecessarily erects a straw man when he implies that there is a unique crisis in preaching today (p. 57). A crisis always has existed and certainly will exist throughout the church age. Only if all souls in the world were evangelized and all believers fully formed in Christ might one agree that no crisis in preaching exists. So Lawson’s appeal to a nostalgic past when “God’s truth was fearlessly proclaimed—days when doctrinal clarity, theological precision, and heart-searching application once poured forth from pulpits” (p. 20) is overstated. In that sense Famine in the Land plays off a constant perception that preaching is not what it used to be. Yet because every new generation must produce faithful preachers, this book’s plea should be taken seriously.
The four chapters of this volume are based on four messages preached in the chapel of Dallas Seminary and subsequent articles published by Bibliotheca Sacra in 2001–2002. Each chapter develops a biblical passage reputedly addressing the subject of expository preaching.
Chapter one, “Feast or Famine?” develops Acts 2:42–47. Lawson concludes that “preaching is the foremost responsibility of the preacher and the church” (p. 34), while asking, “Where are such authoritative preachers today?” (p. 42). Lawson develops five subjects: “The Primacy of the Apostles’ Teaching,” “The Pattern of the Apostles’ Teaching,” “The Purity of the Apostles’ Teaching,” “The Passion for the Apostles’ Teaching,” and “The Potency of the Apostles’ Teaching.” Each heading includes several alliterative subpoints supported by observations from Acts 2 and a variety of New Testament passages.
Chapter two, “The Need of the Hour,” develops Jonah 3:1–10. The Old Testament prophet is presented as a positive example for today’s preacher. Lawson traces “The Call to Biblical Preaching,” “The Character of Biblical Preaching,” and “The Consequences of Biblical Preaching,” adding alliterative subpoints. For example under “The Call to Biblical Preaching” the author discovers “A Specific Person,” “A Specific Place,” and “A Specific Purpose.”
Chapter three, “Bring the Book,” develops Ezra 7:10 and Nehemiah 8:1–8 along the lines of “The Preacher’s Preparation in the Word,” “The Preacher’s Personalization of the Word,” and “The Preacher’s Proclamation of the Word,” again with alliterative subpoints. Ezra is an example worthy of emulation (p. 83), offering a clear and compelling pattern for all who preach and teach the Word today (p. 84).
Chapter four, “No Higher Calling,” develops 1 Timothy 4:13–16, showing “The Pattern of Biblical Preaching,” “The Perseverance of Biblical Preaching,” “The Pains of Biblical Preaching,” and “The Preoccupation of Biblical Preaching,” with alliterative subpoints.
Those committed to exposition will rightly applaud this urgent appeal. “Biblical preaching finds its message originating solely in Scripture, extracted through correct interpretation in which the original God-intended meaning of Scripture is explained and applied to people today” (p. 97).
While this reviewer supports the author’s call for true biblical exposition, some weaknesses may be noted. First, the book is replete with generalizations. Words like “most,” “many,” and “much” pepper the text. For example, “Tragically, most of what passes for biblical preaching today falls woefully short of apostolic standards” (p. 38, italics added). Second, more than a dozen footnotes merely refer the reader to secondary quotations without full bibliographic citations. This practice places the book in a popular rather than an academic category. Third, the author uses word studies far too often, repeatedly stretching the meaning of a Hebrew or Greek term to fit the argument. For example Lawson bases his alliterative subpoints that Jonah’s preaching was both “courageous” and “compelling” on the same Hebrew term. The words “In delivering this message, Jonah ‘cried out’ (v. 4), showing the courage of his soul to declare God’s message” (p. 63) are followed by “the fact that Jonah ‘cried out’ reveals the passion with which he delivered God’s message” (p. 65). Fourth, while Lawson’s style is biblical, it is not consistently expositional. Although the author rightly urges his readers to preach God’s authoritative and life-changing Word in a secular world, he does not consistently model a hermeneutic that takes the theological message of his texts seriously. He too quickly and too often retreats to a predetermined and/or exemplary hermeneutic. The author does not model the method he promotes.
Famine in the Land is worth reading by pastors who want to rekindle their commitment to preaching, though not as a example of expository preaching.
—Timothy S. Warren