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Kenneth Irungu, second year iServe Africa apprentice who blogs excellent stuff at Gospel Insights, reviews David Helm’s 9Marks book Expositional Preaching.


In a generation of prosperity preachers who use the Bible, as Helm would put it, the way a drunkard uses a lamp post, more for support than for illumination, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today is of much relevance. We greatly need such a book that exhorts every preacher, the beginners and the experienced, to bring out of Scripture what is there and not to thrust in what they think might be there.

In a small book, which one can read in one sitting, Helm points out that all preachers should commit themselves to a preaching that rightfully submits the sermon’s shape and emphasis to the shape and emphasis of any given biblical text. He shows how preachers can declare God’s Word with clarity, simplicity and power always, as Simeon put it,

  • humbling the sinner,
  • exalting the Saviour and
  • promoting holiness.

The book has four chapters, with a well-crafted introductory chapter introducing Charles Simeon, a man who returned the Bible to the center of church life in England, and a conclusion chapter calling upon every preacher to hope that some good will be done by their preaching .

The first chapter of the book points out three common mistakes we make as a result of our attempts to contextualize biblical texts. It shows how we preach without doing an exegesis of the text (paying attention to biblical text’s original audience and its purposes) or having any theological reflection on the text (seeing how a bible passage relates to the saving acts of God in Jesus).

The other three chapters highlights approaches for preparing sermons that enable preachers to join Charles Simeon and other solid expository preachers in the faithful and fruitful work of biblical exposition. These steps include doing a biblical exegesis on the text, having a theological reflection of the text and then applying God’s word to today.

Helm argues that leaving a sermon at exegetical step makes it purely intellectual and imperative. He also notes that preaching a sermon after theological reflection without applying it to today ends up having spiritualized and dehistoricized preaching.

The author notes that prayer is key in expositional preaching. He urges preachers to pray in advance of preaching, in the act of preaching and after preaching is done. He calls us to be ever desperate for the power of Holy Spirit to attend our preaching for the power does not rest on us.

Helm concludes the book by warning every preacher from looking for more creative and artistic ways to make the sermon relevant. He calls the readers to see preaching as a duty bound to the text. He adds that the preacher should keep the eyes open and face planted in the text to be able to articulate the theme of the text and the aim of the author. He also gives an appendix of helpful questions that every preacher should ask during sermon preparation.

Another nice feature of the book is the line drawings throughout. These make it easier for the reader to understand the key points. He also uses his example and pitfalls to help the reader learn from his mistakes. Helm does so well in connecting one chapter to the other, with each new chapter having a recap of what has been learnt so far. He also repeats the key points to note as he concludes every chapter.

I highly recommend the book to young preachers, like myself, who are trying their teeth in preaching. It is a relevant book too to experienced preachers who want to remain faithful in their work. It is unfortunate that I can only say this little about this impacting book that should be on the shelf of every Bible preaching preacher.


AH: I agree with Ken and very much appreciate this book. Just one concern would be that it is very much from and to an American/European context so some of the language and a number of the illustrations sound very strange reading it in an African context. E.g. “Contextualization is a good dance partner, but she should never be allowed to lead… It’s like we want to spin her out away from us in exciting circles, showing off her long legs and high heels.” (p.40-41) As I said to Ken, we desperately need someone to write an African book on preaching Christ faithfully from the Scriptures.

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Have you ever been in a conversation where you feel totally out of place? This happens to me quite often. I get in a matatu on a Sunday morning headed to church. It’s tuned to one of the local ‘tribal’ stations. I think it’s a gospel show going on because I can hear some ‘Amen’ and ‘God bless you’. Almost everyone in the matatu seems engrossed in the conversation going on on radio. I can hear them laugh, one or two nod their heads. But where am I? Poor me, I can’t understand a word. I have no idea what they are laughing about. Worst of it is when one talks to you commenting on the ongoing conversation on radio. I don’t know, how do you expect me to respond?

It feels so awkward! On the one hand, you want to listen in and hear, on the other hand, you don’t want to hear any of it. I am not only victim but done it too- I have been around my mzungu friends who don’t know Swahili yet that’s what I speak with my Kenyan friend- it gets worse when we switch to Sheng!

Now, come to church. We are talking to young people. The topic/series is Relationships and Marriage- trust me this is a guaranteed topic. In our thinking, this is what every young person is struggling with. We need to speak about these real issues. And so, what we do is get a married couple to tackle this. Share about dating/courtship & how to go about it. How long should it take before you get married? Get an ‘expert’ ‘marriage counsellor’ ‘relationships coach’ to handle this with the hope that the young people shall be helped. The expectation is that they will all get married and live happily ever after.

But the problem is, in this whole conversation, there’s someone who feels awkwardly totally left out- the single and not dating. We concentrate on the dating/courting/engaged and forget about the single and not dating. The question they are asking is how can I be pure and live without thinking that there’s something totally wrong with me? How can I serve my brother/sister without looking at them as my suitor? Sadly, this is never answered yet in answering, we not only help the single & not dating but also the dating, courting, engaged, married, widowed… all of them.

So, why do we leave them out? Why do we totally forget them;

  1. Glorifying Marriage, Despising Singleness

In our society, somehow people view marriage (at least in Christian circles) as the goal for every young person. Culturally, you are only regarded as a man, able to speak before men, if you are married. Some churches even go to the extent of not ordaining single people.

Marriage has been glorified and put perhaps next to salvation! That means if you are of age (whatever that means, in your twenties perhaps) and aren’t ‘seeing someone’ or not ‘being seen’ by someone then there’s a problem with you.

No wonder in our preaching series, there’s no place for talking about singleness!

  1. Failure to Point people to Christ as the Real Source of Our Joy & Satisfaction

Marriage has been seen as a ‘problem-solver’. We think the solution to masturbation is for one to get married. Are you struggling with lust & pornography? It’s high time you got married, so we say. Or perhaps the reason you are so disorganized and late to church is because you are not married- get married and things will be ok. We think this is the real source of joy and satisfaction yet that’s not true. We forget that our identity as forgiven sinners, redeemed by Christ’s blood, we who once were alienated but have now been brought near & become children of God, a people of His own possession is what matters most! The most joyful, satisfying & peaceful thing is that we belong to Christ.

We thus need to be pointing people to Christ, whether they are married or not. He’s the one who’s dealt with & deals with our biggest problem of sin and God’s punishment on us. He’s the one we need to look at & point people to, married or not. So, struggling with masturbation, lust, pornography? Look to Him, behold Him, He is the most satisfying, glorious… all that we need.

  1. The Ultimate Marriage

That marriage is only but a picture of something bigger, greater- Christ and the Church- is a mystery! How can that be the case? Well, Christ is the head of the Church, He died for her, He nourishes her & clothes her. The Church submits to Christ joyfully serving Him. This how it’s supposed to be for a husband (head) and wife.

Even more fascinating is the Church, the bride of Christ is waiting for its marriage to the groom, who is Christ. At the moment, Christ is preparing her, adorning her, for that great marriage. The bride has to be ready. It shall be the most glorious event for us- this is the ultimate. Nothing of the marriages on earth now can compare to it.

Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage supper of the Lamb has come, & His bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure… blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” Revelation 19:7-9.

This is what all of us should be looking forward to- the ultimate marriage- whether single or married!

So, please the single men and ladies there are crying out. Who will listen to them? Why don’t we think of how we can address them in their current state and encourage them to be fruitful in the ministry and service to the LORD? What if they are being called to singleness for life? Is there a place for that in our thinking or we think there’s definitely a problem with them? My encouragement to all singles out there

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you from that.” 1 Corinthians 7:27-28

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Just been listening to a very challenging and thought-provoking talk by Ian Hamilton on principled pragmatism. He seeks to bring out and dust off a neglected emphasis in the Reformed tradition – a passionate concern for the unity of the visible church. A concern that looks shockingly liberal and ecumenical to most modern reformed evangelicals but is tied to a very high value placed on both the local church fellowship and on the body of Christ. It reminded me of this passage in Baxter’s classic The Reformed Pastor:

We must be very studious of union and communion among ourselves, and of the unity and peace of the churches that we oversee. We must be sensible how needful this is to the prosperity of the whole, the strengthening of our common cause, the good of the particular members of our flock, and the further enlargement of the kingdom of Christ. And, therefore, ministers must smart when the Church is wounded, and be so far from being the leaders in divisions, that they should take it as a principal part of their work to prevent and heal them. Day and night should they bend their studies to find out means to close such breaches. They must not only hearken to motions for unity, but propound them and prosecute them; not only entertain an offered peace, but even follow it when it flies from them. They must, therefore, keep dose to the ancient simplicity of the Christian faith, and the foundation and center of catholic unity. They must abhor the arrogancy of them that frame new engines to rack and tear the Church of Christ under pretense of obviating errors and maintaining the truth. The Scripture sufficiency must be maintained, and nothing beyond it imposed on others; and if papists, or others, call to us for the standard and rule of our religion, it is the Bible that we must show them, rather than any confessions of churches, or writings of men. We must learn to distinguish between certainties and uncertainties, necessaries and unnecessaries, catholic verities and private opinions; and to lay the stress of the Church’s peace upon the former, not upon the latter. We must avoid the common confusion of speaking of those who make no difference between verbal and real errors, and hate that madness formerly among theologians, who tear their brethren as heretics, before they understand them. And we must learn to see the true state of controversies, and reduce them to the very point where the difference lies, and not make them seem greater than they are. Instead of quarrelling with our brethren, we must combine against the adversaries; and all ministers must associate and hold communion, and correspondence, and constant meetings to these ends; and smaller differences of judgment are not to interrupt them. They must do as much of the work of God, in unity and concord, as they can, which is the use of synods; not to rule over one another, and make laws, but to avoid misunderstandings, and consult for mutual edification, and maintain love and communion, and go on unanimously in the work that God has already commanded us. Had the ministers of the gospel been men of peace, and of catholic, rather than factious spirits, the Church of Christ had not been in the case it now is. The nations of Lutherans and Calvinists abroad, and the differing parties here at home, would not have been plotting the subversion of one another, nor remain at that distance, and in that uncharitable bitterness, nor strengthen the common enemy, and hinder the building and prosperity of the Church as they have done.


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Already Rewarded!

You know some of those small things that happen and that don’t seem that significant at all. Like your wife prepares a cup of tea, serves you and it just looks normal- why appreciate anyway when that’s her duty! After all it’s not a favour that she’s doing so there shouldn’t be any expectation from her!

I am lost somewhere in town – I ask the ‘soldier’ for directions – no sooner has he shown me than I take off even without saying thank you. A matatu conductor has been so good (a very unusual scenario) but immediately I alight I zoom off without even looking at him and saying ‘poa buda, baadaye.’ I think we are a society where being grateful and appreciating others is seen as a very awkward thing. In fact, sometimes those people you appreciate may look at you suspiciously as if you just dropped from another planet.

At the centre of ingratitude is a heart that is so focused on self. An inward looking person can never show appreciation for the ‘small things’ that others have done… but will feel so bad when the same happens to them! And, unashamedly so, that’s what most of us are- narcissism is our being cool!

Blowing Trumpets

At the office, it’s tea time. Tea has been prepared, it’s ready but there’s no-one to serve it with the snacks. So, I go to the kitchen, pick the stuff and everyone is made aware that it’s all ready to be consumed. Then came the support staff and on realising that it’s already been served, says “Oh, you guys have already served. Thanks to the person who did. I’d rushed out to get some items for lunch.” There I was thinking “They all forgot. Am the one who brought it and served!” Oh! What a feeling! Wait… “Kwisha, you’ve already received your reward” one of my colleagues said. Of course, we laughed out loud and I said “am just being humble” but this made me think hard.

I later remembered Christ’s words

Thus when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have already received their reward.” (Matthew 6:2)

This is really hard stuff! How many times have I sought for praise and recognition? How many times have many of us been known/wanted to be known because of our deeds? Oh, how we sound the trumpet for ourselves!! Selfie here, selfie there, how will they know? Hashtag everything- #VisitToChildrenHome #PoorKids #HereForACourse #MakingAChange #ITouchedAChildsHeart

The real test for me is can I do something without expecting to be congratulated and commended however good it is? But even bigger, can a single day pass without me going out there and deliberately seeking for glory and praise? Just listen to the way we introduce ourselves? What is the big thing that will remain in the people’s minds? We go on each day redeeming our ‘bonga points’ at the expense of that greater reward that we await when our Saviour returns… that eternal, intangible, incomparable reward, I don’t wanna lose that.

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Kufundisha Tora

Had a great time in Arusha last week at Munguishi Bible College. A wonderful work is going on there. Very sharp guys. We were often learning far more from them than we were imparting. Fidel did an excellent job teaching us Walawi (Leviticus) in full Kiswahili.


On the Pentateuch / Kiswahili theme, the principal of Munguishi pointed me towards a very helpful series of lectures on the Pentateuch made available by Third Millennium with free to download video, audio and text:

And here’s something on the narrative structure of Genesis from the forthcoming book accompanying the Utumishi Wa Neno Course:

let bible speak cover

Genesis is clearly a collection of stories – many very well known: Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. But the whole book also holds together as one big story – a story of stories; or better, a story of ‘beginnings’ or ‘generations.’

generationsThe story is told in ten parts, divided by the phrase, “This is the account of” or in more literal translations, “These are the generations of…” And those ten divide quite clearly between the first five and the second five at Genesis 11:27.


There are various contrasts between these two halves of Genesis:

  • The first half goes wrong with disobedience and exile away from God’s presence. By Genesis 11 people are still going away from the East (v2) and still being disobedient (v4). But when we get to Abraham in the next chapter we find obedience and a movement towards God’s land. (At the end of the Book of Genesis we find another obedient man who has the presence of God (Gen. 39) and looks forward confidently to the land (Gen. 50).
  • Genesis 1-11 is universal (‘the nations’) but from Genesis 12 there is a focus on God’s particular “great nation” (v2).
  • While the people at Babel wanted to make a “name” for themselves, now God says, “I will make your name great” (12:3).
  • Genesis 1-11 is mainly curse with glimpses of blessing. From Genesis 12 there is an emphasis on blessing (the word comes 5 times in Gen. 12:1-2 compared to “curse” 5 times in Gen. 3-11). In the second half there is still plenty of curse around (barrenness, famine, death etc.) but in each generation there is one Blessed One to whom all can bow and be blessed through him.
  • Genesis 1-11 is mainly about discord and disunity (Gen. 4, 9, 11) while Genesis 12-50 gives examples of the blessing of reconciliation (Gen. 33, 42-50).

Shape of Narrative (2)


Even after the turning point of chapter 12 there is still a major tension because Sarai is barren (Gen. 11:30). It doesn’t look like any of the promises of a great nation and blessing through offspring can be fulfilled.

Genesis 15 is a key chapter in Genesis (and in the whole Bible) because it is here that we find:

  • The Word of the LORD comes to Abram – God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 12 but in chapter 15 we are told twice of the ‘Word of the LORD’ – something (or someone) who will become hugely important as we move through Bible history.
  • Stars – The first mention of these since the opening verses of Genesis; suggesting a new creative work (cf. Rom. 4:17; 2 Cor. 4:6).
  • Faith – It was implicit at Genesis 12 but here in Genesis 15 it is explicit (the first use of the word in the Bible).
  • Righteousness – We have already heard that Noah was righteous (Gen. 6:9) but here for the first time we find out that righteousness is something that can be credited to someone who simply believes God’s promises.
  • genesis 15Covenant – God gave Abram a promise at Genesis 12 but here in chapter 15 the LORD formally ‘cuts’ (makes) the great covenant of grace (v18). Most amazingly, when we compare the strange night-time events of this chapter with the covenant ceremony described in Jeremiah 34:18-19 we see that one party is sleeping (cf. Gen. 2:21) and God alone is meanwhile taking on the full responsibilities of covenant keeping and of suffering if it is broken. Abram’s obedience to God’s call in Genesis 12 is important but this divine action in chapter 15 – the fire of the LORD moving between the halved animals – is the ‘decisive action’ which changes everything in the Book of Genesis.


So there is a sense in which the Book of Genesis works as one long story – setting (Gen. 1-2), problem (Gen. 3), escalating tensions (Gen. 4-11), turning point (Gen. 12), decisive action (Gen. 15), unfolding of God’s covenant and choice of the children of Abraham (Gen. 16-50). But when we finish the book we know that this is very obviously not the end of the story started in Genesis 1-3. The promises of Genesis 3:15 and chapters 12 and 15 are not fulfilled. Death is still reigning. We’re not in God’s Land. We still need a curse-reversing serpent crusher.

See also A. C. Leder, The Structure of Genesis.

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Quite helpful I must say. I thought I was the only one who felt this way!!

Biblical Preaching

Depressed2Now and then you might preach a sermon and finish on a personal emotional high that lasts for days.  Typically you won’t.  William Willimon wrote that,  “On any Sunday you can give it your all and still know that the Word deserves more.” Typically you may find yourself feeling vulnerable, weak, drained, self-critical and/or regretful.  Post-preaching stress disorder: known by most preachers, not understood by most others.

People in your congregation probably don’t understand PPSD.  They are quite happy to chat with you after you have preached.  They might want to talk about other things (that can be tough – it feels like they ignored you completely).  They might want to talk about your message (that can be tough – you may feel too vulnerable at this stage).  They might want to discuss some detail in your message (that can be tough – your purpose and big idea related…

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During the Great Awakening in the 1740s, it is said that people spoke in a way of what they saw: ‘God is present in our assemblies’; ‘God’s Spirit came upon the preacher and the people’. In places where it was not customary for people to be disturbed by preaching, ‘Men saw hell opening before them and themselves ready to fall into it’. Before the end of May 1740, it was being said that ‘there was never such a general awakening and concern for the things of God in American known before.’ There was also a great gospel influence upon the children and the youths of the town too. By summer of 1741, the revival has spread to many other parts like Boston. Churches, which, in some cases had been cold and dry at the beginning of the year, were transformed before the end. Many people were being converted in hundreds and thousands and added to the churches.

It was during this time that George Whitfield visited Northampton. His friendship with Edwards was strengthened during this period. During his visit, Whitfield preached four sermons at Edwards’ church and:

“The congregation was extraordinarily melted by every sermon; almost the whole assembly being in tears for a great part of sermon time… One or two persons… were so greatly affected with a sense of the greatness and glory of divine things… overcoming their strength, and having a very visible effect upon their bodies.” (Edwards, An Account of Revival)

Speaking of the conditions in general, Benjamin Trumbull writes:

“There was in the minds of people, a general fear of sin, and of the wrath of God denounced against it. There seemed to be a general conviction, that all the ways of man were before the eyes of the Lord. It was the opinion of men of discernment and sound judgment, who had the best opportunities of knowing the feelings and general state of the people at that period, that bags of gold and silver and other precious things, might, with safety, have been laid in the streets, and that no man would have converted them to his own use.”

The nature of preaching during the Great Awakening was often alarming. There were some criticisms against the awakening with some asserting that it was ‘pretended prudence’. Edwards ‘The Distinguishing Marks’ highlighted the necessity of comparing Scripture with what was happening in the land so as to know whether it was genuine or not.

The Spirit’s true work can be from that which is false because we know that He always:

  1. causes a greater esteem for Christ
  2. operates against the interests of Satan’s kingdom ‘which lies in encouraging and establishing sin’
  3. promotes greater regard for the truth and the divinity of the Holy Scriptures
  4. Brings men to the light of the truth
  5. excites love to God and man, making the attributes of God, manifested in Christ, ‘delightful objections of contemplation’.

Although later on Edwards admitted that there might have been some extremes in terms of what people experienced during the revival, his question was ‘what would be left of real Christianity if all felt spiritual experience was rejected?’

Now, there were other controversies that arose during his ministry. One of them was that of ministers admitting people to take Holy Communion before they would show any true signs of conversion. He said that a minister may have ‘suspicions and fears’ about a particular candidate for communion and yet have no sufficient ground to bar him from membership. But later on, Edwards could write that a lax principle of admission to the Lord’s Table imperils the whole nature of the Church, for then the church and the world cease to be distinguished. One of his failures as mentioned by later writers was that he ‘did not visit his people in their houses unless he was sent for by the sick’.

In 1750, Edwards was dismissed from his role as a minister in Northampton, just after the marriage of his daughters. Now, he and his wife, Sarah, were left without an income and the question they faced was in times of trials, whether they could cheerfully resign all to God. Edwards’ earlier biographers saw his removal from Northampton as a work of providence because it was during this period that he concentrated on his writing ministry. Edwards later moved to Stockbridge where he had a ministry among the Mohawks. His work as a missionary among the American Indians probably showed his connection with David Brainerd.

Lessons for Us Today:

  • That “We are dependent upon God, he argued, not only for redemption itself but for our faith in the Redeemer, not only for the gift of His Son but for the Holy Ghost for our conversion.” This was the conviction for Edwards & other preachers and should be ours too lest we think it’s our effort that brings conversion.
  • Edwards would spend long hours in his study. He believed that his public work as a calling to speak to men in the name of God was inseparable from his conviction that the first demand in such a calling was that his own knowledge of God should be personal and first-hand. He sought to make his study itself a sanctuary, and whether wrestling with Scripture, preparing sermons or writing in his notebooks, he worked as a worshiper. Thought, prayer and writing were all woven together.
  • The need for a solid doctrinal preaching addressing both heart & mind. Edwards was good at addressing both heart & mind. It’s not just about presenting truths to be digested or exciting emotions but awakening the right affections in listeners.
  • Commitment to mission; heart beat for the lost
  • Edwards wasn’t afraid of controversy. He didn’t run away from it even when it cost him.

You can read more on Edwards at:

A God Entranced Vision of All Things (John Piper, free download)

Captive to Glory (John Piper, free download)

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