Intrusive Word: Preaching to the Unbaptized, by William H. Willimon, Eugene, Oregon, 2002.  Previously published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

At the back of the book we find the following remarks: "The Intrusive Word presents preaching as an act of evangelism in today's church.  In his lively, pointed, and at times humorous style, Willimon shows how today's pastors must revise their preaching task as part of the church's joyful attempt to proclaim Christ.  Each chapter is followed by one of Willimon's own sermons illustrating his concerns in a practical, biblical way.  Readers of this book will experience rebirth and renewal in their own lives as the Word of God gracefully intrudes.  Pastors and students of homiletics will find imaginative models of evangelistic preaching that demonstrate that 'preaching in the service of anything less than a living, intrusive God is not worth the effort.’

 Dr William H. Willimon has been Dean of the Chapel and Professor of Christian Ministry at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina since 1984.  Eugene Peterson writes, "Willimon on preaching is the freshest voice in the country right now."

"The gospel is not a set of interesting ideas about which we are supposed to make up our minds.  The gospel is intrusive news that evokes a new set of practices, a complex of habits, a way of living in the world, discipleship.” (p.39)

The key word is "intrusive.”  Willimon thinks that we need to understand this when we present Jesus to those outside the faith.  Intrusive suggests a message unlike any other, something akin to a loose cannon on the deck.  Something that invades the souls of unsuspecting people and, while being preached, may affect those inside the church just as much as it affects those outside.

Willimon begins with the story of Verleen, a single mother of two children living in the "project."  Verleen is the sort of person many Christians believe need to be reached, but NIMB (for "not in my backyard," read "church").

The significance of Verleen's story lies in the fact that she, representing the unbaptized, not only began to engage the intrusive Word of Christ when she heard it for the first time, but, as a result, the "baptized" (even the preacher) were also engaged, in ways none expected.  The rest of the book is built with that story in mind.  If you are a preacher, you will want to read the story to your people.  I did it once and they loved it.

Willimon is not overly impressed with those who have gone out of their way to understand evangelism and church growth, marketing and "seeker-sensitivity."  He does not think the gospel needs to be defended.  Just preached.

Amazingly, this college professor is not greatly concerned that the preaching of Jesus be acceptable to the "thinker" because, ultimately, one does not think his or her way to faith.  And while the author is masterful at putting the evangel into terms the hearer can perceive, he suggests that we should not be surprised when some folks simply do not understand it.  Perhaps they never will.  That is sad, but OK.

"Alas, most allegedly evangelistic preaching I know about,” Willimon writes, "is an effort to drag people even deeper into their subjectivity rather than an attempt to rescue them, from it.  This spells big trouble for most of my preaching.  Too much of my preaching begins at what I judge to be 'where people are.'  Then, in twenty minutes, I attempt to move them to the gospel"  (p.38).  This is quite an admission for one of the best preachers in America to make.

On the one hand, we pursue faith in a day when the large majority of professing Christians appear to have ceased caring about evangelism.  Not that they are not thrilled at the sight of a Billy Graham crusade.  And not that they do not express approval for those who still engage people in persuasive conversations.  But it seems many have been subtly affected by a cultural pluralism that says, "I'm glad I have Jesus, and you have Shirley MacLaine.  Now we're both happy.  What do you think about the Celtics' chances this year?"

On the other hand, we have a lot of sparkling communicators who have given us "worship services" designed for the unbeliever who are tired of (and withdrawn from) the traditional church.  This "worship," marked with marvelously produced contemporary music, drama, and sound/light displays, could thrill any of us.

I put the word worship in quotes because, while I thoroughly enjoy it and admire the people who do it, I don't think it is genuine worship.  Wonderful stuff.  Praise, maybe.  Pre-evangelism, in certain cases.  But not worship.

To those culturally induced to loosen up on persuasion and to those who have gone the extra mile to wrap the gospel in the most scintillating packages, Willimon has written a classic book.

The subtitle of The Intrusive Word (Preaching to the Unbaptized) warns that Willimon has his eye on the subject of evangelism.  But one had better be careful; the author has readied an ambush.  Before we learn how to preach to the rest of the world, Willimon suggests that we need to take a look at ourselves.  Perhaps, in the largest sense of the word, we, the so-called baptized, need to "remember our baptism" before we can be of any use to those who still need it.

Remember our baptism?  Willimon: "I contend that, through evangelism, through repeated confrontation with the intrusive grace of God, the church can be born again. By letting God use us in God’s never-ending pursuit of the unbaptized, the baptized can rediscover what it means to be the church, that unlikely gathering of those who are called to sign, signal, and witness to the graciousness of God in a world dying for lack of salvation” (p.5).

The church?  In need of being born again?  It is quote exemplary of the way Willimon forces the reader to think about things about which some may have grown complacent.

William Willimon, a Methodist, contends that evangelism's goal is to bring people to baptism.  But in preaching to the unbaptized, a remarkable thing is likely to happen.  The preacher and the baptized may experience transformation too.  Implication: if one is not calling others, one just may not be making significant moves toward Christ.

"We preachers so want to be heard” Willimon writes, "that we are willing to make the gospel more accessible than it really is, to remove the scandal, the offense of the cross, to deceive people into thinking that it is possible to hear without conversion” (p.19).

But the Word, he proposes, will come when and where it wants, to people of God's own choosing.  And those of us in the church may not always feel comfortable with the "Verleens" of society who enter and are drawn to the fresh Word of Christ.  Their initial witness may sound embarrassing to church-shaped ears.  But we may all be in for a surprise.  In their baptism into faith, we may find ourselves in need of re-baptism.

"Everyone is in the conversion business.” Willimon notes (p.95).  Every time one person communicates with another, there is an element of persuasion involved.  Why should the church be embarrassed by the notion that it has been called by Christ to offer a new version of reality whose starting point is the Cross and the One who died there?

I think you are going to like this one – but at the same time, maybe, you may not like it.  Having read through it a number of times, I found myself appraising some of my latest sermons.  I detected in them some evidence of a lack of boldness, a slight hint of intimidation, even a moment or two of apology.  I think I saw a tendency to guard the gospel I was preaching from being too intrusive, too confronting.  And then I read Willimon again and I repented before God.  

(Reviewed by Dr John Lim.  This book is available at BGST Library.)


This week's chapel we featured our very own Dean, Dr Quek Swee Hwa.  He spoke on "The Tyranny of Time."  Time flies!  We all have a problem with time.  Time is limited to our present situation but not in eternity.  Dr Quek shared from Eccles. 1 and 3 on three matters concerning time:

  1. There is a season and a time to everything.  Vanished hours are gone forever.  We have the tendency to waste a lot of time and never achieve anything.  We need, therefore, to use and enjoy the time that is given to us.

  2. God has made everything beautiful in its time.  Only He can transform the ugly into something that is of beauty.

  3. Time is a gift of God.  We must, therefore, treasure the time given to do something good and honorable for Him.

 Chapel next week on September 17 will  be taken by Dr Philip Satterthwaite.


  1. New Testament Foundations (II) by Dr Oh Boon Leong will commence on 19 September. Registration is still open. Fees: $300.

  2. Two previews of the Bible Lands Study Tour were conducted. We are giving our BGST contact priority in booking before releasing places to others. Please note that the deadline for indicating your interest is Sept.19!    


Mr Albert Cheng Kok Seong  8/9

Rev Louis Tay  8/9

Dr Tan Hun Hoe  8/9

Ms Ang Siew Lin  9/9

Mr Bernard Chia  9/9

Mrs Lim Lee Choo  10/9

Mr Ho Beng Guan  11/9

flower pot

Mr Joseph Lim  12/9

Mrs Jennifer Loh 12/9

Assoc Prof. David Chew  12/9

Ms Aw Yeong Yuen Yue  12/9

Mrs Catherine Tcheau  13/9

Mr Toh Beng Guan  14/9

Mrs Susie Yong  14/9

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