The Word of His Grace: A Guide to Teaching and Preaching from Acts by Chris Green (Leicester: IVP, 2005).
This is a very useful book for anyone wanting to get a better handle on the books of Acts. Chris Green, Vice-Principal at Oak Hill Theological College, starts by observing the many different reactions we often have to Acts, from a realisation that it is an important book for a healthy church to be grappling with to confusion over how to handle it especially when unique (and disputably, unrepeatable) events occur in the narrative. The opening chapter outlines various strategies for reading a big book like Acts and shows how different aspects of the book’s teaching are brought out by various ways of structuring it or by asking different questions of the text. He looks at what Acts has to say on history, theology, mission, and training. Right from the start, he is keen not to forget application of the book to today; so for instance on page 20 he says, pointedly, “[t]o those Christians in apparently successful churches [Luke’s teaching on church growth] is a much-needed reminder that true growth comes not from programmes or staffing decisions but from people believing the word of God.” These first 38 pages are quite excellent, and almost worth the price of the whole book on their own.
The body of the book is taken up with 7 chapters on the “architecture” of Acts, which are extremely helpful in laying out the structure and purpose of each section of Acts. He shows how the book fits together, how each section develops, and what the major themes and distinctive emphases are in each successive “panel” of the book. It’s not a commentary on every last verse: it’s much more useful than that, helping the reader get a sense of what Luke was up to when he wrote and arranged Acts in the way he did.
With this big picture in place, he then moves on to a section on preaching Acts. This distinguishes this book from other scholarly tomes on Acts, as Chris Green shows us how to take the basic framework and approach he has just outlined and use it to drive and shape actual sermons on the book of Acts. This makes this volume much more useful and stimulating for a preacher, and is an excellent idea. It would be most instructive if other authors could do something similar; I for one would be fascinated to read examples of sermons by Graeme Goldsworthy, Haddon Robinson, Sidney Greidanus and others whose technical treatises on preaching I have found incredibly useful but who often leave one wondering what their approach would look and sound like in practice. So for anyone who has ever read a technical commentary and then found themselves shouting back at the commentator, “yes, fine, but how do I preach that?” Chris Green provides just that kind of practical illustration in real life examples of sermons on various texts from Acts. I would have preferred to read unabridged versions of the sermons (including the illustrations!) and am not a fan of the annotation method used to comment on them (why not just use footnotes as in the rest of the book?) but that does not distract from the very constructive contribution made by this section. There are also some good tips on preaching generally which will be useful whatever the text or occasion. To echo Acts 17:32, it would be good to hear more from the author on this subject again.
Throughout the book Chris Green’s often arresting style and pithy way of summarising things makes this an engaging book to read, and he always has an eye on how Acts should impact us today. The last chapter is specifically on “living Acts” which contains many insightful comments on how Acts affects our understanding of the gospel, our practice of evangelism, our church planting, discipling, suffering, prayer, preaching, and leadership / training. There are also some valuable diagrams and tables throughout the book (although splitting a complicated chart like that showing Old Testament allusions in Acts 3-5 over two pages (57-58) isn’t particularly helpful and so it doesn’t always work as nicely as it probably does on A4 in the classroom). All in all, this is an obvious recommendation for any serious Bible reader, and a top class guide for any preacher or teacher of the book of Acts.
This review was first published in Churchman 120/3 (2006).