It has been a long desire of mine to post book reviews through this blog. While they may vary in shape and sizes (devotional, Christian living, theological, exegetical, etc.) it will be my general goal to be concise and to the point. So, here is my first book review on a wonderful book called, “Expository Listening.”
The author of this work, Ken Ramey, is the pastor of Lakeside Bible Church in Montgomery, Texas. He is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary, a conservative evangelical seminary with a high commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture and places a heavy emphasis on the exposition of Scripture.
Ramey establishes the purpose of the book early, “This book is unique in that it is about how to listen to the proclamation of the Bible, to preaching . . . listeners have hardly any resources to train and equip them to become better listeners” (pp. 2-3). He will later elaborate on this purpose stating,“My desire within these pages is to create congregations that share this passion to honor God by being discerning hearers of His Word, diligent doers of His Word, and devoted lovers of His word, preaching fanatics, even, who come to church like a thirsty man craving something to drink and whose hearts fervently long to hear the Word preached because they know that in it God speaks to them” (p. 7).
In the introduction, Ramey argues that preaching is a two-way street between the preacher and the listener. A successful sermon requires the hearers respond to God’s Word. The Spirit of God empowers the preacher to proclaim God’s Word and empowers the hearer to do God’s Word. The call of the listener is to “engage themselves as wholehearted, blood-earnest listeners who respond to the call of God on all humankind” (p. 5).
The book itself contains six chapters with an additional introduction and conclusion. The first chapter surveys a biblical theology of listening—showing how God demands His people listen to His Word. The second chapter addresses the reason why some negatively respond to faithful preaching—it is a matter of the heart. The third chapter speaks of the necessity of preparation before hearing God’s Word. Here he provides several practical suggestions for priming your heart for the Word. The fourth chapter provides the need for faithful preaching. The fifth chapters helps readers to identify the key characteristics of a false teacher. The sixth chapter expresses the need to put into action the teaching of God’s Word.
The first chapter provides four foundational theological statements to listening God’s Word. (1) God has spoken and commands us to listen to and obey what He has said [bibliology]. (2) We all fail to listen to and obey God and deserve to be punished by Him [hamartiology]. (3) God grants us the ability to listen to and obey Him by His Holy Spirit, whom we receive through faith in Jesus Christ [soteriology]. (4) God promises to bless us both now and for all eternity if we listen to and obey Him [progressive sanctification].
The second chapter in short is an exposition of the parable of the sower and the seeds (Lk 8:5-8). He provides four types of hearts that hear the Word: (1) stubborn, unreceptive hearts; (2) shallow, superficial hearts; (3) worldly, strangled hearts; and (4) soft, receptive heart. He stresses that response to God’s Word is the ultimate proof of Christianity (p. 33).
The third chapter provides suggestions for preparing one’s heart for the hearing of God’s Word. He provides 10 suggestions for getting the most out of hearing God’s Word: (1) read and study God’s Word everyday; (2) pray regularly; (3) confess your sin; (4) reduce your media intake; (5) plan and schedule your week around the ministry of God’s Word; (6) consistently attend church; (7) attend church with a humble and teachable heart; (8) worship with all your heart; (9) fight off distractions; and (10) listen with diligent discernment. The suggestions in this chapter are very practical for the western church.
The fourth chapter provides the need for faithful preaching. Ramey argues that the Scriptures have diagnosed some with itching ears (2 Tim 4:1-2). This diagnosis lends the foundation for why there must be both faithful preachers and faithful listeners. There is an urgent need for people to grow from the basics of the faith, milk, to the mature and deep teachings of the Scripture, meat. He draws four principles of discernment for faithful preaching. (1) Are they preaching God’s Word? (2) What is the result of their teaching? (3) What is the focus of their teaching? And (4) what is the gospel they are teaching?
The fifth chapter surveys the characteristics of false teachers and how listeners can identify them. Four key questions are given to ask whether a the individual is a false teacher. (1) Is their teaching based on the Word of God? Is it consistent with what the Scripture says? (2) Does their teaching produce growth in godliness? Is it unifying and edifying to the body of Christ? (3) Do they humbly seek to honor God and help others? Is it free of charge and free from financial appeal? (4) What is their Gospel message? Do they explain it clearly and correctly? Is it works-based or God-glorifying grace?
The final chapter ties the entire book together by calling readers to be doers of the Word. The ultimate responsibility of the reader is to apply the Word. Here, Ramey provides several practical pieces of advice for the listener to be doers of God’s Word. (1) Make sure you have a teachable attitude when hearing God’s Word based on James 1:19-21. (2) Be mindful of your spiritual orientation—make efforts to purify your heart. (3) Humble yourself before God’s Word. (4) Humbly receive God’s Word as a guest in your house is shown hospitality. (5) Be sober to receive the Word of God for what it truly is—understand the gravity of the Word.
The conclusion of the book urges the readers to remember the judgment of God. The listener will be held accountable to the teaching of God’s Word. This ought to produce within the listener an eager desire to make sure they properly applying the doctrines they learn from Scripture.
While the book is overwhelmingly positive, there can be one area of improvement. There should also be an equal emphasis on the personal study of the listener of God’s Word. Saints ought to be studying God’s Word at the deepest possible level. This does not lessen a biblical view of preaching, but it reinforces it. Listeners should do whatever is possible to deepen their understanding of God’s Word. One’s spiritual life should not solely depend upon the Sunday pulpit. Since this book is written for the reader, personal study should be a bigger emphasis.
One of the clearest strengths of this book is its theological foundation. He upholds a solid bibliology. This is manifested in faithful preaching, “when a preacher faithfully preaches the Bible, it is God speaking and not the preacher (John 14:24; Acts 13:7, 44)” (p. 12). He emphasizes that the Scriptures are themselves a self-revelation of the nature and character of God Himself. His entire first chapter is highly Reformed as he addresses total depravity and regeneration.
A second strength of the book is its discussion questions at the end of each chapter. While many books utilize study questions these in particular are helpful in light of the serious nature of the work. It helps to reinforce main ideas and provoke thought and application.
Similarly, a third strength of the book is short section at the end entitled, “A Quick-Reference Guide for Listeners” (pp. 111-15). In this short section he provides the readers with some application points for listening to sermons. These include action points before listening to God’s Word, while listening to God’s Word, and after listening to God’s Word.
I would definitely recommend this to any church member looking to get the most out of Sunday preaching. While it may be most helpful for those who are not acquainted with consistent and deep expository preaching, it can be benefited by many. It may also be especially helpful for new believers as they seek to understand how God intended the church to worship Him in corporate worship. This is a much needed book in light of a pop Christian culture that is quickly abandoning solid biblical preaching.