The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative – Steven Mathewson

The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative Stephen Mathewson
The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative by Steven D. Mathewson
Published by Baker Academic on June 15, 2021
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction, Theology
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A veteran pastor with thirty years of experience guides readers through a ten-step process to preaching Old Testament narratives from text selection to delivery. The first edition received a Christianity Today award of merit and a Preaching magazine Book of the Year award. This edition, now updated and revised throughout for a new generation, includes a new chapter on how to preach Christ from the Old Testament and an exemplary sample sermon from Mathewson. Foreword by Haddon W. Robinson.

Unlike most pastors I know, I love the Old Testament. And I love the Old Testament because I love stories. (This website is called Life is Story, after all.) But preaching Old Testament narrative isn’t always easy. Simplify it too much and you run the risk of flattening it into Aesop-esque morality tales. Lose yourself in the culture and history and you’ll lose your audience. It’s a difficult balance to strike and requires knowing your congregation, knowing how to tell a story, and knowing the Old Testament.

The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative is a journey in discovering that balance and opening up the Old Testament beyond children’s Sunday School hour and learning from it. Our guide along the way is Steven Mathewson, a pastor in Illinois with an academic background in the Old Testament. He’s heavily influenced by Haddon Robinson, who wrote the foreword of the first edition, and that shows through the text.

Mathewson breaks the book into three sections. The first is a two-chapter introduction on the challenges of preaching the Old Testament with a particular concern about preaching sermons that aren’t “Christ-centered.” I appreciate this focus from the outset, because I have personally faced criticisms for not drawing an OT text back to Jesus in some manner. Mathewson sketches a history of the debate, showing the good intentions of both sides, ultimately concluding that Jesus must be bigger than just his revelation in the New Testament. That is, our preaching from the Old Testament must never contradict the New, but neither should we shoehorn the lessons from the Old into the New.

The second part develops the process of reading and analyzing the text using ACTS (action, characters, talking, setting). It’s a pretty foundational process, but if you’re not used to it may really open up the Scriptures for you. Mathewson does a good job of moving between explanation, examples, and corroborative text from other authors. Once you get used to this procedure, it’s something you begin to do naturally, but it’d be good just to have this checklist around if you get stuck working on a text.

The third part then takes what you’ve learned from the story and teaches you how to apply it exegetically and theologically. Again, Mathewson is clear and thorough, with a focus on how to be a good storyteller and be faithful to the contours of the text.

In the end, this was a very vindicating text for me and how I preach the Old Testament. I’m a storyteller at heart and I’ve always tried for that to show in how I preach. If you’re not naturally a storyteller, this will be more of a textbook for you. It’ll be more of a challenge. In any case, it’s worth the read just to see how Mathewson develops the text. Some of his suggestions may not be the right thing for your particular congregation, some of them may not fit your personal preaching style. And that’s fine. There’s a difference between poor exegesis and preaching style and that’s not always clearly delineated in the book. Overall, though, a very strong look at the Old Testament with an emphasis on story and a much-needed change of perspective for so many pastors.