Book Reviews > Preaching > Spirit Empowered Preaching: Involving the Holy Spirit in Your Ministry
Director of the RC Ryan Center for Biblical Studies and Assistant Professor of Christian Studies
A book from an unknown author and a title that suggests a “hyper-charismatic” content is not immediately appealing to me and would have little chance of getting on my reading list. However such a book caught my attention because I noticed that Christian Focus had published it. They use the sort of authors that I know and trust, and I have yet to find a “bad book” from them. Then a glance at the back cover with rave reviews from people like John Armstrong and Ed Clowney served to further reassure me that this was likely to be a sound book. Indeed, as I opened the pages of this Biblical exhortation I found the Lord ready to instruct, challenge, and correct me.
The author is a PCA pastor in California and describes himself as ‘without shame, a local church pastor of average gifts’ (p.7). That self-description alone gained my attention. The book itself appears to have begun as a project (thesis, dissertation?) at Westminster Seminary. The goal of the book is to present a biblical theology of Spirit empowered preaching, and it succeeds very well.
Azurdia argues, in the vein of Lloyd-Jones and others, that while serious and diligent exegesis is essential for preaching, it is not enough. The hard exegetical work will provide us with material, but we still need power- power from on high. Indeed, Azurdia states, ‘It is my deep conviction that the greatest deficiency in contemporary expositional ministry is powerlessness; in other words, preaching that is devoid of the vitality of the Holy Spirit’ (p. 12). He argues clearly that if we take seriously the effects of sin on humanity we are forced to the point of absolute dependence on the Holy Spirit to make any preaching effective. Surely we would all affirm this, but I for one admit that it is too easy to slip into a perfunctory acknowledgement of the Spirit’s role whilst actually relying on my own strength (which is weakness).
Azurdia makes the fine point that the powerlessness of evangelical churches is evident from the various other things to which so many have turned for ‘attractive power,’ things which may have value in themselves but are not the goal of the church. He mentions specifically pop-psychology, marketing techniques and political activism. Concerning the ability of marketing techniques to draw a crowd, for instance, he writes:
‘they have erroneously confused the presence of physical bodies with the existence of spiritual life. In reality, many of these ‘seekers’ have not come to flee the wrath of God. They have not come to take up the cross of Jesus Christ. Instead, they have come to add a layer of frosting to their lives’ (31).
Azurdia argues from the Scripture that God has shown that His intention is to work through the preaching of the Word. Then, he argues that the role of the Spirit is to glorify Christ and that the whole of the Scriptures are to be interpreted Christologically. This book can be of much profit here for many who were not taught to read the Scriptures as Jesus and the apostles did (Luke 24:27). Azurdia handles the topic well not condoning sloppy interpretation but interpretation which places every text into its place within the flow of redemptive history . If we expect the Spirit’s power, he argues, we must use His means (preaching) and His method (Christ-centered interpretation).
Finally, if we would know the power of the Spirit in our preaching we must begin with an awareness of our abject need of Him. ‘A major step toward experiencing the power of God necessitates a thorough-going recognition of our lack of it’ (143). Such awareness will drive us to careful study and fervent prayer. The author searchingly notes, ‘Rarely are seminarians taught to pray and fast and weep for the subjective and internal illumination of the Holy Spirit in correspondence with their diligent efforts in the sacred text’ (39). Azurdia also focuses on the church’s role in supporting the preacher with prayer and by maintaining an environment eager to receive and to submit to the word of God.
Reading this book I was reminded of much, challenged, rebuked, convicted (having frequently to turn aside to prayer), humbled, encouraged, and stirred up with a renewed desire to go at it again! My heart has truly been stirred. I want to be a part of ‘the proclamation of the gospel, by men clothed with an alien power to overcome the most violent resistance of sinners’ (p. 66). I yearn to know more of that ‘other-worldly kind of courage that can compel an ordinary man to invade the domain of darkness and demand the deliverance of people enslaved to that realm’ (p.126). And yet, I know what it is to be ‘a man possessed by a holy compulsion but hobbled by human inability’ (p. 118). I have been reminded that the answer is neither to lower my expectations of the effectiveness of preaching, nor to rely subtly on human oratory to ‘back it up,’ but to learn ever more of my weakness and to find in that weakness the power of God to glorify Himself.
(This review previously appeared in the Founders Journal, www.founders.org)