On Books, Old and New

"Between Two Worlds" by John Stott

Books on preaching are a dime a dozen these days, with only a precious few of them standing the test of time. Since preaching is my primary field of study and my foremost ministry calling, I find myself reading many preaching books but rereading just a few of them. To stay current, I try to at least familiarize myself with each new preaching book released. To renew my commitment to biblical preaching, I try annually to reread a few of the classic books on preaching.

One book that merits an annual reread is John Stott’s Between Two Worlds. In this classic, Stott depicts the preacher as a man positioned between two civilizations—tasked to bridge both the ancient world to the modern world and the ancient text to modern hearers.

Stott argued that the preacher is a bridge; and if he is to be effective, he must be firmly grounded on both sides of the canyon. The preacher must be a careful student of both worlds—exegeting both his text and his times.  To accomplish this, Stott contended that the preacher must ask himself two questions: what did the text mean then, and what does it say now? The latter answer is, of course, rooted in the former.

Stott’s paradigm speaks to our ministry context. In 2015, the American church faces unprecedented, and often unpredictable, cultural challenges. The American church seems placed in the middle of a never-ending session of bull-in-the-ring, with cultural pressures—especially related to gender, sexuality, marriage and family—coming from anywhere and at anytime. The preacher’s task, therefore, to bridge the ancient world with the modern, is an urgent one.

Throughout this challenge, the preacher can take confidence in the sovereignty of God and the permanence and power of his word. Indeed, our cultural moment is unique, but not altogether novel. From days of old, man has wrestled with the same sins, impulses and longings of the human heart.

As Stott observed:

In every generation and every culture men and women have asked these questions and debated these issues. This is the stuff from which the world’s great literature is formed. Have Christians nothing to say to these things? Of course we have! We are convinced that the questions themselves reflect and bear witness to the paradoxical nature of human beings which the Bible teaches, namely their dignity as Godlike creatures and their depravity as fallen and guilty sinners. We are also convinced that Jesus Christ has the answer to these questions or—in the case of intractable mysteries like pain and evil—that he throws more light on them than can be gathered from any other source. Jesus Christ, we believe, is the fulfillment of every truly human aspiration. To find him is to find ourselves. Therefore, above all else, we must preach Christ.[1]


Stott’s depiction, though offered more than three decades ago, is a helpful reminder of the preacher’s fundamental task—to bring the text of Scripture to bear on the lives of his hearers.

I read a lot of books on preaching but reread just a select few of them. Understanding that it is one of the primary responsibilities of the preacher to bring the Bible to bear in the lives his congregants is crucial, and few books serve as well of a reminder as Stott’s Between Two Worlds. It is on my annual reread list, and deservedly so.


[1] John Stott, Between Two Worlds, 51.


*”On Books Old & New” is intended as a brief introduction and commendation of books, both old and new, which are beneficial for the Christian life and ministry.

topicsExpository PreachingOn Books Old & NewPastoral MinistryPreaching

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