Book Review: Expository Listening
In 2010 a pastor from Texas published Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God's Word. The book was endorsed by John MacArthur, Thabiti Anyabwile, Jay Adams, Tim Challies, Donald Whitney, and others; and the book is designed to improve the sermon listening skills of church members. A period of research alerted the author to the void of books on listening to sermons, while books on preaching sermons abound. Ramey's book is a little over 100 pages and a quick read for most people. His writing is paced and direct. The greatest strength of the material is found in the numerous outlines or lists of tips to prepare for church services, listen well to the content of the service, and then apply what is learned. Below is an example of one of the most helpful lists in the book:
Spiritual Preparations 1. Spend time reading and meditating on God’s Word every day (personal quiet time). 2. Men, lead your wife and children in regular times of worship throughout the week. 3. On Saturday night or Sunday morning, take time to get your heart ready for worship. 4. Read a portion of God’s Word that focuses on worshipping God and/or personal cleansing from sin. 5. Thank God that through Christ you can come boldly into His presence to worship Him. 6. Seek God’s forgiveness for any sins you have failed to confess and repent of during the week. 7. Express to God that you understand that your best, most fervent attempts at worship are nowhere near what He deserves, and beg Him to help you worship him wholeheartedly in spirit and in truth. 8. Plead with God to make your heart soft and receptive to His Word so that it will take root and grow up to bear lasting fruit in your life. 9. Ask God to graciously illuminate your mind to understand what the Word means and how it applies to your life and to cause you to be a doer and not just a hearer of the Word. 10. Pray for those who will be preaching/teaching God's Word, that His Spirit will empower them to speak clearly and boldly and be powerfully used by Him to accomplish His work in your life and in the life of your church. 11. Take the initiative to make things right with anyone you have sinned against or has sinned against you (your spouse, parents, children, brother, sister, fellow church member, etc). 12. Come to church with a spirit of anticipation, fully expecting God to speak to you through His Word in ways that will change your life forever.
Furthermore, there is also a helpful appendix which serves as a quick-reference for the lists presented in the body of the book. These lists are delivered around the following categories:
*Anticipation: The Listener's Responsibility Before the Word is Preached. *Attention: The Listener's Responsibility While the Word is Preached. *Application: The Listener's Responsibility After the Word is Preached.
A final compliment is about the sprinkling of helpful and rich quotes on the topic by a variety of respected pastors of the present and past (e.g. J.I. Packer, Richard Baxter, Charles Spurgeon, etc).
The only critique of this book draws attention to what seems to be a rough edge apparent at a few points in the book. Some people might characterize these moments as hard-nosed. These are moments when the distinction between the law and the gospel becomes fuzzy - points at which readers who lack discernment might conclude from these moments the importance of attentive sermon-listening is grounded in avoiding punishment for poor listening, rather than a privilege by which they may grow by grace.
Overall, with a small amount of guidance and clarification, this book will be beneficial to help church members listen well; and pastors will be blessed by the increased attention to the sermons they work diligently to proclaim.