Reformers Recommends: Books on Preaching with David Burke (Christ College, Sydney)

We sat down with David Burke from Christ College, Sydney to discuss his recommended books on preaching.

View all the books that David recommends here.

Full Interview Transript

TE: G'day Tom here from Reformers Bookshop with another Reformers interview. Today we're in the office of David Burke at Christ College, thanks for joining us David... Thanks for having us here in your office.

DB: My pleasure.

TE: And you teach at Christ's College – can you tell us a bit about what what you're teaching at the moment?

DB: Sure, so my official title is "Lecturer in Ministry and Practice" that covers a range of things - I say to people anything but the Bible, which usually gets some smiles. This semester I'm teaching early church history, I'm teaching a course in applied theology called Church in God's mission and I'm teaching a course in pastoral skills. That's pastoral care: caring for God's people. Here at college we see the work of the pastor has been to feed, lead, and care for God's people and so that pastoral skills is under the care heading.

TE: Sure. And I guess under what we're going to talk about today is it would be under the feed heading we're gonna talk about books about preaching. So perhaps to start with can you can you tell us: what is preaching?

DB: Yeah, well, that's something I get students to write an essay on so as I read the essays I've had to think about it. I talk about preaching in terms of it's the explanation the illustration and particularly the application of God's Word. So preaching is always going to derive from the Scripture - it's the place where God speaks to us - but preaching is not the same as teaching, it certainly has a teaching component, it's that illustration and application, I think, that makes preaching preaching.

TE: Sure, okay and we're to expect this every week from our pastors...

DB: I hope so yes certainly when I go to church that's what I'm looking for.

TE: Yeah, good. And so particularly today we want to think about how books might be able to help pastors in particular and preachers even lay preachers think about what they're doing. What role do you see books playing in the life of a pastor or a preacher?

DB: Yes, well I'd say that reading a book on preaching will not make a preacher any more that doing a preaching course even at Christ College doesn't make a preacher. What books and courses can do is they give the scaffolding in which God grows the preacher, so I think there's an issue of God's calling of the giftedness, I think the experience - I think you learn to preach by preaching, certainly for myself, I did a lot of preaching in fact I've never done a course on preaching myself so that's all being learnt by doing it and reflecting on it, etc. But books are very important to cross-check your own thinking and to develop. I started preaching, I think the first one was 1971, which is a few years ago, and every year or so I will make a point of reading a book on preaching and I'm finding even reading a basic introductory book on preaching after my, what, 48 years, I will still gain things that means I'll think about something then continue growing. So the books are there to help the initial scaffolding and the continued growth.

TE: You're not the first person who said that to me actually, I've had other pastors say that they read a book a year on preaching to help them in their work.

DB: Well there you go, sounds like a good habit.

TE: Now I've preached a few times, so I'm sort of starting: what books would you perhaps suggest to begin with?

DB: Yeah well if I can grab a couple of these books we've got here. So, two books in fact, both written by Australian authors Preaching: A Guidebook for Beginners by Allan Chapple, from over at Trinity College in WA (Western Australia); and then Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell which comes out of QTC in Queensland. The great thing about Allan Chapple's book is that it takes you from a zero start and he pulls apart what preaching is, then it's nuts and bolts, step 1, step 2, etc. It's not an exciting read, but it's a really... students in my classes tell me that this is a really great read if you're just beginning at the task and you really don't know where to begin. Saving Eutychus, as the title might imply: that's the reference to the guy in the Bible, he did a sermon, dropped out of the window, dropped dead, and if that can happen to the Apostle Paul, it makes the rest of us feel good. So Gary Millar and Phil Campbell from QTC, they've written a book: it's idiosyncratic as they say, an Irishman and an Australian walk into a pulpit ... it's got that kind of lively feel about it. But it's a really helpful book in terms of carrying you along and making you think about what preaching is and sharpening a number of those skills.

TE: Excellent, so good good beginner books. And then, if I wanted to dig a bit more into what preaching is and and the details behind them in more technicalities, perhaps, where would you then lead me?

DB: Yeah, well a couple of classics that you might like to pass over to me. So first of all Martyn Lloyd-Jones - the great Welsh preacher – so Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the physician, you know, set for the big medical career and all the rest of it, and then started preaching. Never went to Theological College... not sure if I should mention that, preached his heart out of Westminster Chapel and has written what has become quite a classic in the field - Lloyd-Jones goes back to the big picture around preaching, something of the theology behind it, something about the purpose of preaching. Even, I think, the book was probably written 40 or so years ago, but it's a good book to read to learn from a real master of the craft, and go back and think deeply. He's got a style of preaching that we wouldn't necessarily do today: go through the book of Romans over 16 years or something: kind of half a verse at a time... we tend to go in bigger slabs of Scripture, but there's much to gain from that. And then John Stott, always worth reading, and this is part of an "I Believe" series and Stott, of course, is a master preacher himself. I had the privilege of hearing him a few times and talking to him about his preaching, which was quite as bonus. And Stott, again, he gives a... there's a step-by-step guide, but also he goes back behind why do we preach, he talks about the authority of the Bible and how the Bible functions in preaching, and a really good thing always about Stott: he is he gets us to think about the audience and who were preaching to and how do we preach in a way that connects to people. In my mind, the heart of preaching is faithfulness to God's Word and connection to the audience in front of you. Now Stott's very good on both of those, and certainly the connection aspect, that's where he's a master. So those are two books to read - a bit older, but both with much to teach.

TE: Is there something you remember from that conversation with Stott around preaching?

DB:  So when I spoke to him he would have been in his 80s, it was in the upstairs room in the All Souls rectory and I just remember being impressed by, he is an older man who's been preaching for many years, he is still passionate about preaching and he takes it very seriously, he doesn't just kind of cruise along sermon notes.

TE: Yeah wonderful. So even even as they get older preachers should still be...

DB: Yeah I think so, I'm 68 this year so.. that's an issue for me, I don't want to be one of those clapped-out old pastors that drones away and everyone has a Eutychus moment.

TE: And one of the things you mentioned about Stott's book is that he helps you to connect with your audience. Now most churches have sort of half men and half women and preachers are men, and so I've noticed a book here that you've brought out is is about how preaching and speak to women, can you tell us a bit about this book?

DB: So, you're dead right, at least half of our congregations typically will be female, and preachers are basically going to be male. And I guess we all know not to use endless football or cricket illustrations in our sermons, but it goes far deeper than that: I think there are different points of connection to women there are different issues of their lives. I mean at the heart, you know, God created us all in His image but at the very beginning is a male/female distinction and we are different, and that's really good, I'd hate to be married to myself, but I'm glad to be married to my wife. And I just recall a few times over the years when my wife would talk about something that might have connected to her or didn't connect. And when I saw this book I thought it was worth grabbing. Just as an example:  my daughter, who's now an adult, spent six months in Germany on student exchange when she was 16, and she went to a church and there was a woman preaching. And so when Mary came back we talked about it and my daughter said how this lady preacher remarked that Jesus was a beautiful man. And she said, "you've never said anything like that" and I thought afterwards "no, I wouldn't... would I?" And so I think women will hear differently, women will see different things, there are particular issues in the lives of Christian women that need to be addressed by preachers, and I found this book useful just for helping me to understand a little better with some  analytical material to understand that half of the audience and to think about how to  connect beyond not using... beyond using netball as well as football.

TE: And is interesting too, I think, because a man hears that Jesus is a beautiful man quite differently to perhaps how a woman would hear it, he has different picture in mind. It sounds like a helpful book. And what you've been driving out a few times, really is, I think you mention it in defining what preaching is: preaching is broader than just telling someone about something. It's more... it's deeper than that. I think before with this interview you said it's transformation not education?

DB: Yes, so one way of thinking about teaching is that the goal of teaching is transmission of information, then it has: can the student recall and produce it back to you and analyse and apply, whereas with preaching its information for transformation, and you want to see a whole life-change. That's the real goal of preaching, that's 2 Timothy 3:15 to 17 to form people as mature Christians, yep.

TE: So there's a couple books that you've pulled out here that you found helpful to that regard.

DB: So  the first one, a pretty old book in fact, was written in the 1580s in Latin first up translated to English but thankfully people like Banner of Truth keep publishing it. Now, The Art of Prophesying by William Perkins, we hear the word prophesy today we think of something different, he means preaching. And this I think would be one of the very earliest English Protestant books on preaching that we can read today and see a likeness in our approach as to how we'd go about it. Perkins is very strong in taking us... he sees the task of the preacher is to interpret and apply the text. And he's very skillful in terms of talking about the heart of the listener and talking about different kinds of listeners and what the need of that person is. So say with a person who's not yet a Christian, they perhaps don't need your sermon on the difference between Eutychian and Nestorian Christology. But they do need to hear hat Jesus is that Lord who can save them by his death and how you achieve that. So Perkins is good in attuning us to our audience, he is particularly interested in the heart, the inner- person of the audience and in helping to develop applications there. Most of us, as preachers, struggle with application so books like these two are good. Murray Capill's book is the best book that I've read on application. I used to say it was the only book, but then I remembered I read Perkins. Capill picks up on some of the older literature, a really strong section is he goes back to the Puritan writers Edwards and so on, for an analysis of the heart. And the distinction between things like feelings and emotions which are on the surface that often, we think, confuse that with the heart, and Capill gets us to burrow down and to get to the affections. As a preacher what you want to get to is not feelings and emotions, because they'll disappear with the next pizza... what you want to get to is to the deep issue of the affections and will of the audience.

TE: So how does he define affections?

DB: He would talk it... not in terms of "I like my puppy dog" or a cafe-latte, the deepest loves and loyalties that drive our whole lives. So his argument would be that if we transform those affections if the deep level the heart that will result in change behavior and hence the heart is the target. So he's very good at analysing the heart and then helping preachers to address different parts of it. Even after my 58 years of preaching, whatever it is... 48 years of preaching, I still find that getting applications right - the danger is you're so general or every week it's read your bible, pray, evangelise your neighbour - most of us continue to struggle with applications and books like this help us develop applications that are driven by the text into people's lives.

TE: Now perhaps one one of the difficulties with application itself is that... I think that why we lean to general applications is that we don't want to be legalistic, we don't want to be telling people how to live. So how do these books help you to differentiate between a legalistic approach to application  and still move away from that general [application]?

DB: Sure, that's where the analysis, whre the listener is at, and so for the person who's in Christ you're then looking to make applications with in terms of let's now talk about what does it mean to live a life worthy of Christ or in Romans 12 what does it mean to present your whole self as a living sacrifice? And so you're going to probe into  family life work life and so on, but always grounding it back in Christ as being the motivation for it. Another writer talks about the danger of the be sermon, you know: "be good", "be a bible reader" etc, whereas what we want to say is "be a follower of Christ", "be someone who believes in Christ with repentance and confession and let that drive your behaviour".

TE: Seem like very important books to read. And then, one of the things that I see in my pastor and in many pastors is that there's lots and lots of different things that they have to do. They have to plan ministries, have to organise meetings, they have to do Bible studies and all sorts of things. So is there a book that can help us help pastors in terms of understanding where preaching should sit in their priority list?

DB: Sure, yes, as I mentioned before when... certainly in our college we work very much on a shepherding metaphor where the Bible gives us, that's the language 1 Peter 5 and so on for the pastor and that's where we get our "feed, lead, care" so we want students to think about a balance between those. But a book that is very helpful in terms of thinking about the priority of preaching as well, it is got that very title: The Priority of Preaching". Christopher Ash, I've have had the opportunity of working with Christopher on a few projects - in fact I wrote one of the blurbs for this book, so I do recommend it. This is a series of talks he gave to preachers at the Evangelical Ministers Assembly in London I think it was, a series of talks from Deuteronomy. It's not a how-to book, but it is a book that encourages pastors to keep preaching as the central part of their ministry. So whatever else you do make sure that you are feeding God's people well. I guess if you think of the household illustration: whatever else a parent might do, keeping the house neat and tidy is nice, getting the kids to netball on time is good, but whatever else you do: feed the kids well, and that's kind of where Christopher Ash goes. So I read this book on a weekend, I had flown from Singapore to Sydney to conduct a niece's wedding, then I got on a plane after a wedding reception on Saturday afternoon, flew back to Singapore, preached twice the next day, and I read this book in the pre-publishers proof, and I found that I bounded from the plane to the pulpit because I was just so encouraged by this book that what I do as a preacher is the most important thing I do for my congregation: feed them well. One particular thing that struck me in this book is it talks about the relationship of small groups and preaching. Many of us would have small groups and we'd see them as a valuable adjunct to our ministry, I've been in a habit of getting the small groups to look at the  same passage that I'm preaching on before the sermon. So they look at it, get warmed up on it them to come and hear the sermon etc. Whereas Ash makes the point "hang on", he says, "you're the key teacher of the congregation." He thinks the order should be that you preach it first, so you're doing the teaching and the principal applications, then it goes to the small groups where they're talking  about detailed individual applications. And I'm quite persuaded by that. And he makes the remark that small groups, they require university kind-of skills of being able to read text, talk about it, discuss it, and there's lots of people in churches that don't have those skills, not everybody is an arts  graduate. And so just a book that's a great encouragement to pastors: keep it central in your week, and do it well.

TE: Yeah good. And so to that end we have the Bible to preach from, which you mentioned, and two thirds of it as it turns out it's made up of the Old Testament. So is there something that can help us preach the Old Testament?

DB: Look, I'd say first of all that... that I think would be the major challenge for most preachers if you look at the preachers Bible, like that of a Christian, you'll find the New Testament pages are well-thumbed and are falling out, the Old Testament might be pretty pristine and the gold edgings are still there. We often struggle in making applications from the Old Testament because it's before Jesus, we haven't got the direct gospel link. So how do we make sense? You hear of some horror stories, I mean, the one you often hear is Joshua for the Rahab episode: Rahab lets the spies out and we're given the detail in the text that she's got a red rope that she uses, that clearly is the blood of Jesus saving us... apparently in the mind of some preachers. So we could probably do better than that.

So a couple of books that can help there: Graeme Goldsworthy, again as Australia punches above its weight in some of these fields, Goldsworthy... when I was a very new Christian I was going to the Evangelical Union at Sydney University and Goldsworthy was teaching at Moore College, he'd come over the EU and we kind of got his books without having to buy them. Goldsworthy's approach is very much wrapped around the idea of the kingdom: God's people under God's rule in God's place, and he sees the whole Bible unfolding around the kingdom established in Eden, lost in the fall, promised, restored, anticipated in David, and then coming in Jesus. And this helpful book by Goldsworthy supplements some of his other books in that, as the title suggests, "Preaching the Whole Bible is Christian Scripture" he gives an introductory section with a whole lot of really helpful principles for what we call our "hermeneutic" or interpretation. So we don't... we know the whole Bible points towards Jesus and arises from Jesus, but we don't want to be clunky or forced in the way we handle the Old Testament, and he's giving a methodology that enables you to take an Old Testament passage, put it into a good perspective as to how it points towards Jesus, which might be showing a need for Jesus, it might be setting up a pattern or a type that is fulfilled in Jesus, it might be a prediction of Jesus and so on. And so he has the introductory material then he goes through the main divisions in the Bible and shows you how to do it. So it's a great little book. You're preaching... you're assigned to preach on Zechariah and think "what do I do?" You just turn to Goldsworthy and he'll give you something to start thinking about, even if you don't agree with his whole approach.

But the premier book probably in this would be... so Bryan Chapell, who's in fact coming out to  Australia later this year I think, to Christ College - and we bring him out because we think he's got a great approach. He is very much known for what he calls "redemptive preaching" so we all want to  keep Christ at the centre and his redemption, but how do we do that without being legalistic or clunky? Chapell's, probably, distinctive note is the thing called the "fallen condition focus" (FCF). So I'll give you that... I'll give you that and the gist. So the gist of it is that all of Scripture addresses Humanity in our deficiency arising from the fall: so all the bible is responding to fallenness and sinfulness. Fallenness is the general human condition arising from the fall; sinfulness is you and me, our individual sins. Right, so the whole of Scripture addresses us in our fallenness, every text then is responding to some deficiency in us caused by the fall or sin - the task of the preacher, then, is to do your exegesis, figure out "what is it about human fallenness or sinfulness that this text was  addressing in the original context?" You then ask the question "what's the parallel... what's the point of contact between our lives and that original condition of the text?" Next step is to ask "how does the text address that issue of human fallenness in the original context and then how's that going to apply in my hearers?" It's just beautiful, it takes a bit of work for students to learn how  to develop the fallen condition focus, we practice that in class here, but once students get it's just breathtaking because those applications that are driven by the text that keep Jesus central relate to realise those applications just fall out, so it really is just a superb book and approach.

TE: And if people want to know more they can come along and...

DB: Come along to Christ College!

TE: Well thank you very much David, perhaps one last question before we go is: as you have read over the years, and lots of different books as we can see in your office here, is there maybe a little tip or something that you've found helpful in your reading to get the most out of a book?

DB: To read slowly, allow a bit of time, take notes, I'll often, if I've bought the book, which of course you should do from Reformers, I'll just have a pencil and make notes and then I will try and  summarise the key points from each chapter at the introduction page of that chapter as I go and I can go back to that easily, I find that helpful.

TE: Okay as I was thumbing through some of these books I found your notes, so yeah, thank you for that, and thank you very much for your time.

DB: Great, good to be with you.