Simplify the Message: Multiply the Impact by @TalbotDavis (@AbingdonPress)

Let me begin this way: Preachers, get this book, read it, and do what it says. If you do, your preaching will go to the next level. Whether you’ve been at it a few weeks or a few decades, there is wisdom here for all whose privilege it is to have preaching as a vocation.

Simplify the Message: Multiply the Impact is a brand new book from my friend, Talbot Davis, pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. I don’t recall when our paths first crossed, but in 2014 (and in a new appointment for me) Talbot’s influence led to a major shift in my approach to preaching. I did not change my commitment to serious engagement with the scriptures. I did not change my commitment to preaching the gospel. I did not change my commitment to preaching the holy love of God that empowers people to embody that holy love. What changed was the communicative framework for all of that. I began to pay more attention to the homiletic package, not just the content. I began to give more energy to wordsmithing, not just word-assembling. I began (and here’s the crucial change) to preach the “bottom line.” What does that mean? It means I began organizing my sermons around a single memorable (and hopefully provocative!) sentence that communicated the one point of the text being preached that week. I learned this from Talbot Davis.

At that time, Talbot had not written a book on his approach to preaching. I learned the approach over time through observation and interaction. Now that Simplify the Message: Multiply the Impact has been published, things will be much easier for you. You can simply read the book and do what it says. And if you do, more people will remember more of your sermons. And the transformative power of your sermons will be enhanced and felt more deeply by your hearers.

Here’s what to expect. Talbot will lead you on a journey from clutter to clarity. This has largely to do with the movement from numerous points to a single point. You will learn strategies for crafting that single point that will make it more memorable. You will learn an approach to scripture that makes it feel more like an adventure than a lecture. There’s help on how to creatively apply what you find in scripture to what you find in the world and in your congregation. Talbot will teach you how to write sermons that help people listen better, that amplify the gospel. And all of that comes with example after example from sermons Talbot has preached to show you how the strategy pays off in the pulpit.

The book is brief and imminently readable. It’s funny and eye-opening. Most importantly, it will make you a better preacher. As I was reading, I thought how I’d like my preaching students to read this book, not only once during the semester, but two or even three times. I’ve already ordered extra copies to read with the folks on my preaching team. And it will likely be a book we revisit frequently. Since I began preaching the “bottom line” of the text, I’ve often thought how we need a handbook on the method. We have that now, which means we are all without excuse.

PS: Check out the accompanying website with extra resources –

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice and The Letters to the Thessalonians.

Preaching Holiness #UMC

I recently posted a few reflections on John Wesley’s instruction that Methodist preachers ought to preach the doctrine of holiness (or Christian perfection) “constantly, strongly, and explicitly.” Following Wesley’s advice, my January sermons were focused on the topic of Becoming Holy. Take a listen, if interested, and let me know what you think. If you are a preacher, how do you work the call to holiness into your sermons? How much homiletic time do you give to the topic? What strategies have you found helpful in introducing the concept to your congregation? What do you think are the challenges to preaching holiness? If you are a member of the laity, how often do you hear sermons on holiness? How do you respond to holiness preaching when you hear it? If you are not a preacher or part of a congregation, what do you think of the call to holiness? What are your impressions? Do you normally associate holiness with Christianity? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Preaching to Inspire Generosity: New Article on #Stewardship @PreachingMag

I’ve got a new article up at Here’s the intro: 

No one likes a sermon about money. The people in the pews don’t like them for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they have felt manipulated or scammed by a preacher trying to line his own pockets. Other times they feel convicted because they don’t give as much as they should and hearing a sermon on stewardship only reminds them of their sin. Preachers don’t like giving sermons on money because we know members of the congregation don’t like listening to them. It creates tension in the worship service. And we don’t want that. Stewardship sermons often feel like something to be endured rather than a vital opportunity to grow in grace and faith as a follower of Jesus. But what if there is a way to reframe sermons on money so that they proved to be a joy rather than a burden? What if preachers and their congregations actually looked forward to the stewardship series instead of dreading it? I believe it can be done. 

3 Reasons for Reading Backwards with Richard Hays (@Baylor_Press)

After attending part of the review panel for Richard Hays’ new short book, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Baylor, 2014), I knew I had to get a copy and read it. So I did, and took the long plane ride from California as an opportunity to dig in to this treasure trove of accessible and robust biblical scholarship on the Gospels. Hays is currently the Dean of Duke Divinity School and is well known for his work on the interplay between Old and New Testaments. This book is the published version of Hays’ Hulsean Lectures at Cambridge in the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014, and it takes up that interplay as it relates to the canonical Gospels.
The central thesis of the book is that the Gospels teach us to read the Old Testament, and the Old Testament teaches us to read the Gospels. In particular, the Gospels are to be read figurally, that is with a view to the many ways Old Testament texts may signify or pre-figure the Gospel narratives about Jesus. Hays puts it this way: “we learn to read the OT by reading backwards from the Gospels, and – at the same time – we learn how to read the Gospels by reading forwards from the OT” (4, italics original). This is not simply to say we note the citation when a Gospel passage quotes or evokes an Old Testament passage. It means that the Gospel writers intend their readers to soak into the original context of Old Testament passage and to interpret what they say about Jesus in light of that context. So, when Jesus says things like, “I am with you,” or, “My words will not pass away,” he should be read with a view to the rich texture that those words have in the OT when they are predicated of God. Or when Jesus walks on water, it’s not just a neat miracle to illustrate his power over nature. It should be read with the understanding that in the Old Testament only the God of Israel “treads on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). And the narrative implication is that Jesus embodies the presence of that very God. These examples don’t begin to capture the many and varied ways the Gospel writers see the Old Testament pre-figuring Jesus. You’ll have to read the book. In the mean time, here are three reasons to do just that. 
1. Refreshingly Orthodox
A significant number of New Testament scholars insist that stories about Jesus’ divinity were invented by the later Church and read back onto the life of Jesus. Hays cites one of the more popularly known proponents of that view, Bart Ehrman, who says, “The idea that Jesus was divine was a later Christian invention, one found, among our gospels, only in John” (Jesus Interrupted, 249). In contrast, Hays shows that each of the Gospels were written to narrate how Jesus of Nazareth embodies the God of Israel. To be sure, the different gospels tell the story to emphasize different aspects of what that embodiment looks like, and the diversity of their portrayals should not be minimized. Nevertheless, when the Gospels are read figurally in light of the Old Testament, they unanimously insist that Jesus bears in his body the unique presence of the creator God. Hays makes his case with elegance and beauty, which is the main reason it is so robust and persuasive. When you come to the creeds after you read this book, their words will carry far richer meaning than you ever might have imagined.
2. Great resource for preaching
This reason for reading is directed more toward the preachers out there. Use this book as a resource for preaching the Gospels. If you are working with a passage in the Gospels, look it up in the index to see what Hays says about it. It will add a multiple layers of depth to your comprehension and preaching of the text. It will point you to features of the text that you had not previously observed. And it will equip you to lead your congregation into a deeper understanding of the connection between the Old Testament and the Gospels. It will make you a better preacher. 
3. Perfect for Advent
I’ll finish by saying that this book is an excellent read for the season of Advent, which has just begun. As we draw near to Christmas and our celebration of the Incarnation of God in Christ, what better book to read than one focused on deep clarity with regard to the way the Gospel writers portray the Incarnation? I was very glad to read this book when I did since I was reflecting on scripture and sermons for the season. It has impacted my experience of Advent both in terms of formation and as a resource for preaching. For this I am grateful.
Seldom do I say that I cannot recommend a book highly enough, but that is exactly what I will say about Reading Backwards. 

New Podcast: Saved All the Way @StMarkMobile #UMC #WesleyanAccent

One reason I love Philippians is the constant attention Paul gives to applying the gospel to all of life. He really wants to see the light of the grace of God shine into every crack and crevice of the human heart. He wants to see us work out the grace that God has worked in us. One way he does this is by holding up the example of Jesus, the one who did not exploit his divine status but instead emptied himself to become a servant, and a human servant at that! For Paul, the attitude of Jesus demonstrated in his other-oriented self-emptying is the same attitude that should consistently and comprehensively be demonstrated in the lives of believers. We Wesleyan Christians sometimes happily insist that “all can be saved to the uttermost,” and this certainly reflects Paul’s understanding of salvation all the way through Philippians. To update the language a bit, we might also say that Paul believes we can be saved all the way. Click play above to discover how it happens.

Review: Preaching the New Testament (@ivpacademic)

Two of my top interests are combined in the title of this book. So, I’m very glad to have the opportunity to draw attention to it here, and many thanks to the team at IVP Academic for providing a review copy. With Preaching the New Testament, Ian Paul and David Wenham have pulled together a strong team of scholars all with varying degrees of experience in preaching to create a fine handbook that will guide preachers into the many challenges of relating the ancient text of the New Testament to present-day congregations. Each contributor clearly believes that preaching matters and writes with the goal of allowing his expertise to illumine sound and interesting approaches to the homiletic arts.
Books on preaching abound; so let me begin by saying why this one is important. If, with Paul (the apostle, not the co-editor, though I’m sure he would concur!), we make it our aim to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23), then before we begin working through the tasks of crafting an introduction, working out our points, finding creative illustrations, and composing a compelling conclusion, we must first deal with the text. That task begins by sorting out what the New Testament authors had to say about the importance and implications of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for their first century churches. The many excellent books written on preaching are often intended to serve as guides to composing and delivering a sermon and articulating a theology of preaching. This book, however, is by biblical scholars for preachers and comes a step before the others. Its contribution is an invitation to the reader to explore the context of the New Testament while keeping in constant view the question of how that context can be effectively communicated through contemporary preaching. Thus, the aim of this book to bridge the gap between the first-century text of the New Testament and the 21st century church-goer is the glue that holds the various essays together, and the contributors undertake to accomplish that aim from a variety of angles.
The chapters take up a number of topics related to the many types of texts that appear in the New Testament. The first five chapters focus on the gospels with an initial chapter by D.A. Carson on “Preaching the Gospels”, which is followed by essays devoted to various topics in gospels studies like the infancy narratives (R.T. France), parables (K. Snodgrass), miracles (Stephen I. Wright), and the Sermon on the Mount (D. Wenham). In chapter 6, Cristoph Stenschke addresses “The challenges and opportunities for preaching from the Acts of the Apostles”, which is followed by essays on preaching Paul’s letters (J.K. Hardin and J. Matson), the Pastorals (I.H. Marshall), Hebrews (C.A. Anderson) and the General Epistles (M.J. Kamell). Ian Paul rounds off the chapters devoted to preaching specific books with a look at “Preaching from the Book of Revelation” (chapter 11). The following five chapters consider how preaching can be informed by various disciplines in New Testament studies including archaeology (P. Oakes), ethics (J. Nolland), eschatology (S. Travis), theological hermeneutics for preaching (W. Olhausen) and the “New Homiletic” (H. Stadelmann). The final chapter brings the book full-circle with a discussion of “Preaching the gospel from the Gospels” (P. Weston). As you can imagine, these many angles will inspire readers with many fresh strategies for preaching the New Testament.
Without taking space to look at each essay in detail, I’ll mention a few contributions that I found particularly helpful. I very much enjoyed the chapter by Peter Oakes on how archaeology might inform our preaching. Oakes suggests that the first century is (often unconsciously) much like a “fairy-tale world” to many modern people and argues that archaeology can help preachers dispel such notions by accurately portraying the world of the New Testament as a real place inhabited by real people. Archaeology helps undo our fantastical imaginings about the biblical contexts and replaces them with a deeper and more informed understanding of how the message of the New Testament confronted the concrete values and ideals of the Roman Empire. I also appreciated Ian Paul’s essay on preaching from Revelation, which aptly develops and sets forth several strategies for helping preachers lead their congregations into what is arguably the most difficult book in the canon. I’ll add that John Nolland’s chapter on preaching the dual eschatological realities of hope and judgment was extremely helpful. These two themes run throughout the New Testament, and Nolland works through some of the barriers that make it difficult to preach them in order that we might ably lead our congregations in reflecting on the way these two important matters impact our belief and practice.
Preachers need to know that this is not a book of scholarship. It is a book that aims to bring the findings of scholars to bear on the ministry of preaching, and it is a book that every preacher should keep close at hand. Pick it up and read through the relevant chapters before setting out to preach on the gospels or on Paul. Use it as you are thinking through fresh strategies for a sermon series on New Testament eschatology. Allow yourself to be stretched by the practical experience and expertise of the contributors. Preaching is not preaching unless it is biblical preaching, and Preaching the New Testament will only help your preaching to become more thoroughly biblical.
Note: This book was received from the publisher in exchange for a review. The reviewer is under no obligation to provide a positive review.

5 Ways to Preach the Whole Bible (#andcanitbe)

Leading the church into an ever deeper understanding of the Bible-as-a-whole is no small task, and all who devote their lives to the ministry of the Word know the weightiness of this responsibility. Like Paul, who told the Ephesian elders that he had not refrained from preaching to them “the whole counsel of God”, we long for our congregations to be nourished by every word that God has spoken (Acts 20:27). This means, however, that we must resist the natural drift to preach only those parts of the Bible that are most familiar to us. If the people of God are to continually grow in health and vitality, then we all must have a balanced and steady diet of scriptural explanation and application. But is there an approach to preaching that will ensure we feast on all scripture has to offer? Here are five recommendations that, when taken together as an integrated approach, will help you preach whole Bible and avoid running in the same old homiletic ruts.

Click through to read the rest of this post at Seedbed.