The Archer and the Arrow: a book review

The Archer and the Arrow

Phillip Jensen’s gospel outline “Two ways to live” has come to define the heart of what it means to be a Christian for many believers around the world today.  The simple and straight-forward summary of the Lordship of God in creation, the fall, God’s anger at a ruined world and his judgement of sin; his redemption of the world through the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ and the demand of a response from all people to accept Christ as Saviour and follow him as Lord shapes not only our view of the world but also of scripture. (Two ways to Live is much better in pictures)

In recent years some people have said to me that every sermon they hear preached is just “Two ways to Live” repackaged and so Jensen’s book is a timely corrective to any such simple, lazy or reductionistic preaching.  In the opening chapters he exhorts preachers to have a gospel outline in mind but to preach expansively from scripture:

Preaching the gospel by prayerfully expounding the Bible is not about overlaying every passage with your favourite gospel outline, but rather seeing how the gospel illuminates each passage that we preach and how the passage itself illuminates the gospel. (p33-34)

To illustrate the work of a the preacher, Jensen crafts an arrow made up of three parts, the feather, the shaft and the head:

  1. the feathers of systematics, biblical theology, church history and philosophy to guide the sermon,
  2. a shaft of exegesis which is the structure of a sermon and
  3. an arrow head of application to the hearer, which takes several forms.

He unpacks how these three disciplines fit together and inform each other and shape our preaching.

The highlight of the book for me was Jensen’s worked exegetical examples.  He shows how he wrestles with scripture, never letting exegetical or systematic presuppositions completely rule his exegesis.  In this he sets an example to other preachers never to skim over textual work or believe that our systematic frameworks are ever finalised.  He shows in his workings how our beliefs are challenged, shaped and remoulded by scripture itself.

As well as exegesis, Jensen considers in three chapters: the skills of preaching; the need for the preacher to love people and the risks we take when preaching.

The Archer and the Arrow will shake any preacher out of short-circuiting sermon preparation.  Don’t buy it if you are looking for easy short-cuts to better preaching.  This book will encourage both new and old preachers alike to dedicate themselves to a lifetime of study and hard work with the goal of preaching God glorifying sermons.

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