Book Review - Famine in the Land
Famine in the Land opens with a quote from the great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones. “The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and most urgent need in the Church, it is the greatest need of the world also.” Author Steven Lawson continues, “If the doctor’s diagnosis is correct, and this writer believes it is, then a return to preaching - true preaching, biblical preaching, expository preaching - is the greatest need in this critical hour. If a reformation is to come to the church, it must be preceded by a reformation of the pulpit. As the pulpit goes, so goes the church” (page 17). What follows is four chapters which are, appropriately, expository in nature and which examine the priority, power, pattern and passion of expository preaching.
The book is divided into four sections. In the first, the author writes about the priority of biblical preaching, using verses from Acts 2 as his text. He teaches that God's church must be done in God's way in order to thrive and survive in the way the Lord intends. He then goes on to show the priority Jesus and his apostles placed on biblical preaching. The second chapter examines the power of biblical preaching, and examines Jonah and his preaching to the city of Nineveh. He teaches that solid preaching needs to be courageous, compelling, confrontational and compassionate in order to conform to the biblical model. The third chapter, which examines the pattern of biblical preaching, looks back to Ezra as he read and explained the Law to the people of Jerusalem. Lawson writes about the necessary preparation for delivering an expository message and provides a call to preachers to become true teachers of the Word. The final chapter looks at Paul’s words to Timothy found in 1 Timothy 4:13-16 and speaks of the passion of biblical preaching. The author shows the pattern of reading, applying and teaching the Word and also speaks of the importance of perseverance in the ministry.
The book is laced with effective illustrations, and even better, with multitudes of wonderful quotes about preaching. A personal favorite is found on page 64. “Unfortunately much of contemporary preaching seems out of balance, having become too much like what someone described as ‘a mild mannered man standing before mild-mannered people urging them to become more mild-mannered.’” It is followed by words spoken by Philips Brokks. “If you are afraid of men and a slave to their opinion, go and do something else. God and make shoes to fit them. Go even and paint pictures which you know are bad, but which suit their bad taste. But do not keep on all your life preaching sermons which say not what God sent you to declare, but what they have you to say. Be courageous” (page 64,65).
The only addition I might have made to this book was a section on how the listener is to prepare to hear an expository sermon. There are many books describing how an expositor is to prepare and deliver such a sermon, but few include wisdom directed at the layperson. However, I acknowledge that such a section would have been outside the scope of this book which is directed primarily at pastors.
This is one of the best and most accessible books I have read on this topic. Any believer, and pastors especially, will benefit from reading it. While more and more churches are watering down their messages in order to conform to the times, it is increasingly important that pastors follow the biblical model of preaching. This book will provide biblical guidance to help correct this “famine in the land.”