Of the three textbooks assigned to me in my seminary homiletics class, I found Living by the Book by Hendricks to be the least useful as a seminary textbook, Between Two Worlds by Stott to be the most philosophical example of a seminary textbook, but Preaching that Changes Lives to be the most readable and applicable as a seminary textbook. Although I had my qualms about the Fabarez book initially—for example, I remember thinking: “How is Fabarez going to fill 195 pages simply building off his thesis that sermons need applications?”—I quickly grasped his line of thinking and recognized that he really could attack this issue from many different angles, and he does so with great ease.
As I read through Preaching that Changes Lives, two specific points which Fabaraz emphasized jumped out at me, points that I will be able to apply to my own preaching in the future. The first emphasis is the practical need for proper outlining, and the second emphasis is the spiritual need for keeping the message Christ-centered.
Although I am not a pastor, I am a missionary and have many opportunities in my church and in other churches to preach the Word, so I need as much help as anyone in the regard of writing messages. Being a writer myself and a man who thinks in outlines, I generally have no trouble writing sermon outlines based off a text, but I do generally have trouble shoehorning an application section into my outline somewhere. But as Fabarez points out through the writings of Jay Adams, “The simple shift from outlining a text’s content to outlining its application can radically transform a sermon and the people who hear it.”1 Such a concept is transformational, for it is this single method that can morph my messages from feeding brains to feeding hearts and changing lives and actions. The way Fabarez exemplifies this simple shift from content to application in one’s outlining on pages 62 through 64 proved extremely useful in helping me understand how to put this theory into practice.
Because my messages have tended more toward teaching than preaching in that they feed the brain more than change the heart, I have recognized my own need to maintain a Christ-centered focus in my messages. Fabarez deals with this reality in Chapter 9 by noting that even if I am preaching from the Old Testament and the passage I use has seemingly no connection to the Messiah, I must recognize that if God is in the passage (and He certainly always is), then Christ is as well, for “God-centered preaching is always Christ-centered preaching.”2 This reminds me of a quote I read once, that “He who magnifies the Father is apt to become unitarian; he who magnifies the Spirit may tend to become fanatical; but he who magnifies Christ is only Christian.”3 Perhaps this line of reasoning will help me maintain a Christ-centeredness in my preaching, no matter the text I am reading.
I enjoyed Preaching that Changes Lives for its practicality and emphasis on application as well as for its readability, a bit more modern than Stott, and a bit more mature than Hendricks. I would recommend it to anyone just beginning to preach, or to anyone who has been preaching for years but has sensed that his sermons have begun to lose their effects on the listeners.
1 Michael Fabarez, Preaching That Changes Lives (Nashville, Tenn: T. Nelson Publishers, 2002), 58.
2 Ibid., 114.
3 Stanley Edwin Anderson, Your Baptism Is Important (Little Rock, Arkansas: Seminary Press, 1958), 91.