While there are numerous books written to help preachers communicate better, there are few written to aid the listener to get the most out of the sermons they hear. Helping Johnny Listen is one of those few, and it is a good one. Bergmeier defines preaching as the “Proclamation of the Scriptures to a group of people for the purpose of calling them to change something in their lives” (p. 12). If this is the case it is only logical, and biblical, that the Lord will hold the listener of such sermons accountable to how they listen and what they do with what they hear (pp. 15-26). On a practical level, both physical and spiritual preparations are essential. Physically the hearer should come rested, learn to focus and ignore distractions, be in regular attendance and engage their minds (pp. 31-46). Spiritually we should come hungry for the Word, worshipping God, in prayer, expecting and forgiving (pp. 47-61). In addition Bergmeier describes how to listen hermeneutically—that is according to Bible study principles (pp.90-91), homiletically—looking for the main point, the outline and making application (pp. 92-93), actively—such as note taking (pp. 93-94), and lovingly—using good discernment while not being overly critical (pp. 94-99).
Bergmeier faces head-on some of the obstacles that must be overcome in order to listen well. Four are handled: shallow preaching, including preachers not preaching the text (pp. 128-132), our learning style, whether that be auditory, visual, or tactile-kinesthetic (pp. 132-135), comparisons to internet (celebrity) preachers (pp. 135-140), and the challenge of our technological age (pp. 140-143).
There are a few blemishes in Helping Johnny Listen such as out-of-context use of John 14:16-17, 25-26, and 15:26-27 (p. 77), and quoting favorably from Mark Driscoll (pp. 94, 135, 138, 148) and Matt Chandler (pp. 136, 148-149), as well as references to Francis Chan and Andy Stanley (p. 136), the latter of which is on record opposing expository preaching. But overall the book is a most valuable manual in aiding listening to biblical preaching.
Helping Johnny Listen, Taking Full Advantage of the Sermons We Hear by Thadeus L. Bergmeier (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2010) 157 pp. plus xv, paper $9.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher Southern View Chapel.