John R.W. Stott’s Between Two Worlds is a masterful depiction of the art of preaching and ought to be essential reading for all who are or plan to one day become pastors. Certainly not light reading, Between Two Worlds requires dedication by the reader to hike through its pages, but for anyone willing to give it the time, the views from the peaks are spectacular. The following review will offer a brief overview of the book, discuss its strengths and weaknesses, and describe how helpful it will be to my own ministry.
Subtitled “The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century,” Between Two Worlds corrals the idea that modern preachers must consciously maintain scriptural integrity in their message (the first world) while being willing to alter their methods for modern times (the second world). Stott opens his book with a chapter to satisfy all preachers, one on “The Glory of Preaching,” but then quickly deals with the negative news in the second chapter, “Contemporary Objections to Preaching.” He then approaches the science of preaching in chapters three through six by discussing “Theological Foundations for Preaching,” “Preaching as Bridge-Building,” “The Call to Study,” and “Preparing Sermons,” and he concludes his book with the heart of preaching in chapters seven and eight, titled “Sincerity and Earnestness” and “Courage and Humility.” Stott fills his books with the wisdom of so many historical legends of the preaching world that it truly could serve as a stand-alone textbook on preaching, though its having been published in 1982 precludes it from being a top pick by many colleges until a revision comes along. Hopefully the revision will not be too long in coming.
I appreciated much about Between Two Worlds, namely the tapestry of thinkers quoted throughout its pages. But perhaps my favorite chapter and topic of all was that which lends to the title of the book itself, Chapter 4 “Preaching as Bridge-Building.” In this chapter Stott states explicitly the role of a preacher who successfully stands with one foot planted securely in both worlds: “It is the preacher’s responsibility to open up the biblical principles which relate to the problems of contemporary society, in such a way as to help everybody to develop a Christian judgment about them” (Stott, 167). Again he writes: “It is our responsibility to teach them with clarity and conviction the plain truths of Scripture, in order to help them develop a Christian mind, and to encourage them to think with it about the great problems of today, and so to grow into maturity in Christ” (p.173). And what is this “Christian mind”? “Not a mind which is thinking about specifically Christian or even religious topics, but a mind which is thinking about everything, however apparently ‘secular,’ and doing so ‘Christianly’ or within a Christian frame of reference” (p.170). This chapter alone helped solidify a proper understanding of preaching in my own mind, for preaching is not simply expounding Scripture, but expounding God’s relevant Word with a purpose in mind that affect the realities of daily life. J.I. Packer writes that theological knowledge can be dangerous, for “knowledge puffs up” (I Corinthians 8:1); thus a pastor must first move himself from simply having knowledge about God to having knowledge of God before he can fulfill his responsibility and preach Scripture from the first world to the next (Packer, Chapter 1).
I had trouble finding very much negative to say about this book apart from the length of its chapters and its somewhat antiquated approach. In preparing potential readers, I would simply tell them that gems are plentiful in this book, though the reader must do some serious digging for them. All in all, the rewards are worth all the effort.
Although I am not a pastor, I am a missionary. Not only will I continue preaching throughout the course of my life, I will also continue to serve for many years in close relationship with pastors from many walks of life. I will be their servant in helping them improve their own ministries, and this help will inevitably involve improving the quality and strength of their preaching. I am certain that Stott’s book will be useful to my ministry as I apply its themes and teachings to where I see the needs most.
Packer, J. I., and Simon Vance. Knowing God. [Solon, Ohio]: Playaway Digital Audio, 2011.
Stott, John R. W. Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1982.