The vast majority of books written about preaching are addressed to preachers; only a few target the listeners. This short work is one of those few (see also Jay Adam’s Be Careful How You Listen and Joel Beeke’s A Family at Church). Ramey contends that the condition of the soul is more important than the effectiveness of the sower when it comes to preaching. If so, God’s people should desire to be accomplished hearers of the Word. This little volume will aid in that process.
Expository preaching is when “the preacher explains what the original author was saying to the original audience he was writing to and then shows how this original meaning applies to his present–day audience” (p. 55). But in a post-modern age saturated with media that dulls our ears and our minds, this task is challenging at best (see p. 42). If the hearer is to be transformed by the Word preached he must be seriously proactive in doing that which is necessary to listen well. Toward this end Ramey provides many practical guidelines (summarized on pp. 111-115). The listener also must understand the seriousness and gravity of preaching (pp. 105-106) and use discernment (pp. 73-83) to avoid deception. The author’s exegesis of James 1:19-25 was the high mark of the book, in this reviewer’s opinion (pp. 88-101).
I believe, however, Ramey pushed too hard in his use of Puritan teaching that claims we will be judged by every sermon we have ever heard and that we should be motivated by “that fearful day when you will be judged based on how receptive and responsive you were to what you heard” (p. 105). While there is truth in such statements, surely the greater motivation should be our desire to know Christ, His provisions for us, and His will for our lives that we might worship Him in truth.
I was also troubled by comments concerning our salvation being determined by how we listen to the Word: “Where you end up may well be decided by what you do with what you have been taught in this book” (p. 106). While I am sure the author believes otherwise, he makes no clear distinction at this point from a natural man hearing the gospel and a believer listening to an exposition of Scripture. Some clarity at this point is needed.
Overall, Expository Listening is a helpful book to encourage and give direction to listening to the proclamation of God’s Word. It could serve well as a source for a short Bible study on how to listen to a sermon.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel