Any pastor who reads this book somewhat regularly will be equipped to develop their own practice of preaching because the theology presented is so clear and Biblical. Any churchgoer will be helped by a greater understanding of their pastor’s calling and work.
John Stott was an English Anglican pastor, whose commentaries and books on preaching have been a help to many pastors. Although it’s not his best-known work on preaching, my recent read through The Preacher’s Portrait: Five New Testament Word Studies proved so encouraging that it’s squarely in my top-five list of books on preaching. Stott’s brief book covering New Testament word-pictures related to pastoral ministry is brief, Biblical, and powerfully and beautifully written. If there is a spectrum among books on preaching ranging between practical and theological, this work lands more toward the theological side, which the author acknowledges. But in the absence of practical help, the preacher is left with a deep conviction and clarity in regards to their work. Any pastor who reads this book somewhat regularly will be equipped to develop their own practice of preaching because the theology presented is so clear and Biblical. Any churchgoer will be helped by a greater understanding of their pastor’s calling and work.
Rather than a normal book review (here’s the short review: it’s great, you should read it!), I thought I’d share what I’m hoping to remember from the book, categorized under the book’s five word studies.
Steward. Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, Stott defines a steward as those the wealthy had “to manage their household affairs, property, farm or vineyard, accounts, and slaves.” (9) Tying into how easy it was for New Testament Christians to see the church as a household, especially because God was considered their corporate Father, the metaphor of steward was easily translatable to most early churches. Specifically, Paul sees preachers as stewards “of the mysteries of God,” another phrase needing definition: “…not a dark secret but something that we can only know because God has chosen to disclose it.” (12) Being a steward speaks to the preachers incentive, since we are “compelled to preach” as well as the message, since we have no freedom to determine or edit the message on our own. Good stewards must know their master’s message by heart but also have wisdom to bring that message to the household in the best way possible. Finally, the concept of steward underscores the preacher’s authority, which is entirely derived from the master of the house. It is true authority, but always indirect authority. Not only should we accept this, we should delight in it: “Christian preachers are most satisfied when they are eclipsed by the light that shines form the Scripture and when their voice is drowned out by the voice of God.” (19)
Herald. Reflecting on 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, Stott reminds the preacher that all of the Scripture’s metaphors for preaching are important and focusing too much on any one of them will lead to a disjointed ministry. He highlights the differences between a preacher and a herald in audience, message, emphasis on response, and the directness of a herald’s authority: “These preachers are heralds, and when they preach, Christ himself preaches peace through them.” (24) Like a steward, a herald’s message is constrained, as best shown by John the Baptist and the apostles, whose preaching was remarkably similar in preaching (1) the historical gospel, (2) a theological evaluation of those historical events and (3) a call to repent and believe. A herald-preacher could err by preaching only a small part of the message or otherwise failing to focus on the main message. The title of herald should remind the preacher that the message is from God himself, containing the work God has done to reconcile himself to his people. It should also remind us of the need to regularly appeal to people for a response beyond mere understanding; but just as proclamation should end in appeal, so an appeal is essentially unbiblical if not founded upon a proclamation.