Q&A 16 (Part 1): What are your five or six favorite living preachers?

Question: Who are your five or six favorite living preachers? Why? What can we learn from them?


Let me begin by saying I am going to answer a question that was not raised: who are my favorite preachers living or dead? I simply cannot resist. Three of my favorite preachers of all time are now with the Lord. That would be W.A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers and Stephen Olford. Each of these men were anointed by God and used greatly for the building of the body of Christ.

Dr. Criswell was unique in so many ways. He, almost single-handedly, led a revival for expository preaching. His 1985 address at the SBC, “Shall We Live or Shall We Die,” was pivotal in the C.R. His voice was powerful and he had a commanding presence in the pulpit. He also proved you could have a PhD and still believe in the inerrant Word of God.

I never heard a more powerful preacher than Adrian Rogers. I guess you could say he was the total package! He had a voice like no one I have ever known, and he had a commanding presence in the pulpit that I believe was a result of his close and personal walk with the Lord. He is the godliest man I have ever known, and his impact on my life was enormous. He was such a clear and careful expositor who was also challenging and convicting in his preaching. I never heard him that I was not blessed. Of course the problem with Dr. Rogers is there is no one else like him. So, I learned from him the importance of fellowship with the Lord, the importance of illustrating well, and the importance of crafting a message that was easy to recall and made an impact on people.

Stephen Olford was a small man in terms of his physical stature but a mighty man in terms of his relationship with the Lord and power in the pulpit. I can remember listening to him as I would drive from Dallas to Fort Worth to attend seminary. One semester I listened as he walked straight through 2nd Corinthians. I was absolutely blown away at this man’s passion, careful exposition and ability to exhort us to be obedient to the Lord. The first time I ever heard him he preached a sermon on 1 Samuel 15 entitled “The Sin of Partial Obedience.” I was both overwhelmed and terrified by that message! These men have made a massive impact upon my life and I will forever be in their debt. In the next blog I will tackle the question I was asked concerning my favorite living preachers.

John Stott (1921-2011): Model Missional Pastor-Theologian

Yesterday, John Stott died at the age of ninety. Stott was one of a handful of men who helped bring about an evangelical renaissance in North America and the British Isles during the middle years of the twentieth century. Of that generation of giants, Billy Graham and J. I. Packer are the only two who haven’t yet departed to be with their Lord.

Numerous tributes have already been written about Stott; no doubt many more will follow. By God’s grace, he accomplished much for the kingdom during his long life. In this post, I want to focus on one aspect of Stott’s ministry that I hope continues to be replicated among my peers who are serving in pastoral ministry. John Stott was an exemplary model of a missional pastor-theologian.

Unlike his friend Packer, Stott never served as a professor in a theological college or seminary. Stott was a Church of England clergyman who served for thirty years on the pastoral staff of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London. He became a model for consecutive expository preaching, and along with his older contemporary (and sometimes rival) Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Stott helped bring about a renewed interest in expositional preaching among evangelicals. His ministry was also marked by a healthy marriage of intentional evangelism and cultural engagement, along with a burden that the gospel be preached to the uttermost parts of the earth. These emphases are reflected in the many books Stott wrote and the ministries he launched in the years following his retirement from full-time pastoral ministry.

Stott was a prolific author who wrote or edited fifty-two books and contributed hundreds of articles to other books and periodicals. Among his better-known books are numerous biblical commentaries, each of which evidence the fruit of his own expositional preaching ministry. Most of his commentaries were published in IVP’s widely used The Bible Speaks Today series; Stott edited the New Testament volumes. Along similar lines, he also wrote an excellent preaching textbook, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Eerdmans, 1982). No serious preacher of God’s Word should leave this book unread.

One of his most influential books is Christian Mission in the Modern World, first published in 1975. In 1974, Billy Graham convened a meeting of 2700 evangelical leaders in Lausanne, Switzerland for an International Conference on World Evangelization. Stott delivered a plenary address and chaired the committee that drafted the Lausanne Covenant, one of the most important documents produced by evangelicals in the past half century (read Stott’s commentary on the Lausanne Covenant). Christian Mission in the Modern World further expounds upon the vision of the Lausanne Covenant by arguing for a vision of missions that weds bold proclamation and sacrificial service, the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

Stott continued to be a leading advocate of global missions in the years following his retirement in 1975. For example, he founded Langham Partnership International, known as John Stott Ministries in the USA. Langham Partnership is a ministry devoted to serving Christians in the Majority World through training pastors in expositional preaching, translating and distributing evangelical literature, and providing scholarships for gifted Christian scholars to pursue advanced theological training. He also continued to link missions with Christ-centered cultural engagement, especially through the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, which Stott founded in 1982.

Stott also taught two generations of Christians about the gospel. His book Basic Christianity, first published in 1969, is considered an evangelical classic. I’ve met several individuals who either came to Christ of were first taught the core beliefs of the Christian faith through this important book. Undoubtedly his most important theological book is his classic The Cross of Christ, first published in 1986. The Cross of Christ is a robust defense of penal substitutionary atonement, a doctrine that Stott well understood is at the heart of the biblical gospel. Stott challenges the ever-popular notion that alternative models of the atonement (some of which are also biblical) should replace the biblical truth that God’s just wrath against human sin was poured out on Jesus Christ when he offered himself as our sinless substitute.

John Stott was by no means perfect. I strongly disagree with his sympathies for annihilationism and I’m not convinced he was right in his famous debate with Lloyd-Jones on the question of whether or not evangelicals should separate from the Church of England (I go back and forth on the latter). Nevertheless, on the whole I believe Stott is an excellent role model for young pastors who desire to wed expositional preaching with a commitment to global missions and cultural engagement. I pray the Lord will raise up a new generation of pastors who will write books, articles, and blog posts that help the church reflect on these issues. There would be no more appropriate way to honor John Stott, a brother who was arguably the most important missional pastor-theologian among evangelicals in the last fifty years. Thank God for his life and ministry.

Engaging Exposition (19): The Work of Exposition: Structuring the Message

Engaging exposition requires the preacher of God’s Word to develop a comprehensive and structured method for moving from his study notes and research to the completed sermon. John Stott says, “the golden rule for sermon outlines is that each text must be allowed to supply its own structure.”* An effective teacher of the Word of God recognizes the wisdom of honoring the substance and structure of the text. What he says should be faithful to the text as well as obvious from the text both to himself and to those he instructs.

I want to suggest ten basic and related steps to follow. These steps will develop and be true to our short definition of expository preaching: “Christ-centered, text-driven, Spirit-led preaching that transforms lives.” They will also be true and develop our more full description of biblical exposition:

Expository preaching is text driven preaching that honors the truth of Scripture as it was given by the Holy Spirit. Its goal is to discover the God-inspired meaning through historical-grammatical-theological investigation and interpretation. By means of engaging and compelling proclamation, the preacher explains, illustrates and applies the meaning of the biblical text in submission to and in the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching Christ for a verdict of changed lives.

1) Let your exegesis drive and determine the structure of your message.

2) Have as many major points as the text naturally demands.

3) Make sure your major points and sub-points clearly and naturally flow out of the text. Be able to see your outline (or movements) in the text.

4) State your points in complete sentences that are application focused connecting them to the sermon title, MIT and MIM.

5) Make your sub-points connect with the major points that they support.

6) Look for the theological truths the text clearly supports and develops.

7) Cover and fill the skeleton outline with the meat and marrow of your exegesis.

8) Add to your expository content the supporting accessories of introduction, conclusion, application and illustrations.

9) As you hone the finished product, make sure there is balance, symmetry and cohesion to the message as a whole.

10) Practice reading your text repeatedly (and out loud), remembering that it is a sin to read God’s Word poorly.

In “A Treatise on Christian Liberty” Martin Luther throws down the gauntlet and gives us some final words in this chapter to guide us and inspire us:

Let us then consider it certain and conclusively established that the soul can do without all things except the Word of God, and that where this is not there is no help for the soul in anything else whatever. But if it has the Word it is rich and lacks nothing, since this Word is the Word of life, of truth, of light, of peace, of righteousness, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of power, of grace, of glory, and of every blessing beyond our power to estimate.

Preaching the Word of God for the glory of our Savior and the good of His saints – this is an essential component for healthy churches in our day. It is an essential component for healthy churches in any day.

* John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 229.