Reformed Preaching by Joel Beeke is a brilliant book. It’s a rich, biblical, Christ-entered, soul-refreshing book. The subtitle is very fitting: proclaiming God’s Word from the heart of the preacher to the heart of His people.
The book is split into three parts. Part one gives a description of what Beeke calls “reformed experiential preaching”. This, Beeke explains, is preaching that has captured the soul of the preacher experientially and is then applied to the hearts of believers. Beeke summarises: “Reformed experiential preaching receives God’s Word into his heart and then preaches it to the minds, hearts, and lives of the people.” (41) This may seem simple and obvious, but many preachers today fail to heed this sound advice, and churches suffer because of it.
In part two, Beeke takes us through some of the great reformed preachers throughout the centuries, showing how they practised reformed experiential preaching. He looks at preachers from the Reformation period up to Lloyd Jones’ day. He offers quick biographies of each preacher’s life, exploring how they preached. These chapters are filled with beautiful quotes from these men. These gospel-centred sound bites, taken from these great men’s sermons, are reason enough to read this book.
In part three, Beeke looks at preaching today. He outlines some of the practicalities of reformed preaching—like preaching with balance and preaching the gospel to the heart. Here, Beeke takes what he’s discussed in parts one and two and shows us how those things should be worked out in our preaching today.
When I first picked up this book, I thought it was going to be a struggle to read. I assumed it’d be high-brow theological stuff with no practical application. I’m glad to say I was wrong. What I love about Beeke’s work is how much it focuses on the preacher’s heart. Time and again, Beek highlights the fact that we can’t preach effectively unless we ourselves have been moved by the text. In part one, he quotes Robert Burns to make his point: “Christianity should not only be known, and understood, and believed, but also felt, and enjoyed, and practically applied.” (30)
In other words, this is not ‘pie in the sky’ stuff. This book encourages the preacher to ground the Biblical text in both his own life and subsequently in the life of the people. As Beeke writes: “The preacher of the word must ask: ‘Does my preaching help people to walk closely with God in real life? Or does it simply set up a beautiful world of ideas disconnected from their experiences?’ (50) Much preaching today in reformed circles, though theologically sound, fails to ground that theology in the day-to-day stuff of life. But Beeke shows us that doing this is foundational for good, biblical preaching.
And this is vitally important in the poorer areas we’re working in. If a sermon is cerebral and doesn’t hit the heart, then our people will switch off. The reason that Pentecostal preachers are so popular in the poorest parts of the world is not simply because of the health and wealth that so many of them promise, but also due to the fact that they preach with passion. If we don’t preach to people’s hearts, then they won’t listen.
Having said that, Beeke in no way downplays the need for theologically-rich preaching. He constantly encourages the preacher to preach theologically-rigorous sermons. This was refreshing to hear because much preaching today is superficial garbage, especially in our contexts among the poor. Many people wrongly assume that the poor can’t handle deep theology. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. They need weighty theology in order to fight sin, see Christ’s glory, and run to Him for grace and help.
The whole of Beeke’s book emphasizes that the preacher must be a man of the Word. This includes knowing the Word intimately and preaching the centre of the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. In chapter 3, Beeke reminds preachers that they need to preach Christ in all his glory: “What does the Holy Spirit like best in a preacher? The Spirit most delights in the preaching of Christ.” (63). Again and again, this book seeks to exalt Christ. It encourages us to make much of Him in our preaching in every context.
Again, our people in the schemes need deep, Christ-centred sermons to equip them in the fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Being a Christian in a scheme is brutal, and if God’s Word is not anchoring people’s souls, then they will be tossed around by every wind and doctrine. If you’re a preacher, this book will surely refresh your soul. I appreciated the fact that Beeke encourages the preacher constantly to watch his own heart. He reminds us that as preachers, our holiness is God’s greatest weapon. This is crucial, because it’s all too easy for preachers to be the ones at the front who ‘have all the information’—thinking they need to tell everyone how to live according to the Bible. But Beeke reminded me that I need to stick close to Jesus and watch my heart. The goal of preaching is not to make much of me, but Christ. As John says: “I must decrease and he must increase.” (John 3:30).
This is crucial in areas of poverty where churches tend to preach a watered-down gospel and think that just ‘loving the poor’ is enough. But areas of poverty need Christ! People need to see that they are sinners who have to take responsibility for their actions, despite the circumstances they have been brought up in, and turn to the only real hope in the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ. This message needs to be preached because it is the power of salvation for all who believe. Don’t give the poor gimmicks; give them the real deal. Give them Jesus.
I think this is probably my favourite book on preaching. The only criticism I would offer is that the section, in part two, where Beeke looks at different preachers throughout history was a bit long and repetitive. I think it would have served better to look at just a few. There also wasn’t much practical advice on how to prepare a sermon, but this is for other books like Saving Euytchus or Simple Preaching. Beeke’s book instead will equip you to be a better preacher by encouraging you to take God’s Word seriously, apply it to your heart and the hearts of your hearers, walk in step with the Spirit, and preach Christ with all you’ve got. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Get a copy and give it a read. Let me end with two more quotes that are gold dust:
“The true reformed experiential preacher is a humble preacher, precisely because he is a true lover of Christ in pursuit of holiness, content to be nothing, if in that way Christ may be all in all.”
“The church today desperately needs preachers who continually remind themselves that awakening, heart-engaging, life-transforming preaching does not depend on eloquence or self-generated passion but on the sovereign good pleasure of God operating through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.”