Have you ever heard a sermon on the Tabernacle? Hyde, a United Reformed Church pastor in California, thinks you probably haven’t. Hence God in Our Midst: The Tabernacle and Our Relationship with God (Reformation Trust, 2012), a collection of 17 sermons on the second half of the book of Exodus.
Hyde deals with most of the facets of the Tabernacle, from the furniture to the priests to the permanency—or impermanency—of the structure. His sermonic style is low-key, unobtrusive. The truths of the text are applied sparingly, but powerfully, without fancy illustrations or overblown comparisons with the latest bestselling fiction. He illustrates his points with the words of Reformation-era confessions of faith and is more likely to appeal to the church fathers than to contemporary commentators. His work is solid, not brilliant: Reading God in Our Midst, you will never say, “What a great preacher Danny Hyde is!”
Hyde refuses to follow the allegorical excess of previous interpreters of the Tabernacle, but he is not averse to embracing the lessons that it clearly contains. For example, he rightly sees the floor plan of the Tabernacle as a microcosm of redemption. The worshiper entered the east side of the holy enclosure, and moved west to enter the tent. Humans were originally sent into exile east of Eden; westward travel into God’s presence shows a return to Edenic fellowship. The worshiper passed the altar of burnt offering before entering the tent; this shows that one can come into God’s presence only after having been cleansed by a sacrifice for sin.
More than anything, Hyde’s work proclaims the glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who tabernacled among us. As few preachers can, he has gotten out of the way of his message: At the end of each sermon, you will say, “What a magnificent Savior Jesus Christ is!”
With a movie-quote title, this book is pretty deeply theological. In case you missed the reference, Seamands, a United Methodist theology professor, explains that the title comes from the 1953 film classic Martin Luther. In Give Them Christ: Preaching His Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and Return (IVP Books, 2012), he quotes from Charles Spurgeon and John Wesley to make his case that holding up Christ and His work of incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and return is the task of all ministers at all times. The case he doesn’t make: that every Christian needs to preach to himself every day. Nonetheless, Seamands’ book can strengthen your private devotional life—or your Sunday morning homilies.
This is not a book of sermon outlines, or even homiletical tips; rather, it divides the major events of Christ’s life up into smaller facets, each of which can become good sermon material in capable hands. The best part of the book is the final chapter, in which Seamands explains the “so what?”of Christ’s return, rather than the “what?”that American Christians so obsessively discuss in prophecy conferences and apocalyptic thrillers. For example, what was the last sermon you heard on the personal return of Christ—that the very same Jesus who ascended is the one who will come back? Seamands also explains how the signs of His coming complement (not contradict) its suddenness.
To an evangelical, some of Seamands’ chosen facets can feel rather awkwardly mainline; can pastors really preach against “social evil”? Also, though everything affirmed in Give Them Christ is orthodox, the book frequently quotes notorious liberals Karl Barth and Emil Brunner with evident approval, and at points Seamands parrots the theologically shaky positions of N.T. Wright without the latter’s beguiling brilliance.
Rightly read, Seamands’ book will make readers fall to their knees in worship—which will ultimately make them better preachers, even to themselves.