FEED MY SHEEP

A Book Review by Robert van Wichen

A recently published book is introduced with these words:

Every Sunday in New Zealand the vast majority of this country's inhabitants will indulge in a variety of Sunday activities that range from sleeping off the effects of the previous night's party to a day out on the harbour or the sports field. A small percentage of the population will forgo these pastimes in order to attend church. This minority will gather in traditional church buildings, modern auditoriums or school halls. For part of the service they will listen to someone deliver a message from the Bible. This person - a minister, priest or lay-person - will probably have spend a good number of hours preparing their sermon.…Yet many of us who do this work have some questions at times, even nagging doubts. What exactly are we doing each Sunday? How effective is the sermon as a means of communication? Can we really expect Christians, who live in a secular and pagan society like ours, to understand the message of the Bible? And will non-Christians, who might hear us preaching, understand anything of what we are saying?

For those who did not recognise these opening words, the author is Rev. John Haverland and his book is titled Feed My Sheep. As its subtitle, Preaching the Gospel in a Postmodern New Zealand Society indicates, this very readable book is specifically a plea for more sound, exegetical, and expository preaching in the Church in New Zealand. While it is probably of greatest use to preachers of the Gospel, others will find between its covers a wealth of information and ideas.

What makes this book especially valuable is that it is about New Zealand by a New Zealander. It has been observed that the world is becoming a "smaller" place. Certainly there are similarities between New Zealand and say the United States, and there is much we can learn from what is happening there and elsewhere; but, when all it said and done, the reality is that New Zealand culture is distinct, and presents its own peculiar challenges to the Church.

The Necessity of Preaching

The first part of the book advocates, not only the advantages and importance of preaching, but its necessity. It has become fashionable to charge that preaching is ineffective, lacks authority, and is irrelevant. But the author dispatches any notion that preaching is an ancient relic with no conceivable use in today's world. He argues that expository preaching is commanded by God and is an effective means of communication, is ordained by God, and is perpetually relevant. In this part, you will find a clear apologetic for the primacy of preaching, and its place in true spiritual revival. The challenge for us as Reformed Churches comes at the end of this section:

The church needs men who, knowing both the world around them and the Christ above them, are able to proclaim the Word of Christ to the world. We need preachers … who are able to “preach with passion the truth of God's Word, reflecting on the truth and seeking out the points at which it intersects with modern life.” Our aim is to preach the “old, old story” so that it speaks with power, relevance and clarity to our modern listener.

Understand Where We Are

Part Two is simply and aptly titled “Understanding our New Zealand Context.” After starting with a historical overview (which deflates a number of popular misconceptions), it proceeds to explain how we, as a society, have got to where we are today. The effects of secularism, pluralism and consumerism, among others, are examined. This is simply a “must read.” It is vital that we understand the culture in which we live, for as the author points out:

Our mission field is right here on our doorstep, over the back fence, in our workplace. Certainly we have mission responsibilities overseas, but we need to recognise that we live in a society where approximately 90% of New Zealanders do not have saving faith in Christ.…New Zealand's majority culture, media-massaged and educated to be more secular than most, innoculated against the life-changing power of the gospel by long exposure to religious formalism and caricature Christianity, now needs missionaries as skilled and dedicated as any in the world.

When one surveys the church in New Zealand, it is very easy to feel despondent. It is all too easy to give up without trying. However, notwithstanding the pitiful state of the church, there is reason for hope:

With the decline of modernism some of Christianity's traditional rivals, such as humanism, secularism, Marxism, and Freudianism, are at their lowest ebb for four hundred years. The church is in bad shape but the opponents of the church are also in disarray. This presents the church with a great opportunity to present the gospel in a powerful and persuasive way.

But as the Apostle Paul declared in Romans 10, “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?" It is a time of great opportunity today. Yet what was true in Jesus' day is true today. “The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus told the Seventy, “but the labourers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.”

A Book For Us All

If you are concerned about reaching the lost, you will appreciate the chasm between understanding the necessity of preaching and our times, and putting this knowledge into practice. For example, how do we communicate God's Word to New Zealanders today? How do we reach the lost? In the third part of the book, the author seeks to bridge this chasm. This part will challenge and equip each and every Christian to present the gospel more effectively to a culture that has rejected Christianity.

So if you think that this book is for ministers only, you are wrong! The spread of the Gospel is the responsibility of every Christian, not just those who climb into the pulpit each Sunday. And each Christian, as a diligent workman, needs the right tools. This book is a veritable toolbox of ideas, insights, and encouragement.

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Faith in Focus / NZ Reformed Church / thirty@paradise.net.nz / Copyright 2001