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.
Witness. Jesus promised his disciples in John 15:18-27 they “must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” In chapter three Stott helpfully clears away modern fog surrounding the idea of testimony and witness. Far more than a personal reflection on God’s work in our lives, Biblical testimony is a legal metaphor speaking of those who have been called to bear witness to the reality of Jesus: “The world is constantly passing its verdict on Jesus. The devil accuses him and musters hundreds of false witnesses. The Holy Spirit is the Advocate, the one who speaks for the defense, and he calls us to be witnesses on behalf of Jesus.” (42) Our witness is, primarily, to a fallen world—which means we should expect both a response and opposition. Our witness is primarily to the Son of God, a testimony which is born first by the Father and the Spirit and to which we are graciously invited to join our voices. Preaching-as-witness is a fundamentally Trinitarian activity since “The Father is the chief witness” (45) and “Christin witness is born…through the Holy Spirit.” (48) The preacher’s witness is not his own but is part of the church’s witness to Jesus: “We may summarize the biblical view of Christian witness by saying that it is borne before the world by the Father to the Son through the Spirit and the church.” (49, emphasis original) The very concept of preaching-as-witness emphasizes the necessity of the preacher experiencing Jesus in order to proclaim Jesus.
Father. Of the five chosen metaphors, this may be the one least considered by many preachers. Stott wisely exposits Jesus’ instructions (Mt. 23:9) to not call anyone on earth a “father” while comparing that teaching with Paul’s willingness to call himself a spiritual father to the Corinthians and Thessalonians. To use this metaphor wisely, we must remember the basic equality of all Christians and “make it clear that God’s purpose is that his children should look to him as their Father, and not to other people.” (62) Stott uses Paul’s metaphor of spiritual fatherhood to encourage preacher’s to develop: (1) a father’s relationship and affection: “Love, then, is the chief quality to which Paul refers when he uses the metaphor of a father to illustrate his ministry.” (65) (2) A father’s understanding: letting love drive us to know the sheep as well as we know the Bible. (3) A father’s gentleness: not to be unwilling to discipline, but to be patient and on guard against the onset of bitterness. (4) A father’s simplicity: simple in subject matter by focusing on the gospel, and simple in style so all can understand. (5) A father’s earnestness: our love for people is what will make earnestness palatable to them. (6) A father’s example: “We must thus put the same amount of effort into living well as we put into preaching well.” (75) (7) A father’s prayers: Jesus’ love and example will drive us to be filled with the same love for the sheep.
Servant. Describing the situation in Corinth that led Paul to say that both he and Apollos were “nothing” and merely “servants,” Stott finishes his book by reflecting on the preacher as God’s servant. This metaphor has ties to each of the former and expresses as well as any the heart of a preacher as he relates to God. In one of the book’s most powerful sections, the author encourages preachers to seek God’s power in preaching by acknowledging first that we don’t have it and how much we need it and then to preach in such a way that only God and his power get any credit. We preach powerfully when the power of preaching resides solely in the Word of God, the cross of Christ, and the Holy Spirit: “In other words, the origin, content, and delivery of the preacher’s message are all divine.” (95) Therefore, a true servant-preacher will give himself to holiness and humility as the two essential ingredients for the type of preacher God delights to use: “It seems that the only preaching God honors, through which his wisdom and power are expressed, is the preaching of someone who is willing to be both a weakling and a fool.” (98) Only a holy and humble preacher can glorify Christ alone and ensure the church’s faith is in Christ alone.
The Preacher’s Portrait is a wonderful little book, one that speaks to the preacher’s heart in powerful ways.