John Chrysostom is one of those guys most Christians don’t know much about. He lived a long time ago and it’s kind of fun to say his name. I’m a fan, but not everyone digs ancient church fathers. So it’s rather surprising that Lexham Press would publish a popular-level book about the man and his work. But they did. Gerald Bray has written a tidy little book titled Preaching the Word with John Chrysostom. And I’m glad they did. I could give you all kinds of reasons why people should read it. Moderns stand to gain from learning from the ancients. The book is edifying. It’s interesting. It’s short yet thought-provoking. All worthy reasons, but the two best reasons to read this book are to stimulate your love for the Bible and to stimulate your desire to teach God’s people the practicality of living according to the Bible. Here’s how it works.
The book’s outline is unique. The first chapter briefly covers Chrysostom’s life and works, but then spends more time developing his pastoral vision and hermeneutics. This emphasis is important because the purpose of the book is to “remember what lived theology looks like” (xii). Chrysostom is a role model for pastors and laypeople alike and there is wisdom to be gained from studying his preaching ministry. And that’s what the remainder of this book allows us to do. The remaining chapters give us a synthesis of how he preached four areas of Scripture: creation in Genesis, the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of John, and Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Bray chose each of these with a purpose in mind. Genesis offers the opportunity to compare Chrysostom’s worldview with the pagan culture, the Gospels open a window to his Christology, and Romans helps us see why he was the apostle Paul’s number one fan. The reader can gain an understanding of John Chrysostom through his Bible exposition.
Bray is careful to help the reader understand Chrysostom within his own time. He resists subjecting his sermons to a modern analysis that Chrysostom, himself, was unaware of. He was addressing the issues of his day up to the point that the orthodox theology of the church had developed. The only place Bray could have shown a little more care was in his haste to label certain points of Chrysostom’s interpretation of the Genesis account as symbolic. It’s unfair to say he had “painted himself into a corner” by taking the two trees in the garden as literal when he was apparently perfectly content to do so (52). Similarly, I was left wondering if Bray, Chrystostom, or both considered the account of Adam and Eve hiding from God as “obviously” symbolic (59).
The thread that runs through the preaching of Chrysostom is accommodation, in both its vertical and horizontal manifestations. The infinite God accommodates us in our finiteness by revealing Himself in a way we can grasp. Similarly, the preacher must accommodate his hearers so that they can grasp the teaching of God’s Word. John was a master at portioning out what people can absorb in terms they can relate to. It was seeing this display of a pastor’s heart that I found most enriching while reading this book.
Special thanks to Lexham Press for providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding this work.