Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 06/17/2009 by Colin Adams.
Recommended. A lively read that will stir the heart and mind, and cause us to rethink the whole category of ‘doctrinal preaching.’
The title of Robert Smith's book Doctrine that Dances is enough of a juxtaposition to make most of us curious.
Some, coming from proudly anti-theological traditions, find it moderately amusing to discover books still being penned on doctrine at all. Others, though fully persuaded of doctrine’s consequence, may still raise eyebrows at the sight of ‘doctrine’ and ‘dance’ in the same terse sentence. The idea of some of our most cherished theological doctrines doing ‘the foxtrot’ is a new one for most of us!
However, the subtitle of Smith’s volume brings us quickly to his point: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life. Smith is Professor of Preaching at Beeson Divinity School, and as such, is on a passionate crusade to make dull-doctrinal preaching a thing of the past. Smith is clearly aware that doctrinal preaching has often had a bad wrap: too dry, too dead, too dreary. But Smith’s answer is not to abandon doctrinal preaching; he aims to transform the modern sermon into what he calls “joyous doxological dance to the glory of God.”
Two convictions bleed through Smith's offering. On the one hand: imbibing doctrine is essential for the church's transformation through Christ. Far from being a book that follows the contemporary wave of dismissing doctrine, Smith champions the role of doctrine in the life of church and believer: “Let the rocks cry out as an indictment upon us if we fail to pick up the mantle of doctrine!”
On the other hand, the author's accompanying conviction is that doctrine should not be taught drily. Rather, "the attitude of the doctrinal preacher must be Hallelujah!" (p 1) This means that the job of the doctrinal preacher is not merely to inform his congregation but to usher them into the presence of God to worship Him. Doctrine, truly preached, is doxological.
Expressing these complementary ideas, Smith uses two major metaphors. First, the preacher is to be an 'exegetical escort’: taking seriously the truths of Scripture and leading people to see their significance. Secondly, the preacher must be a' doxological dancer': rejoicing in the truth he preaches. Both metaphors must be realised, for “doctrine without worship is empty. Worship without doctrine leads to ignorance."
Much of the rest of the book is merely an outworking of these themes, and answers the question of how we make doctrine dance in our preaching. Following two definitional chapters which outline the nature of doctrinal preaching, chapters 3 and 4 deal with the substance of our preaching (doctrine), while 5 and 7 deal with the style (the dance).
Chapter 7, ‘The Jazz of Doctrinal Preaching’ was a particularly enjoyable read. While some of the correspondences between jazz and preaching are arguably a little forced, a discussion of the parallels between jazz and preaching can’t be anything but interesting! The preacher needs his studied preparation; but he must also be ready for the more joyful, spur of moment improvisations that the jazz player so richly models.
Smith’s heavy use of such metaphor’s (such as jazz/dancing) are exactly what some will love, and others will find less helpful about this book. Inevitably, all analogies can get a little too stretched at times. But if we ‘go with it’, these are powerful images that overall, the reviewer found helpful. Smith’s engaging style throughout Doctrine that Dances is arguably the best advertisement for the practice he is calling for. There is indeed a combination of truth and joy, of doctrine and delight, that pervades the pages from beginning to end.
In this book, we hear many thematical echoes of John Piper's The Supremacy of God in Preaching. To use Piper's phrase, preaching is properly defined as "expository exultation." For Smith it is "doctrine that dances."