Jesus Christ: The Prince of Preachers
Learning from the teaching ministry of Jesus
The book is organized around eight points: 1) Jesus viewed preaching as preeminent; 2) Jesus preached with a high view of Scripture; 3) Jesus preached Christ, and him crucified; 4) Jesus preached doctrine; 5) Jesus preached as a herald; 6) Jesus preached discipleship; 7) Jesus preached for a verdict; and 8)jesus was an expository preacher.
Each chapter first develops a thesis, such as “Jesus preached for a verdict”. Abendroth first examines the proposition in light of the Gospel text, giving examples and explanations. To show Jesus preached for a verdict, Abendroth quotes a text such as John 11:25-26:
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25–26 (ESV)
The examples are then developed through exegesis and argument. Following his examination of the thesis, Abendroth then provides application and instruction for two groups: those who will teach, and those who will listen.
For teachers and preachers, Abendroth provides instruction on the proper attitude toward the work –“guard the primacy of preaching in your ministry”– and practical, “Habitually tell your congregation that doctrine is important.” For congregants, Abendroth provides examples of what they should look for in a proper ministry – “do not desire preaching that revolves God around you” – and how to support a godly ministry, “Pray that your pastor never gets creative in the pulpit” (where he means pray to God, not merely hope vaguely).
The book relies heavily upon citations and quotations. This is one of the pleasures of the book:
G. Campbell Morgan corrected a common adage of his day, “The preacher must catch the spirit of age,” saying, “God forgive him if he does. The preacher’s business is to correct the spirit of the age.”
However, in other places (particularly toward the front of the book), the citations drag down the argument, as in the paragraph of quotations from lexicons on the meaning of a particular word. Now, I like lexicons and have even read them without an immediate need to find an answer. Yet, very cluttering up an argument with “present active participle” following by “Louw-Nida, Thayer, and BDAG ….” [and he even cited Thayer!] didn’t help. An editor should have dropped this to a footnote.
Nothing in the book is novel – which is the primary virtue of the argument. Abendroth is arguing for preaching and teaching ministry which is not characterized by current fashion, but rather by Jesus’ example. The application sections are uniformly good. The decision to provide instruction to “lay” members of a congregation was wise and useful, even if the book is only read by a preacher.
While the book does not strive for novelty, it does unfortunately state correctives which must be heard even by pastors who should know better. For example,
What must be avoided at all costs is taking the Bible and simply using it as a jumping-off point for a personal agenda of the teacher. Even if the personal agenda is biblically correct (as opposed to textually correct), this kind of teaching must be shunned so that all the listeners will be able to clearly see that that the point of the message comes directly from the text. Haddon Robinson insightfully asks, “Does the preacher subject his thought ot the Scriptures, or des he subject the Scriptures to his thought?” Is the passage used like a national anthem at the football game—it gets things started but then is not heard again? Or is the text the essence of the sermon to be exposed to the people? (116).
In short, the book is clear, useful and accurate. The book itself is not a sermon, but closer to an instruction book for preachers (and their congregations) to avoid errors and aim at the correct target. The book reads quickly. It is not a book which one would likely read for the enjoyment of reading, but it is a book which could (and should) be read for profit. A young preacher should read it to avoid major errors in his ministry, and an old faithful preacher should read it to correct bad habits.