Phil Ryken, long-time pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia (successor to evangelical luminaries James Montgomery Boice and Donald Grey Barnhouse), has returned to his home of Wheaton College to take its presidency.
But while he was a pastor he was a well-known expositor, and his sermons on 1 Kings—now collected into one volume in the Reformed Expository Commentary Series—provide a good example of the type of homiletical food he served his congregation.
Here’s the first “bad”: Mark Dever comments on a dust-jacket blurb that this particular commentary series shows an appropriate balance between forest and trees. I disagree. I would like to see a good bit more forest, even in expository sermons. I simply didn’t see Ryken making enough connections to the redemptive historical storyline for my taste, or even to the thought flow of the book itself in a macro sort of way. Ryken didn’t do enough, I don’t think, to show how 1 Kings leads to Christ. (For more on that, see my review of the excellent God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of Scripture.)
But here’s the good: Ryken’s treatment of the trees is still valuable. It’s straightforward, reliable, sane—not prone to fits of allegorical fancy or to hobby horse races. Even if the moral examples of the various characters are not (in my estimation) the main point of the text, they are very important sources of divine revelation. And Ryken mines them faithfully.
Here’s another good: One of the main reasons I sometimes get volumes of sermons like this is to benefit from the hard work of others in collecting illustrations that I can feel free to lift (well, the book isn’t free!). Ryken did good, hard work here.
Another slight negative: every once in a while I felt his applications were a bit simplistic (e.g., he spent a good deal of time enlarging on Jehoshaphat’s desire to check with God before doing something), but that can be hard to avoid in a book like Kings. We are so far removed from those historical circumstances that finding appropriate parallels is a difficult task that Ryken generally manages well.
And one last slight negative to the budget-conscious (whether in time or finances!): Ryken often cites the following commentators: Provan (NIBC), Wiseman (TNTC), Davis (FB), and Leithart (BTC). These men just happen to be among the top seven commentators on Kings at bestcommentaries.com. Having just completed an exposition of a great deal of 1 Kings, I can say that Ryken and bestcommentaries.com were both right: these four commentaries are worth having and consulting.
But after you’ve checked those commentaries, how much time will you have to read Ryken’s sermons? Davis’s commentaries are already themselves sermons, and Davis is a bit more energetic and scintillating than Ryken—he also makes more connections to redemptive history (i.e., to Jesus). Plus, sermons take more time to wade through than more compressed exegetical commentaries like Provan (who is truly excellent, a must-have).
Here’s my advice: get House (NAC) and Provan (NIBC) first, because exegesis and literary sensitivity ought to come first. Then sample Davis and Ryken, because homiletics comes second. If you like Ryken’s sermons more—if they fit your personality better—then his illustrations and observations will probably be more helpful to you and you should buy him over Davis. I sometimes can’t imagine using some of the illustrations Davis chooses. They’re just not me. Ryken’s are a better fit.
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Mark L. Ward, Jr., Ph.D. is a recent graduate of the BJ Seminary New Testament Interpretation program and has worked since 2006 at BJU Press as a high school Bible curriculum author and Biblical Worldview Team member. Before that he spent five years at a research center in the Mack Library. He blogs at βλογάπη.