Volume 32 - Issue 3


by Roger E. Van Harn

It was, I believe, Charles Simeon who advised ministers to preach not according to what they could tell their congregation, but according to what their people could receive. Simeon was not advocating sermons tailored solely to peoples’ needs, rather sermons that connected scriptural teaching with the people being addressed. Roger Van Harn also wants preachers to be aware of their hearers and of those things that will block communication.

In twelve relatively short chapters, Van Harn presents the case that preachers must be listeners to both Scripture and also to their people. The foundation for the book is laid in chapter 1, ‘Why we should listen to sermons?’. One of its major ideas can be summed up in a contrast he draws; often ‘The test of value lies in what is said’, but should it not be that ‘The test of value lies in what is heard’. A right emphasis on accuracy in handling Scripture often ignores the need for clarity.

Having established in chapter 2 the need for the preacher to be, first, a listener, and to be attentive to the Word, in subsequent chapters Van Harn goes on to deal with a whole range of issues that prevent that Word being heard by congregations. They include:

* the needs of everyday life, the noise that hinders communication;

* the lack of knowledge of the story around the text being preached;

* an unfamiliarity with the big story of Scripture;

* how God’s story interprets our story.

There are also a number of helpful reminders concerning the place of preaching within the gathered people of God and of the responsibility of listeners as they hear the Word of God.

Some ‘translation’ needs to be done by English readers of this book, because of the way the ideas are expressed and the situation for which they are written. It would have been helpful to see something on the role of the Holy Spirit in both the preacher and listener to give the book a firmer theological foundation. That however, should not be an excuse for ignoring this book; it points to a continuing need for preachers to be encouraged not only to hear the Word of God themselves in their preparation but also to speak to others that they too might hear.

Van Harn does not present us with a ‘How to’ methodology; rather he is motivated by a genuine concern for those to whom he preaches. Whatever difference in emphasis, in terms of theology or expression we might wish for, this is still a much-needed challenge to those of us whose focus is exclusively on ‘getting it right’. The preacher’s concern must be that the people of God hear the Word of God.

Doug Johnson

Cornhill Training Scheme, London