Book Review: He Is Not Silent, by Albert Mohler
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) President Albert Mohler has spent–and continues to spend–considerable time confronting contemporary culture. I was at SBTS when he was inaugurated, I have met him several times, and have discussed some of the issues that he has held dear. I am familiar with the culture that he has been confronting on many levels. All will not support everything he has done as President, but I know a few liberals who will concede that some of his reforms were necessary.
When he arrived at SBTS, there were no ethics professors who supported the pro-life position on abortion. Practically every Old Testament professor was an evolution supporter. There was hardly unanimity in the pastoral counseling department about the Bibical position on homosexuality.
In many ways, SBTS circa 1993 reflected a lot of the emerging problems in the evangelical world. There is hardly unanimity among conservative theologians about what constitutes an “evangelical.” That umbrella term can include Pentecostals, Presbyterians, many shades of Baptists and Congregationalists, and even the “emergent church” movement. All have different degrees with which they define and regard the Scriptures. Even among those that would indentify as “conservative”, there is a degree to which they emphasize the importance of preaching, or even how to approach teaching.
That is the culture that Mohler addresses in He Is Not Silent. In a nutshell, it is a pep-talk to preachers, an exhortation (a) to embrace expository preaching, (b) to preach the truth boldly, and (c) to preach the Gospel as a contrast to the fallenness of the world, not ignoring the ugliness of sin.
In making the case for expository preaching, he contrasts that with topical preaching. In this respect, I believe he needs to clarify what he means by topical preaching. After all, one can address a topic–such as prayer–while taking an expository approach to the sermon. For example, I could preach a sermon on prayer, while addressing how different people prayed in Scripture–Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, Jesus, Paul, Peter–and arriving at applications based on those cases in Scripture. A comprehensive Biblical treatment of that topic, in fact, would do much to prevent the mania over fashionable movements like “The Prayer of Jabez”.
On the other hand, preaching which relies on popular psychology–and/or is low on Biblical exposition–is deserving of condemnation. I get the impression that such fluff is what Mohler is confronting. And it happens among conservative ranks more often than most conservative wish to admit.
In addition, Mohler provides a exhortation to the preacher to proclaim the truth boldy. Against the backdrop of a world awash in skepticism, it is imperative that the preacher be ready to provide answers to very hard questions. What is truth? What is the more Christian approach to issues like homosexuality, abortion, poverty, environmentalism, natural disasters? How does the Bible relate to science and technology? How does the Biblical presentation of God–the Trinity–differ with that of other popular religions (Islam, Paganism, Buddhism)? How do we love our enemies? How do we answer the challenges posed by contemporary skeptics?
It is less about defending God–after all, God needs no defenders–but rather about fulfilling the Great Commission, providing the case for the Gospel, because the world needs to hear it. Mohler is on-target on that front.
Even among the redeemed, there are issues within the Body that need attention. Sexual immorality is as serious today as it was in first century Corinth. False doctrines are as prevalent today as they were in first century Galatia and Colossae. Christians in the Islamic world and China are facing the same challenges as the first century Church. Christians in America are facing the same issues as those of Laodicea. It is on the preacher to instruct, confront, encourage, and exhort with respect to the Gospel message. Mohler hits that key point well.
Say what you wish about the fundamentalists, but God never gave any word to His people that is on par with that given by Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale and the Word of Faith wackos. Jesus preached about hell; Jesus taught the disciples to eschew wealth; Jesus confronted sin among the Disciples, ripped the Pharisees repeatedly, and even spoke derisively about the political leaders. While Jesus had a positive message, it was a sober message with stern warnings. He even had doomsday messages (Matthew 24).
Against that backdrop, most of the religious programming on television is outright garbage, and most contemporary preaching in America is watered-down and/or just powerless due to a lack of regard for the Gospel. To that end, Mohler is on the mark in confronting the evangelical world. For the conservative who knows better, it makes a good refresher. For the one who has started down that slippery slope, it makes a good reality check. For those who are well-established in heresy, it could be your final warning.
Personally, I think Mohler has provided a necessary book to the preacher, and even the teacher. For many who are established, it will seem like a repeat of first grade. Still, for anyone who wants to see the case for expository preaching, this is a good book. If you want to know more about the how, John MacArthur’s book–Expository Preaching–is more comprehensive. MacArthur deals with the how, whereas Mohler deals with the what. I’m tempted to write my own book, chronicling the nutballery of contemporary preachers. I could call it Suppository Preaching.
In many respects, the conservative might read the book and say, “I’ve heard it all before”. Still, many “conservative” preachers have fallen for the ear-tickler approach to preaching. Baptist culture actually encourages it, as the preacher is always a deacon’s meeting away from getting fired if he steps on the wrong toes. If much of what passes for conservative preaching came from the left, we wouldn’t tolerate it. But if it comes from the right, it gets a pass.
Not with Mohler.
I have another key disagreement with Mohler: I am not convinced that expository preaching is hard. In fact, I find it quite easy; topical–pop-psych–preaching is actually more difficult because it is more difficult to place in logical structure whereas expository preaching goes with the flow of Scripture. The pop-psych style requires a lot more immersion in the vagaries of popular culture, whereas an expository style puts more emphasis on Scripture and less on immersion in the world. One need not be a Hebrew or Greek expert–although some knowledge of the languages is helpful. One need not be immersed in the popular commentators, although some familiarity with them can be helpful. What matters is (a) the preacher is established in his spiritual walk, (b) he has a fundamental understanding of the breadth of Scripture and an appreciation for its depth, (c) he is studious in his approach to Scriptures, and (d) when confronted with an issue, pursues a, “what does Scripture say…” approach.
It’s not just about expository preaching; expository preaching leads to expository counseling.
Conservatives and Reform-school theologians will like the book. Moderates will be put off by the high view Mohler takes with Scripture. Liberals will want to burn the book altogether.
Overall, I give it a 7.5/10.