A conversation with R. Kent Hughes
R. Kent Hughes was in pastoral ministry for 41 years, the last 27 as senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. He earned his B.A. from Whittier College (history), an M.Div. from Talbot Seminary and a D.Min. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Kent is the author of numerous books, among them the best-selling Disciplines of a Godly Man. He is also editor of the projected 50-volume Preaching the Word series to which he has made numerous contributions.
I had a chance to sit down with Dr. Hughes and ask him to share how this series came about and to reflect about the role a commentary can play in a preacher’s study.
Of the 29 volumes of the Preaching The Word Commentary, you wrote 22 volumes.
How did this project start?
I was [the pastor] at College Church in Wheaton which had lots of students and academics. I was very careful about doing all of my work on my sermons and then making them come alive when I preached. Lane Dennis (President of Crossway) and I were at an event and he approached me about publishing my sermons. We came up with the name Preaching the Word, which comes from 2 Timothy 4:2.
As you wrote a particular commentary, what goals did you have in mind?
The commentaries are homiletically arranged with careful attention to history, background, words, structure, and theology and with a focus on clarity in how they are presented. It’s important to also know that the content of each commentary has been preached live before a congregation.
If you were to pick the type of person that The Preaching the Word series is aimed at, who would it be?
It’s aimed at pastors, small group leaders, and Bible study groups. For preachers, it’s not meant to be a substitute for personal study. It’s important that you do your own work first and then come to a commentary like Preaching the Word. If you come right to the commentary without doing your own study and outline first, then you’ll most likely end up preaching the commentary.
If I’m going to preach on a specific book of the Bible, what role should a commentary play in my sermon preparation?
If it were a small book like Philippians, I’d first read it 30-40 times through, mostly in my preferred translation but also in some others. If you’re able to, also read it in the Greek. Then I’d ask, “What is the big theme of the book?” and look at structure, turning points, and applications – just try to get the text inside of me. Then I’d try and think of how to break up the book homiletically – how many sermons, where to break up the passages, and do my best to outline it.
Then, having done that, I’d open up a commentary and modify my sermon where needed. You should use a commentary like Preaching the Word as a part of your sermon-prep process. But if you use a commentary to start your process, you will become a commentary cripple.
When you look back at your own preaching ministry, what are a few things you wish you would have known as a young preacher that you’d exhort other young preachers toward today?
This matter of doing your own work is very, very important. You can borrow from all kinds of people and not really do your own thinking. The hardest thing to do is to sit down with the biblical text and ask God to help you. Do your own work first and then you can use a commentary to help you adjust.