I am always interested in hearing from and about the most prominent preachers of any particular era, so I was pleased to see the release of Simon Vibert’s Excellence in Preaching (IVP 2011). Vibert comes from the Centre for Preaching at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, so he brings a trans-Atlantic sensibility to the task, focusing on 13 preachers that God is currently using in significant ways.
The preachers featured includes those from the United States: TIm Keller, John Piper, John Ortberg, Mark Driscoll, and Mark Dever; those from the United Kingdom: Vaughn Roberts, Simon Ponsonby, J. John, Nicky Gumbel, Rico Tice, and Alistair Begg; along with one Australian, David Cook to round out the mix. As with any such list, one could quibble about those included or neglected. One could not argue that all of these preachers are worthy of consideration.
Vibert’s method is to describe each preacher, suggest reasons why each is “a good communicator”, and then offer a number of relevant lessons for other preachers coming out of his analysis. My assessment is that he does a reasonable job of summing up the ministry of each and pointing us to some things worth our attention. The problem is that the chapters are too short to allow for any kind of depth analysis. It may be that Vibert’s take on each preacher is right on the mark, but the book’s format doesn’t really give the space to prove the author’s claims. Vibert doesn’t seem concerned to critique the preachers he features, neglecting to discuss some of the more controversial elements of some of his subjects work. Vibert sees a virtue in Driscoll’s directness, for example, while others take offense. Yet this is probably not the book’s intent. As a summative description introducing the reader to the work of each preacher, this book serves quite nicely.
Reflecting in an overall sense can be fruitful. In the book’s conclusion, Vibert attempts to consolidate his leanings into a kind of master list of characteristics of great preachers. I was more struck, however, by the diversity of these preachers. John Ortberg’s humor is quite distinct from John Piper’s exposition. Vaughn Roberts counsels three point sermons. Tim Keller, not so much. That this is to be expected belies the sense that excellence in preaching can be distilled into formula. Vibert, of course, understands this. The strength of his presentation is in the call that all of us find our authority in the Scriptures, while dedicating ourselves to diligence in the development of the homiletic craft. In that pursuit, good examples are always welcome.
Simon Vibert, Excellence in Preaching: Studying the Craft of Leading Preachers, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011