Many vocations come with a goal to aim for. A soldier seeks promotion to a certain rank. A UPS driver aspires to enter the “Circle of Honor” for making it 25 years without an accident. A lawyer hopes to make managing partner. And Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid set forth a worthy goal for pastors in The Whole Counsel of God: Why and How to Preach the Entire Bible. Their proposed goal, as you can judge from the title, is preaching through the Bible in its entirety. The whole book boils down to this simple challenge:
All vocational preachers should set themselves the goal of preaching through the entire Bible over a thirty-five year period.
Simple yet lofty. But Patrick and Reid convincingly set forth why it’s a goal worth aiming for. In three parts they explain theologically why this should be the pastor’s approach, how to implement such an approach, and some practical considerations for making this your goal.
What I like about this book is that it equips pastors with guidelines. There’s no cookie-cutter model to mimic; you will have to work out the specifics on your own. But the general approach goes like this. First, decide how you want to categorize all the books of the Bible. The authors share this example using six categories:
- Former Prophets
- Latter Prophets
- NT Books
Then the next step is to calculate what percentage each of your categories makes up out of the whole of Scripture. The numbers from the given example are:
- Torah: 17%
- Former Prophets: 22%
- Latter Prophets: 22%
- Writings: 15%
- Gospels: 10%
- Other NT Books: 13%
Step three is to decide what period of time to designate as a cycle for preaching according to these proportions. For instance, if you were to choose a one-year cycle, your sermons from each of these divisions would approximate these percentages over the course of a year. This requires careful planning. Larger books will have to be divided into meaningful series that align with the natural boundaries of each book. The authors are clear. The system probably isn’t going to work out perfectly according to your carefully calculated percentages. But aim high and do your best to plan. Your congregation will benefit.
The point is that congregations will have a varied diet from all the “food groups” of God’s Word. The Pauline epistles only make up a small percentage of the Bible and yet some pastors spend the majority of their ministry preaching from them. What about Luke, Lamentations, and Leviticus? Believers need the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Of course, if you happen to actually make it through the entire Bible in 35 years, you’re probably going to be the only one who was there for every single sermon. But Patrick and Reid use the helpful illustration of piano lessons to show that it’s about the total regimen, not so much the individual sermon. The years of exposure to books and books and books of the Bible will equip the hearer for living out what they’ve been taught, reminded, and exhorted.
Turning to criticisms, I felt the book could have been a little shorter. Maybe by winnowing down some of the practical implications that stray a bit from the mark (e.g., having people walk through colored mud on a sheet). The authors also take some text-critical assumptions for granted that may not be entirely settled for everyone (such as excising the story of the woman caught in adultery and the longer ending of Mark).
This is a book every pastor should read and seriously consider heeding. What is the goal of your preaching ministry? Patrick and Reid make a compelling case that this is one every preacher should adopt. Whether you’re a newly minted preacher or a grizzled veteran on the verge of retirement, feeding the Lord’s sheep with a balanced diet of the whole counsel of God is the way to go. This book shows you how to do it.
Special thanks to Crossway for providing me with a digital copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding this work.
Any thoughts (from the book or from you) on preaching through the Bible in canonical order, rather than jumping (say) from Romans to Exodus to Jude to Mark?
Great question. The authors see the logic in preaching through the Bible cover to cover, but that’s not what they advise. In their words: “We think it is probably not ideal for one of Jesus’s churches to spend twenty-five years in the Old Testament before it ever gets to hear any exposition from one of the primary accounts of their Lord and Savior’s life, death, and resurrection.” That makes sense. At the same time, some books are clearly more foundational (Torah in the OT, Gospels in the NT) than others in relation to the books that build upon them. The model the authors use is a rotational preaching program that covers Torah, Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, Writings, Gospels, and Other NT Books over the course of a year, two years, three, or whatever you decide. It would also be wise to complete a book from a section before beginning another book from the same section.
This struck a chord with me. I think I am going to implement much of their paradigm into my preaching ministry.