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What's Good about This News? Preaching from the Gospels and Galatians.

What's Good about This News? Preaching from the Gospels and Galatians. By David Lyon Bartlett. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. 152 pages. Paper. $16.95.

Preachers are accustomed to describing their work as "proclaiming the good news," but we have different ways of explaining what is good about that news. In this book, Professor David L. Bartlett of Yale Divinity School points out that even the writers of the New Testament answered that question differently.

Bartlett writes, "Preaching is always good news." In the New Testament, though, "what that good news looks like and how we respond to that good news is different for Matthew than it is for Paul, and different yet for John's Gospel and Mark's and for Luke and Acts" (p. 2). Bartlett examines the work of these five primary New Testament writers to identify their particular interpretations of what God has done in Christ, and how one should respond. His goals are that this survey might help us identify which "strain" of good news especially fits our congregation, which variety of the gospel fits us best as preachers, and which aspects of the good news we may particularly need to hear as a corrective for balance (pp. 2-3).

This book had its origins in the Lyman Beecher Lectures that Bartlett delivered at Yale Divinity School in October 2001. The terrorist attacks of the previous month added poignancy to his search for God's good news. For this book, Bartlett's lectures on the writings of Paul (with a particular focus on Galatians) and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were complemented by chapters on Mark and John. A sermon based on a text from each of these biblical writers was also added, following each chapter.

Bartlett's book is helpful first of all by outlining the different New Testament versions of God's good news. This is important to us as preachers if we want to understand and be faithful to the outlook of the evangelists whose writings we proclaim. For example, recognizing Matthew's interest in eschatology as well as his concern for living out the faith, Bartlett writes, "Preaching the good news in Matthew will require that we neither attend entirely to God's demands for this present age nor preach hope unrelated to responsibility" (p. 70).

Second, the book is helpful in recognizing one's own style of Gospel. I found myself identifying with Bartlett's description of Luke's good news: "While the kingdom's fullness is yet to be accomplished, the church becomes an ongoing testimony to the kingdom's coming power and its present blessing" (p. 82).

Bartlett chose to retain the oral style of his lectures. While that makes for a readable style, it also leads to redundancy. Repeating oneself is helpful in an oral lecture but annoying in the written version. Some of the material also is forced as Bartlett tries to get all of the New Testament writers to "answer" the same question. As he acknowledges, John uses very different terminology, yet Bartlett goes on to try to fit John's theology into his schema.

Despite these limitations, Bartlett's book is one that I would recommend to other preachers. Its essays and sample sermons are thought-provoking as they look at major strains of New Testament thought and as they prompt us to ask ourselves about our own sermons, "What is good about this news?"

Ted Kunze

Augustana Lutheran Church

St. James, Minnesota
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Author:Kunze, Ted
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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