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Fall 2003 · Vol. 32 No. 2 · pp. 235–236 

Book Review

Not as the Scribes: Jesus as a Model for Prophetic Preaching

Ryan Ahlgrim. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2002. 153 pages.

Reviewed by Jim Holm

Ryan Ahlgrim is a preacher, having completed a D.Min. in preaching and currently serving as pastor of the First Mennonite Church of Indianapolis. In this first book, Ahlgrim seeks to help the seminary student or parish pastor preach the way Jesus did: prophetically.

Ahlgrim’s thesis is that there are two ways of knowing and two resultant ways of preaching. The first is to know about God, which leads to “scribal preaching,” a term Ahlgrim invents and which he uses to describe both the scribes in Jesus’ day and much of contemporary preaching. The scribes, he says, “focused on detailed exegesis of Scripture combined with an application based on an authoritative tradition.” {236} Their style would have been “logical and didactic” and would have appealed to the minds of the listeners. A great deal of preaching today, he suggests, would be “scribal preaching.”

Jesus’ preaching, in contrast, was based not on knowing about God, but on knowing God. Jesus did not usually preach exegetically but proclaimed divine truth through original styles. Ahlgrim explains three forms of Jesus’ preaching: discipleship instructions, eschatological pronouncements, and parables. Each style is described in succinct detail.

The author suggests that Jesus must have preached by telling longer parables, of which only a summary is contained in the scriptures. Those parables were mixed with exhortation, declarations, and statements to produce sermons that had authority, not as the scribes because Jesus’ sermons were fresh, current, and real.

If contemporary preachers wish to speak in Jesus’ name, they ought to adopt his mode and methods. Rather than just repeating or rephrasing Jesus’ parables, they should make them their own: using biblical themes and developing stories but not simply explaining biblical texts. Preachers should use current situations that parallel the biblical teachings. The book gives instructions on how to craft sermons Jesus’ way. Then Ahlgrim concludes with five of his own sermons to illustrate how he preaches prophetically as he understands the preaching of Jesus.

Ahlgrim’s approach is fresh and creative. He writes with enthusiasm and good humor. His book will challenge every expository preacher to take a fresh look at their preaching style. Ahlgrim does not write to criticize but to help. His book is worth reading.

There is a breakdown, however, between theory and practice. The first part of the book is good reading, but the sample sermons provided do not completely satisfy. While the good news of the kingdom comes through, some of Ahlgrim’s parables seem so obscure that they fail to shed light. Of course, Jesus’ disciples were sometimes in the dark after his parables too, but this reviewer found difficulty connecting with Ahlgrim’s stories even after several readings. Yet the concept Ahlgrim promotes could greatly enhance preaching. The book is worth reading.

Jim Holm
Interim President
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California

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