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In this book, Koessler forces the preacher to understand the human side of preaching, all the while encouraging the preacher to leave room for the Spirit and Word to work. His closing ideas on preaching being “oral theology” are worth the price of the book. The sermon as oral theology recognizes that God’s Word continues to speak to specific people at specific times in specific situations. As we meditate on the grand narratives of Scripture, we will “discover that our lives too are invested with theological significance.”
Koessler’s book hangs on the idea that the Word of God must be preached via the Spirit of God through a person called by God. He challenges preachers to be human agents for divine work. Ultimately, the book is a theology of preaching and makes no promises to improve the preacher’s skill set. And yet, a book that gives sound instruction for Spirit-led and biblically saturated sermons could only produce better preachers for God’s glory.
Matt Proctor serves as lead pastor of Cornerstone Church (EFCA) in Marion, Iowa, where he attempts each Sunday to stand up, say what the Bible says (and only what the Bible says) and then sit down.
On the cold, blustery days of winter in the Midwest, we seek warm, hearty, comfort food to sustain us. Likewise, Koessler’s book is sustaining comfort food for preachers. The book should be devoured not only by preachers but by lay leaders and pew sitters as well. Pew sitters who read the book should take away from it a compassion for the preacher as he struggles with what to say and how to present it each week.
Folly, Grace and Power considers the following questions: Should preachers preach differently to believers than to unbelievers? What effect do language and culture have on learning styles? Why is God silent? Is the preacher necessary?
In the preface of the book, Koessler writes that “much more could and should be said” of the “mysterious act of preaching.” I agree with his statement. Experienced preachers will find Folly, Grace and Power a good read; novice preachers and lay leaders will be intrigued and educated by this book, but they may be left wanting more depth on the most thought-provoking questions.
Velma Wilkerson is women’s ministry team leader at Homewood EFC in Moline, Ill., where each week she asks God to give her new insights from the preaching, that she might apply them during women’s adult Bible fellowship and women’s retreats.
How preachers relate to God and understand God’s work in each sermon forms the core of who the preacher is and what the sermon becomes. Arturo G. Azurdia III (Spirit-Empowered Preaching), John Piper (The Supremacy of God in Preaching) and Dennis Kinlaw (Preaching in the Spirit) are other volumes that also seem to fit this niche.
Koessler’s goal for his readers is that both preacher and parishioner would have “a greater sense of wonder or expectation” during the sermon. This volume can help toward that end for two reasons.
First, Koessler accurately describes the winner/weiner dynamic of preaching. That is, the sermon you felt had flopped (the “weiner”) often seems to deeply touch people, while your “winner” sermon that makes you a successor to Whitfield or Spurgeon gets little response. His book explores this mystery, prodding us to imagine what God might be up to as we preach.
Second, the burden of Chapter 7 (“Prophet, Priest, or Stand-Up Comedian”) is spot on. If we took this chapter to heart, preachers would be weaned from the temptation to perform and the listener weaned from a mentality of critique and consumerism. We would be moved to wonder, worship and prayer.
Non-preachers will glean much implied instruction throughout the book, but a chapter just for the listener of sermons would have made it even more powerful, helping to further stoke a greater sense of wonder and expectation for all during the preaching event.
Bob Manuel is co-pastor of CrossWay Community (EFCA) in Grand Rapids, Mich., and had explored similar themes in his D.Min. project titled “Weak Preachers for Powerful Preaching.”
According to research I’ve read, preparing and delivering a Sunday sermon occupies about three-fourths of a pastor’s week. That’s a lot of time to put in for indefinite results, Koessler acknowledges. Some sermons’ impact, no matter how carefully crafted and theologically solid, seem to amount to “no more than a puff of air,” he says.
“Those who preach are in an awkward position,” he writes, “caught between two independent forces and unable to control either of them. On the one side is God, on whose behalf the preacher speaks. On the other is the congregation. . . .”
Those are two tough audiences. But, ultimately, a sermon’s effect and outcome are dependent upon “the untamed Spirit.”
That’s the folly of preaching: the effort to transmit the divine to the ear of the listeners and to communicate not just words and ideas but “lightning and thunder,” as George Whitfield said.
Koessler, of course, conveys the conventional view that the sermon is the central point of the weekly church gathering. He quotes Stephen Webb: “The biblical faith of Christianity is dependent upon our ability to hear the divine voice in the human voice of the preacher.”
To support that point of view, Koessler quotes a lot of Scripture. He tends, however, to confuse passages that talk about evangelism and the proclamation of the gospel to unbelievers with sermon/lectures given to crowds of believers within church walls.
Research by George Barna shows that the majority of listeners on Sunday morning forget not only the main points of a sermon but even the general topic. It seems pastors could use their time more efficiently in personal evangelism and discipleship. But that would be a subject for another book, or series of books.
Dan Benson is a journalist living in Port Washington, Wis., and a member of Friedens EFC. He has at times been in the “awkward position” of delivering sermons and knows firsthand the folly, grace and power of preaching God’s Word.