Preach: Theology Meets Practice

Two preachers talk shop:

Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert. Preach: Theology Meets Practice 9Marks. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2012. 212 pp. 27-page sample PDF.


What expositional preach is and is not (pp. 36–38):

Expositional preaching is preaching in which the main point of the biblical text being considered becomes the main point of the sermon being preached. . . .

  1. We’re not saying expositional preaching has to go verse by verse through a book of the Bible. . . .
  2. We’re not saying expositional preaching rules out topical preaching as a legitimate practice. . . .
  3. We’re not saying expositional preaching is just a series of lectures, the main goal of which is information transfer. . . .
  4. We’re not saying expositional preaching is marked by any particular style. . . .
  5. We’re not saying expositional preaching is not evangelistic preaching.

On using the original languages (p. 83):

One of the preacher’s greatest enemies is familiarity: He thinks he understands a particular text because he has known its meaning all his life, and because of that he winds up missing its point when he preaches it. Looking at a text in the original languages helps minimize that kind of mistake.

On when to use commentaries in sermon preparation (pp. 84–85, numbering added):

Many preachers, we are convinced, retreat to commentaries on a text way too quickly. Sometimes even before they open the passage and read through it for themselves, they look at commentaries to find out what they should be seeing in the text when they finally read it. We think that’s backwards. . . .

[T]here are two very good times to use commentaries. . . .

  1. when you run into a problem you just can’t seem to break through. . . .
  2. when you’ve come to a point where you think you have a good grasp of the text’s meaning and you’re getting ready to move toward a sermon outline. At that point we both find that it’s a good idea to read a commentary or two just to make sure we haven’t missed anything.

On applying a text you don’t understand well (p. 92):

Trying to apply a text you haven’t understood well is like hitting a nail at an angle. You can put all the raw strength behind it that you want, but it’s never going to go in clean. You’re going to leave people wondering where it came from.

On preaching the gospel in every sermon (p. 96):

[Y]ou should not just preach each text in its immediate context, but you should also preach it in its context with reference to the entire Bible.

On being careful with personal illustrations (p. 112):

Use yourself sparingly, and never leave the impression that the church’s life or health depends on you. Never leave the impression that you’re the hero or the smartest, wittiest guy in the city. When you do use personal illustrations, make yourself a bad example sometimes—the person who said the wrong thing rather than the right thing, the person who is in desperate need of God’s grace. If your illustrations only illustrate your goodness and brilliance, they have failed to illustrate the gospel of Jesus.

On preaching with a manuscript or outline (p. 122–23):

One of the things we’ve noticed, especially in young preachers, is that there’s often a tension between accuracy and personality in the pulpit. When a guy takes a full manuscript into the pulpit, he tends to be precise in his wording but also somewhat wooden and chained to the manuscript. His sentences come out sounding very “literary” because the written word sounds different from the spoken word. . . .

One method that might help bring precision and personality together is this: Write out a manuscript. Work hard on the words. But then leave it at home. In other words, do the work of manuscripting, but then take an outline (of whatever level of detail) into the pulpit.

On preaching to children or adults (p. 126):

“But what about the children?” someone will ask. Brothers, blessing parents will bless children. . . . Besides, you’ll do the children no good at all by teaching their parents only things they would have understood fully when they were ten years old.

I would encourage you, therefore, to preach sermons for adults. That doesn’t mean your sermons should be complicated and difficult to understand. But they should be as serious and as weighty as life itself. A good rule of thumb is to assume that everyone who ever hears you preach is both very intelligent and very uneducated. In other words, assume they have never been taught about the Christian faith, but that they are fully capable of benefiting from a solid explanation. And then explain it to them.

On the value of reviewing sermons (p. 133, numbering added; pp. 133–41 unpack this):

Occasionally people will ask us why we do a service review. We’ve already talked about some of those reasons, but we want to mention four more that we often give to people who ask. We do a service review in order to teach each other four important skills for any Christian minister: the ability

  1. to give godly criticism,
  2. to receive godly criticism,
  3. to give godly encouragement, and
  4. to receive godly encouragement.

All those skills are tested in a profound way when you open yourself and your sermons up to being poked and prodded by certain trusted members of your congregation.

Related: John Starke interviews Greg Gilbert re Preach. Greg answers six questions:

  1. How would you answer a younger preacher who’s wondering how much time he should be spending with his sermons along with his other duties as pastor?
  2. Very little if any of the book deals with the issue of contextualization when preparing for sermons. Some would likely lead with trying to understand the context. Is contextualization superfluous to the power of the proclamation of God’s Word? Does location of the church, whether set in Washington, D.C. or Seymour, Indiana, matter to your preparation?
  3. For the preacher who feels ill-prepared for preaching in the Old Testament, what books or resources have been most helpful to you?
  4. What are a handful of things a young preacher can do to work on his delivery?
  5. What do you hope your sermons accomplish every week?
  6. What is the best and the worst practical advice you’ve ever received that has helped your preaching?


  1. Michael Collins says

    “A good rule of thumb is to assume that everyone who ever hears you preach is both very intelligent and very uneducated. In other words, assume they have never been taught about the Christian faith, but that they are fully capable of benefiting from a solid explanation. And then explain it to them.”

    I remember Mark Minnick saying something very similar to this in Principles of Christian Growth. He said that for that class he would assume that we knew nothing, but that we were capable of learning anything. For me, that approach proved to be quite helpful.

    Great advice from Dever and Gilbert on personal illustrations, too.

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