Privilege the Text – Abraham Kuruvilla

privilegeKuruvilla, Abraham. Privilege the Text!: A Theological Hermeneutic for Preaching. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2013.

Too often homiletics assumes hermeneutics. In our pursuit of an effective practice of preaching, we too often neglect the prior concern for accurate exegesis. It will not be helpful for us to communicate well, if the content of our communication is poorly founded.

It is to this concern that Abraham Kuruvilla has focused himself. More than just a book about interpretation, his is a study of an approach to hermeneutics that is theologically tuned to the specific task and interest of the preacher. In this he is filling a significant felt need. Kuruvilla quotes David Buttrick, who said, “The odd idea that preachers can move from text to sermon without recourse to theology by some exegetical magic or leap of homiletic imagination is obvious nonsense (p.90).” Kuruvilla wants to offer this theological move so that preachers can more readily move across the gap from the study of the text to the preaching of it.

Haddon Robinson is famous for asking the subject/complement question. The subject provides “what the text is talking about.” The complement adds “what the text is saying about what it is talking about.” Kuruvilla’s contribution takes things further, asking “what the text is doing with what it is saying” (about what it is talking about). This, he suggests takes things to a deeper, theological level that assumes both the intention and activity of God. God is doing things through his Word, and preaching that looks for this intention will lead the listener to responses that are congruent with God’s own action.

This approach offers a future-directedness to preaching, which means that preachers will need to look for a “trans-historical intention – a conceptual entity projected by the text that carries its thrust beyond the immediate time-space circumstances of the writing… (44).” In fact, Kuruvilla describes three “facets of meaning” – the original textual sense, the trans-historical intention, and the exemplification. He also offers two facets of application: exemplification (overlapping the two categories), and significance. He gives the following example: “no drunkenness with wine” might be the original textual sense; “no drunkenness with alcohol” would be the trans-historical intention, “no drunkenness with vodka” would be the exemplification, “cancel subscription to Wine Spectator” might be an example of a significant application (64).

Kuruvilla’s “trans-historical intention” sounds a lot like the “principlizing” championed by Walter Kaiser and others. Kuruvilla, however sees a distinction. “There is … the tacit assumption in principlizing that, once one distinguishes those elements in the text that are not time – or culture – bound, these unconstrained principles are more valuable than the text itself.” He takes direct issue with Kaiser who according to Kuruvilla, “thinks that cultural issues ‘intrude’ on the text (128).” For Kuruvilla, this is an example of what Fred Craddock described as “boiling off all the water and then preaching the stain at the bottom of the cup (128).”

Preaching, according to Kuruvilla is more pragmatic than this. “Application,” he says, “is the alignment of God’s people to God’s demand (135).” It is the divine demand that drives everything for Kuruvilla’s hermeneutic and for his preaching also. A great example of this is found in his approach to the preaching of the law. “The fundamental change between the old and new covenants, then, is not a change in law or divine demand: that remains the same always. Rather, the newness is in the Spirit-aided means of keeping divine demand, and empowerment available to every believer in this dispensation as a consequence of the work of Christ (171).” So, for example, Christians, by attending to the theology of the legal text, can obey by doing what they would have been expected to do if those laws were given in this contemporary day (186).”

Perhaps the most controversial part of Kuruvilla’s book is the challenge that he offers to the redemptive-historical approach to gospel preaching. He particularly challenges Bryan Chapell’s “fallen-condition focus” approach, which in Kuruvilla’s mind, reduces every text to the same basic message. In contrast, he offers a “Christiconic” approach which respects the integrity of OT pericopes, seeking to discover what their authors were doing with what they were saying. “What the author is doing with what he is saying points to what aspect of each character is exemplary and what is not, i.e., what is Christlike and what is not. In other words, the protagonist of all Scripture is actually Jesus Christ (266).”

This is a challenging book, both in terms of its reading level, but also for its content. Before we ever think about how we preach, we need to sort out what we are going to preach. For that, Kuruvilla is instructive.

Thoughts about Guest Preaching

As a seminary president, I do a lot of guest preaching. I consider it a tremendous privilege to be able to experience the working of God in a variety of settings and congregations. It is nice to receive a glowing introduction, though it also offers a fair bit of pressure – especially when you are introduced as someone who writes books about preaching! The truth is that all the real advantages are with the local preacher who is there every week, who knows the people and who has built up a reservoir of trust.

Still, most of us have opportunity to serve as guest preachers from time to time. A recent blogpost by Pete Wilson over at Sermon Central describe some of the things we will want petewilsonto pay special attention to when we take the platform as a guest

1. Don’t go over your allotted time.

2. Don’t make controversial statements the church staff are going to have to clean up later.

3. Respect the methodology of the church you are speaking in.

4. Take a moment to give honour and respect to the pastor and staff.

I agree heartily with all of these – especially the latter one. One of my favourite things to do when visiting a church is to make kind comments about the pastor, who could probably use the encouragement – especially given the fact that you’re about to preach what might be one of your best, most polished sermons.

To Wilson’s encouragements, I might add another…

5. Learn whatever you can from the experience. We get so embedded in our own churches that it can be difficult to have perspective about what is going on. Preaching in another church help us both appreciate what we have in our own church, but also give us insight into things that we might be able to adapt for the benefit of our home congregation.

Whether at home or on the road, preaching is our privilege. We want always to practice our calling respectfully.

Folly, Grace, and Power

One of my mentors once said that “preaching is the crowning discipline”, because no matter what other subject in theological education that we might be studying, eventually we are going to have to preach it. What he probably should have also said is that while preaching might, in some sense crown theology, it most definitely rests upon theology. That is to say that a healthy understanding of preaching and its effects, builds necessarily upon a strong theology that gives our preaching its foundation.

For that reason, I am grateful for John Koessler’s Folly, Grace, and Power, which is, in my view, the most helpful expression of a theology of preaching that I have seen in many years. In his preface to the book, Koessler refers to Richard Lischer’s A Theology of Preaching, which had impressed itself on me almost twenty years ago. Lischer’s sense that “Preaching suffers a certain theological homelessness” is a claim that has been rectified, in some measure by Koessler’s thoughtful and courageous engagement with this “mysterious act” that we call preaching.

Koessler is the chair of the Pastoral Ministries department at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and so serves as a trustworthy guide for this engagement with some of the thornier questions in homiletic theology. Why does God entrust something so precious as his will to fallen and finite human messengers? How is preaching both a human and a divine Word at the same time? How does the preacher animate the text without altering it? How is the authority of preaching affected by the quality of the preacher’s hermeneutic? How does the priestly nature of the sermon connect with its prophetic element? How does imagination function in relation to realism in our preaching? If you have every tried to preach with care, you will understand the challenge of these questions.

Koessler adopts an integrative, both/and perspective to these questions. Preaching is both human and holy. It is both the word of the preacher even as it communicates the very word of God. I love that Koessler takes a high view of preaching, without diminishing the involvement of the human listener. “Those who preach do not give advice,” he say, “they declare (57).” Preaching is proclamation in that it challenges us to see that “the lived theology of the biblical text becomes the experienced theology of the congregation (128).”

Preaching, in Koessler’s hands, is not a simple, exercise in polite communication. “Lord, what could you possibly have been thinking,” is the missing question from many of our sermons, he believes (p.99). We communicate God’s Word not so much to make us comfortable, but to astonish or even to dismay. “The prophetic nature of preaching gives us authority to make demands of the listener. The priestly nature of preaching obligates us to make demands of the text (96).”

Buy this book and clear some time. Read it slowly and let it revolutionize your preaching. I know my students will. I’ll be assigning it to them!

Koessler, John. Folly, Grace, and Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Excellence in Preaching

I am always interested in hearing from and about the most prominent preachers of any particular era, so I was pleased to see the release of Simon Vibert’s Excellence in Preaching (IVP 2011). Vibert comes from the Centre for Preaching at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, so he brings a trans-Atlantic sensibility to the task, focusing on 13 preachers that God is currently using in significant ways.

The preachers featured includes those from the United States: TIm Keller, John Piper, John Ortberg, Mark Driscoll, and Mark Dever; those from the United Kingdom: Vaughn Roberts, Simon Ponsonby, J. John, Nicky Gumbel, Rico Tice, and Alistair Begg; along with one Australian, David Cook to round out the mix. As with any such list, one could quibble about those included or neglected. One could not argue that all of these preachers are worthy of consideration.

Vibert’s method is to describe each preacher, suggest reasons why each is “a good communicator”, and then offer a number of relevant lessons for other preachers coming out of his analysis. My assessment is that he does a reasonable job of summing up the ministry of each and pointing us to some things worth our attention. The problem is that the chapters are too short to allow for any kind of depth analysis. It may be that Vibert’s take on each preacher is right on the mark, but the book’s format doesn’t really give the space to prove the author’s claims. Vibert doesn’t seem concerned to critique the preachers he features, neglecting to discuss some of the more controversial elements of some of his subjects work. Vibert sees a virtue in Driscoll’s directness, for example, while others take offense. Yet this is probably not the book’s intent. As a summative description introducing the reader to the work of each preacher, this book serves quite nicely.

Reflecting in an overall sense can be fruitful. In the book’s conclusion, Vibert attempts to consolidate his leanings into a kind of master list of characteristics of great preachers. I was more struck, however, by the diversity of these preachers. John Ortberg’s humor is quite distinct from John Piper’s exposition. Vaughn Roberts counsels three point sermons. Tim Keller, not so much. That this is to be expected belies the sense that excellence in preaching can be distilled into formula. Vibert, of course, understands this. The strength of his presentation is in the call that all of us find our authority in the Scriptures, while dedicating ourselves to diligence in the development of the homiletic craft. In that pursuit, good examples are always welcome.

Simon Vibert, Excellence in Preaching: Studying the Craft of Leading Preachers, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011

Preaching as Worship

One of my frustrations with church has been the way that we typically separate preaching from worship. One of the churches I attended years ago seemed to have a particular problem with this dis-integrative tendency.

I loved this church. We would enjoy an extended time of musical worship, led by one of the most talented teams I have ever encountered. But then the “worship” would end. The platform would be changed with a pulpit brought out. The children noisily would leave. People dug out their papers and pencils. The pastor cracked a few jokes while fiddling with his lapel mike.

Everything about that transition signalled that we were no longer worshipping. Now we were about to receive teaching – valuable teaching for sure, but we were clearly no longer engaged in the act of worship.

For that reason, I was pleased to receive Michael Quicke’s new book, Preaching as Worship: An Integrative Approach to Formation in Your Church. The concern is timely and Quicke’s instruction is both thorough and insightful.

Integration is a difficult thing, and so it is probably fair to say that this book has more to say about worship than it does about preaching. I might suggest that it is probably best to read Preaching as Worship alongside Quicke’s earlier book, 360-Degree Preaching. Integrating these two resources will give the reader a fuller understanding of the ways by which biblical preaching and worship can combine to good effect.

Quicke applies some of the same tools that he introduced in 360-Degree Preaching, most notably, “the preaching swim” which here he re-purposes as “the worship swim.” ‘Swim’ is Quicke’s metaphor for the process of preparing to preach/worship. The book is helpful in describing tangible ways to go about creating a greater sense of collaboration between preachers and worship leaders, an aspect that is missing from many other similar books.

We should probably acknowledge, however, that all of this is going to take a lot more of our time – or perhaps will require a re-allocation of some of the ways by which we use our time. I would quickly add, however, that we don’t have to reject this approach for that reason. It may be that by embracing a more collaborative approach to our worship/preaching that we will end up with a more powerful result.

For example, I thought Quicke’s encouragement to use blogging as a way of enhancing this collaboration to be both current and helpful. I might add that involving worship leaders in the development of one’s sermonic thinking will lead to deeper, more reflective preaching as well.

The early stages of the book offer a deep theological discussion of the nature of both preaching and worship and how the two are properly read together. I particularly liked Quicke’s use of the term “myopic preaching” which he uses to describe preaching that avoids the “big picture” in favor of smaller, technical, bits of exegesis, unfortunately isolated from larger trinitarian themes. We ought to listen closely to Quicke on this matter.

At its best, the preacher is the church’s primary worship leader. Preaching ought to worship. Worship ought to preach. Quicke’s reminder of these things is welcome.


Michael J. Quicke, Preaching as Worship: An Integrative Approach to Formation in Your Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011.

Invitation to Biblical Preaching

Sunukjian, Donald R. Invitation to Biblical Preaching: Proclaiming Truth with Clarity and Relevance. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel 2007.

Don Sunukjian, a key figure in evangelical homiletics, has just released his magnum opus, Invitation to Biblical Preaching. Sunukjian, professor of preaching and chair of the Christian Ministry and Leadership department at Talbot School of Theology, has contributed to many books on preaching and to this website. Now he has given us his long awaited, comprehensive statement of his homiletic approach.

The primary interest of the book is the presentation of the Scripture with “clarity” and with “relevance.” The book succeeds on both counts. Sunukjian has always championed clarity in the presentation of Scripture while at the same time emphasizing the life situation of the listeners. It is this dual approach that makes his preaching so effective.

Sunukjian is a careful expositor of Scripture in the classic declarative mode. Much of what he offers follows the lead of his close friend and mentor Haddon Robinson, though sometimes with altered terminology. For example, Robinson’s “big idea” becomes the “take-home truth” in Sunukjian’s treatment. This reflects his concern to especially emphasize the application element of the sermon, something that Robinson also appreciates.

Sunukjian’s process moves from “the passage outline” (what happened) to “the truth outline” (what happens) to “the sermon outline” (what is happening). Note, however, that the sermon is always outlined. The idea of plotting a sermon, or utilizing narrative or genre-specific approaches to the task is not given a great deal of space in the book.

The strength of this book is its detail. Every instruction is carefully illustrated through examples from biblical texts, serving to help the reader understand exactly what he has in mind. Sunukjian’s own preaching bubbles up through the text on almost every page.

Preaching can take many forms. There is no one way to get to the result of a biblically faithful sermon, thus writers like Sunukjian offer us the best advice they know on the subject. In this case, the instruction offered is a bit complicated. Yet, preachers who follow it will serve their congregations well.


Brief Excerpt
“To present the true and exact meaning of the biblical text” means the sermon must unfold according to the natural flow of thought of the biblical author. If Isaiah were listening to a sermon from his writings, he should be thinking to himself, “Yes, that’s what I was saying, and that’s how it fits this crowd.” But if Isaiah hears the sermon, shakes his head, and says, “What? No! No!” the preacher is in trouble. Biblical preaching takes great pains to present the ideas and sequence of thought of the inspired biblical author.” (10)


Between Two Worlds

Stott, John R. W. Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982.

Years ago, as a young preacher, I became frustrated with a widening gap that I was discerning in the practice of preaching. The culture was changing and everybody could perceive it, but preachers found two distinct ways of responding to it. Many preachers, concerned about their dwindling audiences began to dig deeper, struggling mightily to parse an extra verb and to pound the pulpit just a little extra harder. These people tended to have something to say but fewer and fewer people to say it to. Then there were the other preachers who in the name of relevance found creative ways to communicate their sermons on “How to improve your marriage” or the “Three Keys to Integrity in Business.” These preachers were able to draw a crowd, but they didn’t necessarily have much to say. John Stott anticipated this problem more than twenty years ago and he has something to say to it. Stott has taken the classic “bridge” model of preaching and offered a careful presentation of what it might look like if preachers could speak deeply from the Scriptures in a way that listeners perceive to be creative and relevant. This is a worthy challenge.


Excerpt: The contrast I have been drawing between the two main theological groupings in today’s churches seems to me to be one of the greatest tragedies of our time. On the one hand, conservatives are biblical but not contemporary, while on the other liberals and radicals are contemporary but not biblical. Why must we polarize in this naive way, however? Each side has a legitimate concern, the one to conserve God’s revelation, the other to relate meaningfully to real people in the real world. Why can we not combine each other’s concerns? Is it not possible for liberals to learn from conservatives the necessity of conserving the fundamentals of historic, biblical Christianity, and for conservatives to learn from liberals the necessity of relating these radically and relevantly to the real world? Meanwhile, each group stays on its favorite side of the cultural chasm, and almost nobody seems to be building bridges. Yet we preachers are supposed to be in the business of communication. A lecture has been wittily defined as the transfer of information from the lecturer’s notes to the student’s, without it passing through the mind of either; but sermons should not be equally dismal examples of non-communication. We should be praying that God will raise up a new generation of Christian communicators who are determined to bridge the chasm; who struggle to relate God’s unchanging Word to our ever-changing world; who refuse to sacrifice truth to relevance or relevance to truth; but who resolve instead in equal measure to be faithful to Scripture and pertinent to today (144).


Heralds of God

Stewart, James S. Heralds of God: A Practical Book on Preaching. Reprint. Vancouver, BC: Regent Publishing, 2001 (1946).

When Preaching magazine declared James Stewart the greatest preacher of the 20th century, it was largely on the strength of this book. Even today, it drips with passion. I wouldn’t turn here to find detailed instruction on the construction of a sermon fitted for contemporary times. I would turn here to find encouragement. Stewart understands that preaching is about helping people hear from God. He constantly reminds his readers to preach as if God himself is present and active in the preaching process. “Did they hear from God today?” Stewart asks of the preacher, prone to informational preaching. There is a worshipful tone to this book which I’m sure is quite intentional. He decries attempts to segregate preaching from worship, a problem that continues to this day. Preachers tend to read only the newest books and I understand why. Preaching must speak in the idioms of the day. Yet if preachers never read a book like Stewart’s they will impoverish themselves.

Excerpt: There is no reason why your ministry should not achieve visible results, provided you keep alive within you a sense of the wonder of the facts you preach and of the urgency of the issues with which you deal. Every Sunday morning when it comes ought to find you awed and thrilled by the reflection – “God is to be in action today, through me, for these people: this day may be crucial, this service decisive, for someone now ripe for the vision of Jesus.” (page 47)


Preaching the Atonement

Stevenson, Peter K. and Stephen I. Wright. Preaching the Atonement. London, UK: T&T Clark, 2005.

In the fall of 2004 I had the great privilege of spending five months in sabbatical at Spurgeon’s College in London, England. Stephen Wright and Peter Stevenson were gracious hosts to me during that time. They are also able scholars and friends. While there I was asked to contribute a sermon to a book they were editing on the preaching of the atonement. The result was that my sermon, “Happy Endings” was published as part of their chapter on Isaiah 53, “The Suffering of a Servant.” My sermon, using the Cinderella story as a metaphor, allowed the editors to apply the technical and exegetical data into the life of the church by means of a creative sermon that communicates what the text intends. This, then, is the template for the whole book. Each chapter focuses on a specific biblical text, describing a biblical theology of the atonement, culminating in some very helpful sermons. The result, then, is not a systematic theology but a text-driven, exegetical approach to this subject which is currently much discussed. Stevenson, a Baptist theologian, and Wright, an Anglican parables scholar, bring a nice blend of backgrounds and interests to the subject. This book will deepen those willing to accept its challenge. I’m pleased to have had a small part.


Table of Contents:

1. The Cost of a Father’s Commitment: Genesis 22:1-19

2. Taking Away Their Iniquities: Leviticus 16:15-22

3. The Suffering of a Servant: Isaiah 52:13-53:12

4. The Crucified God: Mark 15:25-39

5. Forgiveness From the Cross: Luke 23:32-43

6. The Word Became Flesh: John 1:1-14

7. The Achievement of God’s Justice: Romans 3:21-26

8. The Reconciliation of the World: 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2

9. The Decisive Victory: Colossians 2:8-15

10. The Final Sacrifice: Hebrews 9:11-14

Tom Long says: “Preaching the Atonement is a thoughtful and provocative book on a most important topic. Any preacher who has shied away from preaching about the difficult themes of the cross and the atonement will, by virtue of the solid biblical essays and the creative sermons in this volume, be encouraged to take the plunge into the deep end of the theological pool.” Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching, Candler School of Theology


Doctrine that Dances

Smith Jr., Robert. Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 2008.

I don’t hear a great deal of doctrinal preaching these days. I hear a lot of pragmatic preaching, a lot of exegetical preaching, a lot of narrative preaching, but not so much preaching that intends to explicate the great doctrines of the Scripture for the edification of the hearers. Perhaps this has something to do with a corresponding ebb in the interest of systematic theological studies in favor of the more emergent-friendly biblical theology movement. Or perhaps it is because not enough of us know how to handle doctrine in a sermon the way that Robert Smith does.

Smith, professor of Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University is the author of Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life. As one who has come from a background that discouraged dancing in the church, I find Smith’s choreographical metaphor to be both illuminating and refreshing. It is probably even biblical. Smith notes the presence of the Greek word “epichoregias” in Philippians 1:19. In this text the Holy Spirit “choreographs” events so that they turn out for Paul’s deliverance. Would not we love for the Spirit to work similarly through our preaching of the doctrines of God’s Word?

Of course, one could wonder whether Smith is talking specifically about good doctrinal preaching, or just good preaching in general. His definition of doctrinal preaching is “the escorting of the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation.” I think that this offers an excellent definition of every kind of preaching, which begs the question whether every kind of preaching ought to be doctrinal, at least to some degree. Throughout my reading of the book I found myself saying, he’s not just describing good doctrinal preaching, he’s just describing good preaching! What I am suggesting is that this book cannot be dismissed as limited to a particular brand of preaching.

That said, the world could use a lot more preaching that was intentional about communicating doctrine. In our attempts to accommodate the listener, we sometimes give the truth something less than what its due. People don’t know enough theology and while I’d love to think that we are addressing this problem through the seminaries, I know that most of this needs to happen in the church. Much of it will need to happen through our preaching. I agree with Smith, that if preachers could awaken a new love for the truth of the Bible, that would be a good thing. “Christians are experiencing spiritual immaturity and spiritual death. One of the reasons for this is that worshippers are being served sermonic snacks instead of the doctrinal meat of the Word of God. if doctrine is presented with joy and accuracy, the hearers will not only stand it, they will crave more of it (6).”

Smith does well to remind us, that such preaching must be both “cranial and cardiological (8).” It must speak both to the listener’s heart as well as its head. Doctrinal preaching need not be boring. Doctrinal preaching, like all preaching, must learn to dance.

The use of the word “escort” in Smith’s definition is not by accident. Smith makes much of two rather provocative metaphors, the “exegetical escort” and the “doxological dancer.” Smith admits the sexual overtones of his language (76), but claims to find biblical warrant for their use in texts such as Galatians 3:24. I must say, however, that paidagogos speaks more of the language of the classroom (tutoring and training) than it does of one who ushers or escort. In other words, I think Smith might be guilty of a rather ironic exegetical slip.

That said, I have little difficulty with the concept. “The eschatological escort,” Smith writes, “is one who ushers hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation. Once the exegetical escort has ushered hearers into the presence of God and given them the Word, the escort’s job is over. The escort leaves them in the throne room of God and lets God transform them (75).”

This is an important idea. I have used a similar image – that of a ‘host’. No one ought to come to hear me preach. I’m simply hosting an opportunity for my listeners to meet and hear from God. Of course the word “host” would damage the alliterative appeal of Smith’s concept.

The question Smith would like to ask is whether we preachers know how to dance. Though I’m loathe to admit it, my family and I have taken to watching So You Think You Can Dance? every now and again. I have been surprised by my reaction to this television competition. I’ve been impressed by the combination of athleticism and artistry that these dancers are able to exhibit. Many times I have found myself moved to tears, not only by the beauty they portray but also by the message that a particular piece is sometimes able to convey. I have thought that I would love for my preaching to produce a similar kind of impact.

I, like Smith, would love to think that my preaching – even my specifically doctrinal preaching – could somehow actually dance!


Preaching as Art

Salter, Darius L. Preaching as Art: Biblical Storytelling for a Media Generation. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 2008.

Preaching is as much art as it is science. However, most of the books I have read on the subject of preaching are much heavier on the science than they are upon the art. A new book by Darius Salter seeks to address this imbalance. Preaching as Art: Biblical Storytelling for a Media Generation is a helpful addition. I appreciate a book that can bring a fresh take on the subject without straying from a core commitment to the Scriptures. This is such a book.

I have written in Choosing to Preach that listeners are wired in various ways. Some of us are technicians and some of us are artists. Preachers tend to be the former which is bad news for all the right-brained listeners in the crowd. Salter, aims to help preachers get in touch with their artistic side, challenging us to consider how preaching can tell stories, paint pictures, speak ironically, and create cinematographic presentations that help people see God and not just understand him. Salter shows how each of these techniques are found in Scripture, rooting his approach in a more fully rounded understanding of the Bible. What we are trying to do, Salter says, is “to accomplish exactly what the biblical writers attempted, to speak and write in language that can beseen (p.101).”

Preaching is not artistic for the sake of art. Art is never sufficient as an end in itself. “Preaching for art’s sake, so that observers will be awed by its eloquence and entertainment value, destroys the ultimate purpose for preaching,” Salter writes (21). Still, thinking of the sermon as an art form can be empowering. “Good art begs a response,” he continues, “which is what separates it from a fence post.” When we preach well, we call people to respond to the God that authors the texts we preach.

Thinking about the artistic side of preaching is particularly important in this media-saturated age. Many preachers have felt it sufficient to add powerpoint and film clips as a way of speaking to this reality. But preaching can be so much more than this. “The preacher,” Salter writes, “is a craftsperson. If when we create something we are most truly ourselves, I suspect the sermon is still the most creative act that the pastor accomplishes. Nothing is more composite of the pastor’s identity than the preaching moment; it aggregates – or at least exposes – the preacher’s personality, experiences, gifts, quirks, willing to work, self-security, ego strengths, compassion for people, and above all his or her relationship with God in a way that no other pastoral act does (18).”

That is worth thinking about. If Salter is right, it means that we need to work to invest more of ourselves in the preaching that we offer to our God. The preacher, he writes, “by the power of the Holy Spirit, sustained inquiry, and a God-given gift of creative art, will strive to offer a preaching sacrifice pleasing to God and fitting for the people to whom he or she is called to minister (18).”
Salter’s commitment to the Scripture is sound. “Reverence for God,” he writes, “is directly proportional to respect for the text. Preaching without concentration on Scripture is like playing tennis without a ball – it leaves too much to the imagination. The pulpit cannot focus on God without giving sustained attention to the written record He has left of His connectedness with the material world. The Bible grants authority to the pulpit(167).” The point is, that the Bible itself is a work of art. Our preaching ought to reflect that reality.

This is not a complete homiletic guidebook. It doesn’t offer a comprehensive approach to the task. What it will do is push you to consider aspects of the task that you may have left under-developed. For that, it is worth the small investment of time and money it will cost you.


Preach the Word

Ryken, Leland and Todd Wilson, eds. Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching in Honor of R. Kent Hughes. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007.

I’m pleased to recommend a new anthology on expository preaching published in honor of the life and ministry of Kent Hughes. Preach the Word, edited by Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson, offers a variety of essays of the kind that “Kent himself would like to read” championing the cause of contemporary expository preaching – the kind of preaching that Kent did, for almost four decades, primarily at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. The lineup of contributors to this book is testament not only to the quality of Hughes’ preaching but to his commitment to the cause of exposition. David Jackman, Wayne Grudem, John MacArthur, Duane Liftin, J. I. Packer, D. A. Carson, and many others have been pleased to offer their contributions, most of which are well worth reading.

It has been my observation that most of the more interesting books on preaching published in recent years have been exploring some of the creative edges of the task, while books that encourage exposition sometimes tend toward a defensive posture that renders them less interesting. I say that they are less interesting not because of any lack of interest or commitment to the cause of exposition, but simply because these books have little to say that has not already been said, usually by better and more convincing authors. I’m not too interested in books that simply reiterate things that I am already committed to.

I’m happy to say, however, that this book does not fall into that trap. The book does argue for the need for a renewed commitment to exposition, but that argument is strengthened by the fact that many of the authors bring fresh and convincing thinking to their task.

I was particularly pleased byt Leland Ryken’s chapter on “The Bible as Literature and Expository Preaching.” Here, Ryken shows how a focus on the literary form of both the text and the sermon is consistent with an expository concern. Duane Liftin makes a convincing argument that kerygma describes an interest in both the form and contentof the sermon. Don Carson gives a careful and I dare say, important, description of the challenges that face preachers in the Twenty-First century. Finally, the book ends with several chapters dedicated to creative thinking about the means of training preachers for the task.

In each case, the thinking is not reactionary, or overly defensive, but makes the case for taking the Bible seriously according to its own intention and communicating such that the voice of God is heard. There are a lot of books being published about preaching. This is one that makes a worthwhile contribution.


Biblical Preaching

Robinson, Haddon. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. 2d edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001.

This is the definitive textbook on contemporary expository preaching. Currently it is used in more than 150 Bible colleges and seminaries as a primary text for beginning preachers. Robinson’s famous question “What’s the Big Idea?” has become the fundamental issue for thousands of preachers in their effort to understand the primary intention of a given text for contemporary audiences. Exercises at the end of each chapter enhance the practicality of the book. Written in 1980, the book was ahead of its time. A recent rewrite has insured that it continues to serve as an essential primer on preaching the Word of God faithfully and powerfully in these times. Hey, that many seminaries can’t be wrong!


Excerpt: Those who hear you do not understand what you are saying unless they can answer the basic questions: What is the preacher talking about today? What is he saying about what he is talking about? Yet Sunday after Sunday men and women leave church unable to state the preacher’s basic idea because the preacher has not bothered to state it himself. When people depart in a fog, they do so at their peril. Thinking is difficult, but it stands as the essential work of the preacher. Let there be no mistake about the nature of the task. It is often slow, discouraging, overwhelming, but when God calls people to preach, He calls them to love Him with their minds. God deserves that kind of love and so do the people to whom we minister. On a cold, gloomy morning a preacher worked on his sermon from breakfast until noon with little to show for his labor. Impatiently he laid down his pen and looked disconsolately out the window, feeling sorry for himself because his sermons came so slowly. Then there flashed into his mind a thought that had profound effect on his later ministry: your fellow Christians will spend far more time on this sermon than you will. They will come from a hundred homes. They will travel a thousand miles in the aggregate to be in the service. They will spend three hundred hours participating in the worship and listening to what you have to say. Don’t complain about the hours you are spending in preparation and the agony you experience. The people deserve all you can give them. (pages 46)


The Four Voices of Preaching

Reid, Robert Stephen. The Four Voices of Preaching: Connecting Purpose and Identity Behind the Pulpit. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2006.

For years now, I have read articles and papers written by Robert Stephen Reid whose work, in some respects has paralleled my own. Now with the publication of The Four Voices of Preaching we have opportunity to consider in full, Reid’s system of understanding and classifying sermons.

Similar to the model I offered in Choosing to Preach, Reid offers a four quadrant model based on “authority” and “language.” His “nature of authority appeals” distinguish between appeals to “corporate truth” and those that pursue “personal truth.” His “nature of language appeals” distinguish between the “persuasively indeterminate appeal” and the “persuasively determinate appeals.” The result is four distinct voices for the sermon: (1) the teaching voice (argument-centered), (2) the testifying voice (formation-centered), (3) the sage voice (journey-centered), and (4) the encouraging voice (advocacy-centered). While not an exact parallel, this matches the model offered in Choosing as follows: teaching/declarative, encouraging/pragmatic, sage/narrative, and testifying/visionary.

What I take from this, is not so much that we have identified the same exact categories for preaching, but that we have both seen the way that different voices and learning styles adopt different approaches to the work of preaching. No doubt Reid’s take on the situation develops differently due to the fact that we come from different traditions and perspectives within the Christian world.

Interestingly, Reid suggests that the four voices are not options for the preacher. Rather, the preacher is to discover her or his most authentic voice and then to be true to it. “Sermon form,” he writes does not create a voice. Rather, it is an individual’s cultural assumptions about the nature of language and the nature of authority that provide the center of gravity that places one or another voice behind the wheel that brings a sermon to a successful destination (202).”

Further on he writes, “Let me be clear. One does not take up a different voice in preaching by deciding to use a different arrangement theory in preaching. Discovering a preaching voice is not a proposal for a cookbook of personas one can don for different homiletic occasions. Such a view subverts authenticity.”

No doubt, we do have our natural voices – those ways of preaching that come most comfortably to us. Still, I would not hesitate to say that a preacher does well to learn as much as possible from the various voices. As far as I am concerned, an integrative approach that utilizes aspects of all four voices will serve listeners well. After all, preaching is about creating an authentic experience of hearing the Word of God for the listener more than it is about the preacher offering an authentic self-expression.

This book is worth the consideration of serious students of preaching. It is not light reading, but is well researched and will profit those who want to think deeply about the way in which preaching is heard.


360-Degree Preaching

Quicke, Michael J. 360-Degree Preaching: Hearing, Speaking, and Living the Word. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003.

The strength of Michael Quicke’s 360 Degree Preaching is found in his challenge to the traditional preaching arc (see below). The “bridge metaphor” made popular by John Stott’s “Between Two Worlds” has served preachers and homileticians for some time. Quicke does him one better, extending the arc into a complete circle, not unlike my own integrative model of preaching, described elsewhere on this site. Quicke’s model allows for a more dynamic interplay between God (the communicator) and the listeners. It is a less tidy form of preaching that describes more accurately what actually happens in the preaching event.

The book provides a second metaphor for the process of preaching, “the preaching swim.” “The preaching swim” model visualizes swimming down a river. it begins with immersion into a flow at the river’s source. The river gathers strength as it widens and deepens, bringing life and health to people on its banks. Each week as I take my preaching journey, I live in the flowing power of God’s Word to bring it to my hearers in fresh ways (126).”

The first half of the book delivers the theory. The second half the practice. This section is comprehensive, perhaps overly so, offering 5 “stages” and 13 “phases” of preparation. While it is not likely that this method will become a standard, there are many ideas here worth the time and consideration of preachers today.


Excerpt: Preaching is much more than a communication arc of 180 degrees with the Bible and listeners at its two ends and a preacher making a connection. Many sources of power combine to make preaching effective. A model of preaching, therefore, needs to be more open and untidy to accomodate the various factors that empower the preaching event within the grace of the Triune God. … Preaching flows from God the Father, who addresses us in Scripture and in Christ, through the responses of the preacher and the people, and then back to God in the form of worship, witness and service. It involves movement through 360 degress of eventfulness as God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – speaks through his Word and empowers the preacher and convicts the listeners and transforms the lives of the preacher and the listeners. … The preaching event involves revealing, preaching, listening, and responsive living. Its dynamic, found in God and driven by God, returns to God as individuals and communities are transformed – all within the grace of the Triune God. Preaching is a God happening. (page 48, 49)


A Primer for Preachers

Pitt-Watson, Ian. A Primer for Preachers. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1986.

The most frustrating aspect of this book is that it is no longer in print. I suppose after eight printings, one shouldn’t complain. Most decent theological libraries will have a copy. Still, it seems a shame, that a book of this calibre should fade from the scene. Pitt-Watson offers a strong affirmation for the preaching of the Bible. The “text of Scripture” is the foundation of the preaching people need to hear, but not at the expense of dealing with “the text of life.” It is this level of integration that I appreciate so much in this book. That, and the insight the author brings to the listener (see below). Preachers, too long, have neglected to understand how the listener will hear the message they have to share. This book helps to redress that concern. For Pitt-Watson, the sermon is an organic entity. It is alive and dynamic as God speaks in the present tense to people who desperately need to hear his voice. Find a copy where you can. It’s worth the read.

Excerpt: Below the surface, however, tension is mounting in the listener, and sooner or later the frustration must find voice. When it comes it is usually a scream of protest that no one ever hears, but that the preacher can read all too easily in the body language of the congregation. The flaccid postures and dead faces cry to heaven with one voice: “Stop preaching at me!” What has happened? It is worth nothing what usually has happened when in ordinary conversation we say to one another, “Stop preaching!” It is invariably meant to be a severe rebuke. I say it to someone who is making my angry by insisting on telling me what to do and what not to do. I am not angry because the moral precepts being offered me are untrue – if that were the case I would say, “Stop talking nonsense.” I am angry because I am being told what I already know to be true and suspect to be no less true of the one who is “preaching at me.” I already know that I am not what I ought to be; I know I am doing things that I ought not to do and that I am leaving undone things I ought to do. Like most people, I do not live my life crippled by moral indecision, paralyzed for lack of good advice. For the most part, I know what to do; I’m just not very good at doing it. My problem is not my moral indecision, but my moral impotence. (page 17,18)


Preaching Re-Imagined

Pagitt, Doug. Preaching Re-Imagined: The Role of the Sermon in Communities of Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Preaching is one-sided, at least as it has traditionally been practiced. The sermon is a power transaction, where the preacher, privileged by position imposes the sermon with little opportunity for rebuttal or response. Doug Pagitt wants to change all that. Instead of “speaching” Pagitt offers “progressional dialogue” as way to get us talking with each other.

In Pagitt’s view, preaching needs to be more relational, less monological, and more interactive. While a little short on specifics, the book encourages a form of preaching that invests less authority in the preacher him/herself and more authority in the community. In this, he is applying current emergent church thinking to the practice of preaching. The problem, he says, is more of a “low-grade fever than a medical emergency” (76), undercutting any sense of urgency to the argument. Still, Pagitt raises a matter that many have wondered about but few have been courageous enough to challenge.

Our commitment to speaching, Pagitt believes, is a product of our professionalism, our lack of creativity, and our desire to keep control. No doubt, he is correct that the traditional sermon provides the preacher with the ability to control the process, if not the outcome in the listener’s lives. The question for Pagitt, is whether speaching really works and whether it is the most effective way to encourage people toward growth in Jesus Christ.

Whether we want to buy what Pagitt is selling might depend upon how we think about authority in preaching. A biblical view invests authority in the Word itself and not in the preacher. Biblical preachers understand that the power is not in the opinions of the preacher but in the revelation of God’s activity, character and will as it is offered in the Bible. Authority, then, resides neither in the community nor in the speacher. Authority comes from God. Whether the Word of God is best delivered through a monologue or dialogue is probably a different and lower-order question.

Dialogue can be present in the monological sermon, at least to some degree. Good preachers know how to anticipate the listener’s interests, speaking with the listener’s voice and respecting their perspective. Preachers can utilize teams to construct sermons even if they are presented by a single voice. Still, the goal is not to enshrine the opinions of the people (what my father calls “pooled ignorance”) but to help the people hear from God.

From a practical point of view, it is difficult to imagine “progressional dialogue” as a dominant form of preaching in most churches of the future. The monologue form is not likely to go away anytime soon, if for no other reason but that it is efficient. Still, anyone who can help us to a greater respect for the listener ought to be heard.


Excerpt (pages 21-24): Unfortunately, these reasons fail to tap into the most significant and perhaps most simple reason why speaching doesn’t work. The problem is that preaching, as we know it, suffers from a relationship problem. The issue isn’t simply how we present the information but whose information it is. The issue isn’t simply how we tell the story but the relationship between the teller and the hearers. The issue isn’t simply the content we present but where we get that content. The crisis isn’t how we preach or what we preach or to whom we preach but the act of preaching itself, which has devolved into speaching.

Speaching is not defined by the style of the presentation but by the relationship of the presenter to both the listeners and the content: the pastor uses a lecture-like format, often standing while the listeners are sitting. The speacher decides the content ahead of time, usually in a removed setting, and then offers it in such a way that the speacher is in control of the content, speed, and conclusion of the presentation…

Speaching stands in contrast to what I call progressional dialogue, where the content of the presentation is established in the context of a healthy relationship between the presenter and the listeners, and substantive changes in the content are then created as a result of this relationship.

It works like this: I say something that causes another person to think something she hadn’t thought before. In response she says something that causes a third person to make a comment he wouldn’t normally have made without the benefit of the second person’s statement. In turn think something I wouldn’t have thought without hearing the comments made by the other two. So now we’ve all ended up in a place we couldn’t have come to without the input we received from each other. In a real way the conversation has progressed.


The Woman in the Pulpit

Noren, Carol M. The Woman in the Pulpit. Nashville: Abingdon, 1992.

Noren’s book is unique in that it speaks specifically to female preachers. While the issue of female ordination continues to be debated among evangelicals, Noren does not largely address this particular issue. Her concern, rather, is to help those women who are already convinced of their calling and who have been given opportunity. While opportunity may exist for some, however, does not mean that preaching by women is simply a matter of replicating the approaches favored by men.

“The Sunday morning service is different when a woman preaches,” she says (9). There are cultural filters through which people listen to women speak. Rather than be frustrated by these filters, Noren is trying to help women preachers “anticipate those filters, and choose to work with them, work around them, or challenge them head on,” as necessary (10).

Specifically, Noren addresses issues surrounding authority, self-disclosure, intepretation, liturgy, and more. No matter what one’s position might be on the question of a woman’s right to preach, there will be value in hearing one woman’s perspective.


Marketplace Preaching

Miller, Calvin. Marketplace Preaching: How to Return the Sermon to Where it Belongs. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995.

Preachers are typically uncomfortable with marketing language in the context of the church and the sermon and for good reason. There is something unseemly about the attempt to sell the gospel. And yet, realistically, this is the preacher’s challenge, at least if we care about moving our message outside of our walls. This, of course, is exactly what Miller is counselling. Preaching cannot preach only to the committed. The message of the gospel is for the world at large. In order to speak effectively to this “market,” the preacher will need to learn to speak its language. Miller offers plenty of advice toward that end. While not everything in this book will strike the reader as “seminal.” There is plenty of help here for the preacher who cares.


Table of Contents:

1. Back to the Marketplace

2. The Audio-Video Sermon

3. TelePrompting the Text

4. Indicative and Inductive Truth

5. Packaging Preaching: Worship in the Marketplace

6. The Image-Driven Sermon

7. Crafting the Marketplace Sermon

8. Ten Indispensable Elements of Form and Style

9. The Form of the Marketplace Sermon


Excerpt: The Edsel may have been a great car, but it finally went out of existence and quit being manufactured. It lost out not because it was a fine automobile but because it was no longer a car that the world wanted. The Edsel was too big and too luxerious in a world wanting smaller, more economical cars. Ford lost the Edsel because it kept asking the wrong questions. Every year they asked themselves how they could make the Edsel better. They just never asked, “Do people want Edsels?” the church itself is always in danger of going out of business if it cannot learn to ask the right questions. The question we should be asking is not how to make our worship services better or our sermonss more interesting. The church needs to know what the world wants to hear in a sermon, and also find a way to give it what it needs to hear in a sermon. (pp. 30,31)



Miller, Calvin. Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006.

Back in the early 90s I wrote a paper for a PhD seminar titled, “Narrative Exposition.” Frustrated with the polarity that dominated homiletics, I made the audacious claim that narrative and exposition did not need to be positioned on opposite sides of a continuum but the two could, in fact, be integrated. My thesis was met somewhat skeptically. Now with the publication of Calvin Miller’s Preaching, I feel a sense of vindication.

This is a wonderful book. Miller, has written many wonderful books about preaching, but I expect that this one will become his legacy. The renewed emphasis upon narrative in the homiletic literature these last many years has been welcome, but it is in the combination of word and image, narrative and exposition, that we find the most hopeful way forward.

Miller offers an education in preaching rich in reality. Miller models what he speaks of. In keeping with his emphasis upon proposition and story, Miller teaches the homiletic steps and propositions through use of his vast personal experience in the pulpit and the classroom. The book is rich in both stimulating ideas as well as stories that deepen and delight.

Miller has always been a great writer. His use of language has a way of surprising as it stimulates a profound way of thinking about the task. While it makes for great reading, I’m not sure it serves so well as example. Miller does his best to teach his readers how to work the words, but I fear that most of us might miss the mark. Miller is a one-off, which is to say that his eloquence, cultivated from a lifelong enthusiasm for art and literature, will not be easily reproduced by others. Nor should it be. Preachers need to find their own voice.

On that level, Miller’s work will be helpful. All of us can learn to be more imaginative within our own personalities. We can all become more creative, finding ways to introduce our left brains to our right. Miller says, “Great preaching is a mind-set which allows the preacher to see that storytelling is godly and effective, and any attempt to minimize the importance of story as an illustration of the all-important, almighty proposition is to misunderstand the importance of the art given to all great communicators. Precept and story share equally in comprising the sermon’s communique. Both of them work together in preparing and preaching the image-driven sermon (151).”

If you haven’t read a book on preaching in a long time, read this one. Your preaching will be better for it.


Sacred Rhetoric

Michael Pasquarello III. Sacred Rhetoric: Preaching as a Theological and Pastoral Practice of the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005.

I recently read Michael Pasquarello’s Sacred Rhetoric, an attempt to describe preaching as a theological and pastoral practice in the church (Sacred Rhetoric). In Pasquarello’s view, the practice of preaching has lost its connection with its roots in theology in favor of a newly cultivated fixation on practical concerns. In the attempt to redress this concern, the author takes us through a history of preaching, focusing on the pulpit ministries of preachers like Augustine, Gregory the Great, St. Benedict, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Erasmus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others. Pasquarello hopes to help his readers join a conversation with the past in order to preach faithfully in the present.

“We are,” Pasquarello writes, “encouraged to imitate contemporary ‘masters’ in order to learn the latest ‘how-to’ ideas, to acquire a better ‘delivery system’ for packaging and transmitting information. But there is no mention of preaching as a Christian practice that requires lifelong immersion of one’s self in the narrative of Scripture and the story of the church; no counsel for constant, prayerful attention to God in order to learn the grammar of salvation; no acknowledgment of the need to learn the language and life fitting for human beings created and redeemed to share in the grandeur and glory of the Triune God (136).”

Reading through the histories, I was heartened to see how deeply rooted was a concern for the Word of God. While not all are expositors with a capital “E”, most of the historical examples in this book display a deep conviction around the communication of God’s Word. Augustine, for instance, “does not neglect the need for pastors to acquire a working knowledge of history and biblical languages, or literary and rhetorical skills for the tasks of exegesis and preaching. However, these are subordinated to the practice of indwelling the world of Scripture and cultivating a love of truth that enables one to acquire particular habits of believing, thinking, and speaking (24).”

All of this is great, of course, but I kept asking myself an irony. How does one not do how? Is there anything wrong or anti-theological about trying to help listeners with the pragmatic concerns about living in the Spirit and honoring God with our lives? Exactly where and how and how deeply are we in violation of this theological avocation? Pasquarello whets our appetite, but runs a little short in helping us understand exactly what our preaching ought to sound like and look like if we are to follow the direction he seems to be pointing.

Of course, this might be the very point. Perhaps preaching is a little less about the doings of preachers and listeners and more about their being – being in Christ and in the Word. The least that could be said is that Pasquarello helps redress some of the imbalance in contemporary preaching. In that regard, he does us service.


The Moment of Truth

McDill, Wayne V. The Moment of Truth: A Guide to Effective Sermon Delivery. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1999.

McDill offers the preacher a helpful resource for the delivery of the sermon. The book begins with a theological apology for the preacher as a hearer of the word (see excerpt below). The author then builds on this foundation with a detailed discussion of various elements pertinent to the effective delivery of the message God wants heard. Specific help is given with regard to physical voice projection issues (breathing, intonation, resonation) as well as matters relating to style (see chart below). Often neglected, these issues can go a long ways toward enhancing the preacher’s ability to be heard by those who listen. KCA

Excerpt: In a sense, the preacher is himself a hearer. He does not stand aloof from the people he preaches. He is called from among the people as God’s chosen spokesman. Unless he first hears the message for his own life, he will be ill prepared to proclaim it to others. All preaching is interpretation. The preacher’s interpretation will naturally arise out of his own experience with God and His Word. He will not likely lead the people into deeper understanding than he has himself. He is the proclaimer of God’s Word, but he is first a hearer. (p.11)


Preaching that Speaks to Women

Matthews, Alice P. Preaching that Speaks to Women. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003.

Most pastors speak to more woman than men every Sunday. This is a fact. If the differences between men and woman are as profound as Alice Matthews suggests, male preachers need to pay attention. This is not a book for woman preachers. This is a book for male preachers who are trying to understand how to speak to the woman who come to them to listen.

Of course truth is truth, no matter who preaches it. Still, when the preacher breaks out yet another football illustration, some of the woman in the crowd might justifiably roll their eyes. The issues are more profound, however, than this. Matthews deals with an array of issues including epistemology, postmodernity, spirituality, power, leadership, and identity.

The challenge, according to Matthews, is to locate authority in the Word of God, but to communicate that Word in ways that are sensitive to the ways of knowing experienced by men and women. This book is worth considering.


The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative

Matthewson, Steven D. The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

This book will help you.

I know, most of us preach Old Testament narratives pretty much like we preach New Testament narratives. That is to say that we read the story, look for a few principles that we can use, and then try to apply them. Often the narrative becomes a jumping-off point where the sermon ends up bearing little resemblance to the text.

This is a shame. Certainly, principlizing narratives is a way by which we can get to the relevance of a text without resorting to the moralizing and allegorizing that tempts the lazy preacher. Yet, narratives offer more than just principles. The stories in the Bible provide a powerful opportunity for the preacher to help the listener taste and smell the humanity in the text. By connecting listeners with the lifeblood of the characters in the Bible, we humanize the Scriptures, reducing the “entrance requirements” for those who would really like to hear from God in his Word.

Steven Mathewson understands this. His is a wonderful book because it helps the preacher do serious exegetical work in the text while still retaining the narrative character of the text. Mathewson wants preachers to treat narrative according to its character as story. He is particularly helpful in assisting preachers to think about what it means to handle Hebrew narrative as a distinctive genre. His work is increasingly necessary for preachers who have to speak to crowds of listeners that care as much about an encounter with the text as they care about an explanation of the text.

The book is practical. It is written in a way that will satisfy the scholars without confusing the average preacher. He offers a ten step model for preparing sermons from OT narrative texts. This is followed by a series of five sermons by well known preachers like Donald Sunukjian, Paul Borden, Haddon Robinson, and Alice Matthews. He also includes interviews with the preachers. Predictably, the sermons don’t always live up to the promise given in the first half of the book. Nevertheless, reading them will serve as a helpful clinic for people who haven’t seen the inside of a homiletics class for a while.

Having read the book, I determined to put Mathewson’s advice into practice through the construction of a series of three sermons based on 1 Kings 17-19. You can find the results at under the title “The Elijah Chronicles.” I credit Mathewson with providing me the kind of direction that led to some surprising and helpful insights. As an example, I always thought that chapter nineteen was about listening to God through getting quiet enough to hear his still small voice. Mathewson’s approach to studying the text brought me a whole new, and more accurate insight. If the text was about listening to God, the still small voice didn’t accomplish anything more than the fire, the wind, and the earthquake. Elijah is just as angry after all the dramatics as he was before. If, as Mathewson’s method lead me to conclude, the text is about God’s provision of others (like Elisha) to carry the load when we are feeling discouraged and alone, we have a message that will preach.

There is an “art” to preaching Old Testament narrative. Mathewson helps us to improve our homiletic brushstrokes. He helps us help others hear from God within his Word.


Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible

Long, Thomas G. Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989.

Expository preachers have long been concerned to treat the content of Scripture with great accuracy. Interestingly, however, these same preachers have not been so interested in the form in which the text is given. Tom Long would want to encourage us to rethink this approach. Should a sermon from the Psalms, for instance, sound for like a lecture or more like a song? Could a sermon from the Psalms be sung rather than spoken? Perhaps not, at least not literally, but Long is effective in challenging us to think about how the form of our sermons could meaningfully match the form of our texts.

Long, dealing with several of the major biblical genre, asks the following five questions:

1. What is the genre of the text?

2. What is the rhetorical function of the text?

3. What literary devices does this genre employ to achieve its rhetorical effect?

4. How in particular does the text under consideration, in its own literary setting, embody the characteristicss and dynamics described in the previous questions?

5. How may the sermon, in a new setting, say and do what the text says and does in its setting?

It is this last question that can be particularly productive as the preacher thinks about new ways to form sermons that are expository not only in terms of the text’s propositional content, but also in terms of its functional shape.

Long’s hermeneutic might at points best be balanced by similar works by Walter Kaiser, Graeme Goldsworthy, Sidney Greidanus, and Steven Matthewson. Still, the dialogue is worth engaging and Long offers a valuable gulde.


Table of Contents:

Part One: The Approach

1. Learning How to Read

2. Moving from Text to Sermon

Part Two: The Literary Forms

3. Preaching on the Psalms

4. Preaching on Proverbs

5. Preaching on Narratives

6. Preaching on the Parables of Jesus

7. Preaching on Epistles

8. Sermon Notes


Excerpt: This book is about biblical preaching, and it is based upon the relatively simple idea that the literary form and dynamics of a biblical text can and should be important factors in the preacher’s navigation of the distance between text and sermon. Preachers who have sought to be open and attentive to biblical texts in their preaching have long sensed that a sermon based upon a psalm, for example, ought somehow to be different from one that grows out of a miracle story, not only because of what the two texts say but also because of how the texts say what they say. A psalm is poetry, a miracle story is narrative; and because they are two distinct literary and rhetorical forms, they “come at” the reader in different ways and create contrasting effects. What is needed, then, is a process of sermon development sufficiently nuanced to recognize and emply these differences in the creation of the sermon itself.(page 11)


The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching

Larson, Craig Brian and Haddon Robinson, General Editors. The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching: A Comprehensive Resource for Today’s Communicators. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching is an encyclopedia of preaching covering every aspect of the preparation and delivery of biblical sermons. Featuring contributions by writers as diverse as Jeff Arthurs, Craig Barnes, Rob Bell, D.A. Carson, Kent Edwards, Jack Hayford, Bill Hybels, John Stott, Rick Warren, William Willimon, and Kenton C. Anderson (a contributing editor), the table of contents is a kind of who’s who in biblical preaching. Highly readible, many of the 200+ articles formerly appeared in Leadership Journal or The bundled audio CD also includes sermons by Gordon MacDonald, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Max Lucado, Bryan Chapell, Haddon Robinson, Rick Warren, and others. This is essential reading for preachers of the word of God.


Table of Contents:

Part 1: The High Call of Preaching: How can I be faithful to what God intends preaching to be and do?

Part 2: The Spiritual Life of the Preacher: How should I attend to my soul so that I am spiritually prepared to preach?

Part 3: Considering Hearers: How should my approach change depending on who is listening?

Part 4: Interpretation and Application: How do I grasp the correct meaning of Scripture and show its relevance to my unique hearers?

Part 5: Structure: How do I generate, organize, and support ideas in a way that is clear?

Part 6: Style: How can I use my personal strengths and various message types to their full biblical potential?

Part 7: Stories and Illustrations: How do I find examples that are illuminating, credible, and compelling?

Part 8: Preparation: How should I invest my limited study time so that I am ready to preach?

Part 9: Delivery: How do I speak in a way that arrests hearers?

Part 10: Special Topics: How do I speak on holidays and about tough topics in a way that is fresh and trustworthy?

Part 11: Evaluation: How do I get the constructive feedback I need to keep growing?


Excerpt: No matter what our station, daily life in a fallen world is a walk through a gauntlet of belittlement. Those who attend our churches are daily bombarded by false values and beliefs that cheapen God’s creation, by personal slights and insults, by Satan’s accusations. Their minds are assaulted by scabrous images in the media and by profanity that is objectionable to God precisely because it debases the creation. They are subject to sins that mar God’s image within them. They suffer distorted images of themselves that contradict God’s truth.

After such a week, it’s a wonder that a person can walk into church with any sense of worth (and the faces of many confirm that).

But then they hear anointed preaching, and gravity reverses as people sense the upward pull of heaven. The sermon reveals the character of God, who infuses all life with meaning and majesty. The sermon tells who we are in God’s sight: created in the divine image, beloved beyond description, destined for glory. The sermon uncovers sins – then announces how to be redeemed. The sermon honors the morality that exalts humankind. The sermon assumes that people can think and discern about life and the Book of Life. The sermon appeals to the will, treating people as responsible agents whose choices matter forever. The sermon preaches Christian Immanuel, forever hallowing human flesh, second Adam who will one day resurrect believers in his likeness. a sermon is the most intense dose of dignity any person can receive. (Craig Brian Larson, 30)


Moody Handbook of Preaching

Koessler, John, ed. The Moody Handbook of Preaching. Chicago: Moody Press, 2008.

This past year saw the release of a fine handbook on preaching published by Moody Press. The Moody Handbook of Preaching is a comprehensive compilation of articles on preaching written mostly by faculty and alumni of Moody Bible Institute and edited by John Koessler. As one might expect from a Moody publication, the book champions a classic expositional approach to preaching from a conservative evangelical perspective.

The book is built around four sections. Part One is about the forming of a “philosophy of preaching,” featuring articles by Koessler, Winfred Neely, Joseph Stowell, and George Sweeting, among others. This section offers the expected rationale for preaching, with a couple of helpful surprises. The article by Pam McRae on “How Women Hear the Sermon” was particularly helpful. A woman “may eventually want help,” she writes, “but what she really wants is to feel validated in her experience and then perhaps hear something soothing and comforting (p. 100).” Dan Green’s piece on “preparing yourself spiritually for the message,” was also of value.

The second section focuses on the “mining” of the text. Here we find hermeneutical guidance from a genre perspective. The section focuses specifically on historical narrative, didactic literature, the poetic books, and the prophets. I was particularly pleased to find a chapter on the use of Hebrew in sermon preparation by Andrew Schmutzer and another on “the use and abuse of Greek in preaching” by Gerald Peterman.

The third section had to do with illustration. That Moody would dedicate a quarter of the book to this subject might say something about their understanding of sermon form, but it also is a nod to the image-hungry nature of contemporary life. There is a good chapter by William Torgeson on storytelling, a helpful chapter on the use of technology by Paul Butler, a piece by Kelli Worrall on drama and the sermon, and a particularly helpful article on the use of film in preaching by Michael Orr. This section alone is worth the price of the book.

The final section focuses on the development of methodology. I was pleased to see that the authors were able to champion some creativity in sermon form without compromising their fundamental commitment to exegesis. Winfred Neely, for example, picks up on David Buttrick’s homiletic of “moves,” while Michael Milco challenges the preacher to exegete the audience, though it isn’t clear whether Milco understands his debt to Fred Craddock for this principle. It’s a good moment for homiletics when Moody people can encounter people like Buttrick without rancor or compromise. The final chapter by James Coakley and David Woodall on the use of Bible Software in the exegesis of a text is an example of the practical nature of this handbook’s offerings.

Kudos to Koessler and to Moody for providing a resource with this kind of breadth and practicality.


We Preach Not Ourselves

Knowles, Michael P. We Preach Not Ourselves: Paul on Proclamation. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008.

It is my pleasure to bring to your attention a very fine book on Paul’s approach to preaching by a fellow Canadian, Michael Knowles. We Preach Not Ourselves: Paul on Proclamation deserves the consideration of every preacher for two reasons. First, it offers an excellent theology of proclamation based on Paul’s homiletic as described in 2 Corinthians 1:1-6:13. Second, as a commentary on the afore-mentioned passages it provides powerful content to support our preaching from these important texts. I have dabbled in these texts before, but having read this book, I am now planning to make these texts the subject of my own preaching in the new year. With Knowles’ expertise as a guide, it promising to be fruitful, both for me and for my listeners.

Knowles (McMaster Divinity College in Ontario) is both a homiletician and a New Testament scholar. In this book, he marries the two disciplines wonderfully. He contends that contemporary homiletics tends to obsess about form and methodology, while professional biblical studies tends to focus entirely upon content. In this book, Knowles succeeds in not so much bridging this gap, but integrating it. Knowles is a passionate and scholarly expositor. He does not deal so much in the specifics of sermon form, but offers something I found to be much better: a theological framework for thinking about the task of preaching as he finds it in Paul’s writings.

At its core, Knowles describes Paul’s homiletic as “inescapably christocentric and cruciform (p.259).” As such, it embodies the dual principles of death and life at work simultaneously in his own experience: “in repeated rescue from hardship and persecution, in his surprising boldness and trust of God despite overwhelming odds, even in the effectiveness of his ministry among converts who actively oppose him (259).” His challenge, then, to contemporary preachers is to continually integrate the “contours of encroaching death and divine renewal” within our lives and preaching. We rest on the sustaining mercy of God, always avoiding coercion and inviting trust (260).

In sum, “He is concerned to show how the cross and resurrection establish the basic pattern of Christian discipleship, provide the conceptual content of the Christian message, and determine the manner of its proclamation (255).” Knowles cites John Stott who writes, “…the central theme of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence is power through weakness. We have a weak message, Christ crucified, which is proclaimed by weak preachers who are full of fear and trembling, and is received by weak hearers who are socially despised by the world. God chose a weak instrument (Paul) to bring a weak message (the cross) to weak people (the Corinthian working classes), but through that triple weakness he demonstrated his almighty power (255).”

I find this strangely inspiring. Most of us preachers intuitively understand our weakness. But we also understand the paradox that death is swallowed up in victory. It is true we do not preach ourselves, but Christ – and Christ crucified. It is in our willingness to take up this disrespected task in the context of a disinclined world that we find a purpose that sustains us and empowers us. I’m grateful to Knowles for reminding me of this.

As a sample of Knowles exposition, I might suggest his description of 2 Cor. 2:14-17. I have long been fascinated by Paul’s use of imagery in this text. (My own sermon on this text is found on the CD that comes bundled with Choosing to Preach. To some we stink like death. To others we are the fragrance of life. Knowles added something for me by connecting the idea of aroma to the triumphal procession described in verse 14. As Roman soldiers returned with the spoils of battle on parade, we as preachers find ourselves captive to the same “life-giving, death-portending odor of the crucified Messiah (79).” “Triumphal processions evidently included the use of perfume and/or incense. For the Roman soldiers, as well as for the crowds along the parade route, the smell would have signaled victory and the manifest supremacy of Rome’s armies. For the defeated soldiers and their captive commanders, by contrast, the pungent clouds were yet another sign that they were on their way to death (80).” As Christian preachers we similarly represent both death and life. It is through our preaching that we die to self and live again in Christ.

Finally, I might note that some will be put off by the academic look of the book. The Byzantine cover image will not likely help its sales. My encouragement is that you give the book a chance. Let it encourage you in your thinking of your task. Then let it guide you in your preaching of these most valuable biblical texts.


Toward an Exegetical Theology

Kaiser, Jr. Walter C. Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981.

This book is a classic description of basic exegetical process from the perspective of a preacher. The strength of the book is its five-part analytic process: (1) contextual analysis, (2) syntactical analysis, (3) verbal analysis, (4) theological analysis, and (5) homiletical analysis. Kaiser’s examples of syntactical layout are particularly helpful. Special sections dealing with prophecy, narrative, and poetry are also offered. This book has been around for a while, but continues to hold value for anyone who wants to get the Bible right when they preach, and that would be all of us, wouldn’t it?

Excerpt: Those sermons whose alleged strength is that they speak to contemporary issues, needs, and aspirations often exhibit the weakness of a subjective approach. In the hands of many practitioners, the Biblical text has been of no real help either in clarifying the questions posed by modern man or in offering solutions. The listener is often not sure whether the word of hope being proclaimed is precisely that same Biblical word which should be connected with the modern situation or issue being addressed in the sermon since the Biblical text often is no more than a slogan or refrain in the message. What is so lacking in this case is exactly what needs to be kept in mind with respect to every sermon which aspires to be at once both Biblical and practical: it must be derived from an honest exegesis of the text and it must constantly be kept close to the text. (19)


Preaching to a Postmodern World

Johnston, Graham. Preaching to a Postmodern World: A Guide to Reaching Twenty-First Century Listeners. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001.

Graham Johnston concludes his book on preaching to postmoderns with a quote from a Samuel Shoemaker poem,

“I stand by the door. I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out. The door is the most important door in the world – it is the door through which men walk when they find God (174).”

This quotation sums up Johnston’s approach to preaching. Preachers, he says, must stand near the door, not going in too far where they will not be able to connect with secular listeners, but standing near the door where they can reach out to people and draw them in to the faith. This is an effective metaphor for Johnston’s project. He wants to encourage preachers to understand the times so that their message can be tuned to the language spoken by people today. This should be the fundamental homiletic task. Our message may be suppled by our hermeneutics but it is shaped by our homiletic. Johnston is speaking to the issues that shape and nuance the way our sermons can be formed so as to help our listeners hear.

Johnston is very well read. The book overwhelms the listener with quotations, stories, and ideas sifted from a wide range of sources in Christian literature and from popular culture. Johnston watches TV, goes to the movies, and has a good sense of how contemporary people think. While this does not always make for the smoothest reading, it does make for an informed reading. Readers will need to look elsewhere for a careful academic discussion of postmodern philosophy and language theory. However, they will emerge with a strong sense of how people think and what the preacher is up against.

The book offers a number of helpful “practices for engagement.” The author counsels, a dialogical approach (150), an emphasis upon induction (151), storytelling (155), the use of audiovisuals, drama, and the arts (162), humor, and other similar aspects of delivery. There is no new ground here, but the opportunities are put forward compellingly.

One of these days, someone like Johnston needs to go further than the descriptive approach that is offered here, developing a thorough theology of preaching for postmodern times from an evangelical perspective. For instance, how does human fallenness and finitude correspond to a postmodern sense of human limitation? How is divine revelation heard by human beings locked in space and time? One must look elsewhere for answers to questions such as these.

Nevertheless, Johnston’s work will serve the pastor or professor looking for a competent, accessible description of the preaching task in the 21st century. It will help preachers find their rightful place by the door, compelling many to come in and find the Truth they have been craving.


The Glory of Preaching

Johnson, Darrell W. The Glory of Preaching: Participating in God’s Transformation of the World. Downers’ Grove, IL: IVP, 2009.

I’m pleased to recommend a new book by my colleague Darrell W. Johnson, called The Glory of Preaching: Participating in God’s Transformation of the World. I love the sub-title of the book which appreciates the fact that preaching is not so much what we do but what God is doing. Preaching participates in the work that God is doing to transform the world. And make no mistake, God is in the business of transforming the world, often working through our preaching.

“Something always happens…” These are the first words of the book. “Whenever a human being, Bible in hand, stands up before a group of other human beings, invites the gathered assembly into a particular text of the Bible and as faithfully as possible tries to say again what the living God is saying in the text, something always happens. Something transformative, empowering, life-giving happens.”

Of course it doesn’t always feel that way, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t so. Johnson is aware of the boldness of his claim, but he stands by it. “It is,” he says, “the glory of preaching.”

I love Johnson for this claim. While one could argue some of the technical aspects of his homiletic process, a biblical preacher dare not argue with this core conviction. We cannot afford to.

Johnson opens the book with the vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37 emphasizing that the preaching of the word of the Lord is living and active, powerful and creative. He continues, working through the parable of the soils in Matthew 13 in order to affirm that, “When one stands under God’s word, something happens. Not because of the condition of the preacher’s heart, but because of the life-giving power of the word. The word itself (or, himself) softens hardened hearts, deepens shallow hearts, integrates cluttered hearts and flourishes in receptive hearts (p. 51).”

Johnson’s approach tends toward classic Exposition. While he values orality as the means and medium of preaching, making excellent use of the work of Walter Ong and Robert Jacks, yet he also encourages the development of fairly traditional outlines (following Bryan Chapell).

The strength of Johnson’s work is the encouragement to the preacher to inhabit the word and to see preaching as a task where we invite the congregation to join us in the word. The preacher is seen as the leader who brings the congregation along to an encounter with God within his word.

“The preacher’s role is not that of an expert but that of a guide (as at an art exposition, or as the leader of an expedition), pointing to, calling attention to the essential aspects fo the reality about what the text is speaking. As the preacher does this, something happens: the preacher and congregation begin to participate in what the risen Jesus, through the Spirit, is doing in and with the text (59).”

That ought to motivate us, the next time we have opportunity to preach.


Spirit-Led Preaching

Heisler, Greg. Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2007.

This coming spring I expect to be team-teaching a course on the work of the Spirit in the practice of preaching. It’s been a tough course to find a good textbook for. Most homiletic texts pay some attention to the work of the Spirit. Scarcely anyone would disagree as to the place of the Spirit in the work of preaching. Yet there are few books that directly speak to the mysterious ways of the Spirit in relation to the work of the preacher.

Greg Heisler has tried to fill that gap with his book, Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery (B & H Academic, 2007). Heisler is assistant professor of preaching at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Building from his personal experience as a preacher and teacher, Heisler attempts to help preachers think about the way in which the Holy Spirit gets involved in the preparation process.

It’s a subject that we struggle with in every homiletics class. How does what the Holy Spirit does intersect with what I do as a preacher? If spiritual work is the work of the Spirit, then why does it matter that I attend well to my work? Could I thwart the work of the Spirit with poor preparation? Why would the Spirit be dependent upon my level or preparation or lack thereof?

Heisler isn’t going to remove all of the mystery for us. These perplexing questions echo deeper and broader debates about the nature of God’s sovereignty and the freedom of the human individual created in God’s image. The questions aren’t going away any time soon. Still, Heisler serves us by leading us to think more fully about the way in which we not only acknowledge the Spirit in our preparation and delivery, but how we might be actually driven and filled by the Spirit in our preaching.

“Is there a danger,” he asks, “in having sound sermon structure and good preaching mechanics? Yes, the danger we face as preachers comes in the form of misplaced confidence. For example, when I begin to think that the power and effectiveness of my sermon comes from how well-structured or how well-packaged my sermon is on a given Sunday, I will quench and grieve the true power of preaching – the Holy Spirit of God. As a preacher of God’s Word, I must constantly remind myself that the power of my sermon is not located in how well my outline comes together in alliterative fashion. The power of my sermon does not come from my creative introduction or my perfect-fitting illustration. The preached message always finds its true source of power in the theological fusion of the Word of God and the Spirit of God joining together in Christological witness to the Son of God, coming through the proclamation of the man of God. (13)”

Heisler writes in the excellent tradition of classic exposition. The book is at its best as an invitation to reconsider the essential nature of the Spirit’s work in preaching. In that regard the book is highly motivating. It is, perhaps, a little less effective as a manual describing ways and means the Spirit’s power can be appropriated in our preaching. Yet it may be that this is how it has to be. The Spirit blows like the wind and resists our control. Still, preaching doesn’t work until the Spirit does. Heisler serves us by reminding us of this.


Ten ways that the Holy Spirit is at work in preaching, according to Heisler…

-the Spirit’s inspiration of the biblical text

-the conversion of the preacher to faith in jesus Christ

-the call of the preacher to preach the Word

-the character of the preacher to live the Word

-the illumination of the preacher’s heart and mind in study

-the empowerment of the preacher in proclaiming the Word

-the testimony to Jesus Christ as Lord and mediator

-the opening of the hearts and minds of those who hear and receive the Word

-the application of the Word of God to the listener’s lives

– the production of lasting fruit displayed in the lives of Spirit-filled believers.


The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text

Greidanus, Sidney. The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988.

The strength of this book is the way in which it integrates serious biblical studies with contemporary homiletics. Many times, a preacher will read a book, rich in homiletical theory, but then struggle to know what to do in practice. This book compromises neither in intellectual depth nor in practical value. It is an almost indispensable resource. Greidanus’ primary concern is for biblical preaching, that the sermon properly exposes the text of Scripture so that the message as it was intended by the Biblical writer be made plain and applied to the present-day needs of hearers. The book achieves that goal by following up its excellent opening section on biblical hermeneutics with a section that describes the specific shape preaching could take for each of the major biblical genres. If you want to understand how to do biblical preaching from the prophets, or the gospels, or the epistles, then this book will help you. Greidanus has done the church a service in these days of cookie-cutter sermons where every presentation comes out sounding the same, regardless of the form of the sermon. The concern, of course, is for more than just the form, but for the particular hermeneutic challenges inherent in each passage. Study this book and let it improve your preaching.

Excerpt: Preachers today are neither Old Testament prophets nor New Testament apostles. Unless one would be guilty of both presumption and anachronism, one must constantly keep in mind the great difference between preachers then and preachers now. Preachers today do not receive their messages directly from God the way the prophets did. Nor can preachers today claim with the apostles that they were “eyewitnesses” (2 Pet. 1:16; cf. Luke 1:2). And yet, provided their sermons are biblical, preachers today may also claim to bring the word of God. (page 7)


Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture

Goldsworthy, Graeme. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Christian Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.

I wasn’t certain what to expect from Graeme Goldsworthy’s Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture. Clearly the book would be challenging. Skimming the book, it didn’t look like the kind of thing my first year seminary students would be enthralled by. And yet, it had won Preaching magazine’s Book of the Year award, so it must have something going for it. And after all, I’m a homiletics professor. I shouldn’t be intimidated by serious books on preaching written by serious biblical theologians.

Lest there are others out there like me who might be put off by the challenging subject matter, or by the book’s intimidating cover art, let me assure you, this book is worth reading. For several days, as I read through the book, I found myself quoting Goldsworthy to my students over and over. This book will definitely find its way, not only into my teaching process, but also into my preaching.

Goldsworthy’s primary concern is to encourage a more faithful reading of the entirety of Scripture in the process of preparing biblical sermons. He says,

“Using Bible texts, focusing on biblical characters, or using well-worn cliches that are asserted as biblilcal are not in themselves a guarantee that our preaching is essentially biblical. My hope is that this study in the application of biblical theology to preaching will assist us to be more biblical in our preaching (12).”

The book gets down to basics with chapter titles like, “What is the Bible?” and “What is preaching?” Homileticians will enjoy his response to more specific questions like, “Can I preach a Christian sermon without mentioning Jesus?” (chapter 9).

His answer to the latter question, is of course, a resounding “No.” In fact, the book is a marvelous homiletic Christology that aids the preacher in considering how to preach the various biblical genre according to their theological intentions within the broad scope of a biblical salvation history. In that sense, the book is a companion to Sidney Greidanus’ The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text. In fact, Goldsworthy quotes Greidanus often. The two are kindred spirits in the desire to move preaching from a bland moralism toward a healthy engagement with the revelation of God in Christ Jesus through the whole of the Bible.

Another similarity with Greidanus is the various chapters in the second half of the book that deal with a biblical approach to preaching from specific biblical genre. This section is what will give the book continuing value for me. I expect to consult the book as if it were a reference work as I approach various biblical forms of Scripture in years to come. My only criticism is that while the book is long on theological diagnosis it doesn’t provide much in the way of homiletical prescription. My ongoing question is, “How would I preach these texts in way that honors the expository task, not only in terms of content but also in terms of form.” In other words, how would I preach a Psalm so that it comes off sounding like a Psalm? Thomas Long’s book Preaching the Literary Forms of the Bible (Fortress 1989) provides more help on this latter question of homiletic form, but Goldsworthy will be more palatable to evangelicals.

Preachers need to read this book. It is one of the few that will deeply challenge the preacher’s thinking and greatly improve the quality of messages heard from pulpits today.


Preaching the Old Testament

Gibson, Scott M., ed. Preaching the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006.

I recently received a copy of Scott Gibson’s new book, Preaching the Old Testament. This book is a compilation of articles, edited by Gibson, and offered in tribute to Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Clearly, the preaching of the Old Testament remains a challenge for many. Haddon Robinson, writing in the foreword to the book says, “Avoiding the Old Testament resembles strolling into the theater for the final act of a play and ignoring completely what the play is really about. It is to assume the playwright wouldn’t expect anyone to take the first two acts of the play seriously (14).” Robinson describes one such well-known pastor who admits to preaching entirely from the New Testament, using the Old Testament as illustration material. This attempt to preach “the whole counsel” fails on two points. “First,” Robinson writes, “it ignores the basic principle of illustration: we illustrate the unknown with the known. If an illustration has to be explained, don’t use it. … More important, however, reducing the Old Testament to an anthology of illustrations for sermons based on the Gospels or the Epistles slights the Old Testament authors who were theologians in their own right. (13, 14).”

This book, according to Gibson, “is intended to give seminary students and pastors the tools they need to preach from the Old Testament (17).” Contributors to the work, are all either former students or colleagues of Kaiser (see outline below). Together they sustain Kaiser’s concern for authorial intent as derived through a careful exposition of the text in its exegetical, contextual and theological location.

One example is Carol Kaminsky’s use of the Jericho story as way of showing how the text needs to be treated theologically. The Bible is one redemptive story, according to Kaminski. “If,” she writes, “you interpret the falling down of Jericho’s walls without the larger redemptive narrative in view, you might conclude that the main idea of the story is faith. As a pastor, you might encourage your congregation to live by faith, following the example of Joshua (59).” Yet, this approach would miss the primary meaning of the text. “While the walls of Jericho do fall down, God is not promising that our “walls” will fall down. …this exegetical fallacy, called personalizing, assumes that the main point of the story is its application to us. … While the story of Jericho clearly underscores the importance of faith, it is ultimately a story about God and his faithfulness (61).”

This is helpful. While I would maintain the value of reading Old Testament texts with an eye to the human elements, these stories are always about God more than they are about us. While the human features of a text allow us ways of connecting and relating, the focus must always be on God and what he is doing across time.

Preaching from the Old Testament create challenges for the contemporary preacher, but they are challenges worth engaging. This book can be a real help.


1. Challenges to Preaching the Old Testament – Scott M. Gibson

2. Keeping Your Hebrew Healthy – Dennis R. Magary

3. Preaching from the Historical Books – Carol M. Kaminski

4. Preachng the Old Testament Narratives – Jeffrey D. Arthurs

5. Preaching from the Law – Douglas K. Stuart

6. Preaching from the Psalms and Proverbs – Duane A. Garrett

7. Preaching from the Prophets – John H. Sailhamer

8. Preaching the Old Testament in Light of Its Culture – Timothy S. Laniak

9. Toward the Effective Preaching of New Testament Texts that Cite the Old
Testament – Roy E. Ciampa

10. Preaching the Old Testament Today – David L. Larsen

11. Preaching the Old Testament Evangelistically – Robert E. Coleman


Preaching that Connects

Galli, Mark and Craig Brian Larson. Preaching that Connects: Using the Techniques of Journalists to Add Impact to Your Sermons. Zondervan, 1994.

This book is practical. While it doesn’t pretend to offer a full-blown theology of preaching or even a particular form for the sermon, it does provide the preacher with a tremendous amount of practical advice on the the craft of preaching. The authors challenge the preacher to find an “angle” from which to present the sermon and the text. Their particular angle for this book is the techniques of journalism. Both writers, experienced journalists themselves (Christianity Today, Inc.), employ the skills they describe, effectively helping preachers think with greater clarity and communicate with extra crispness. As might be expected, the book reads like a series of magazine articles on the subject – short paragraphs and sharp prose. Deceptively simple, a thoughtful study of this book will go a great distance toward enhancing the preaching of anyone who gives it their attention.

Table of Contents:

1. Love Your Hearers as Yourself

2. How to Be More Creative

3. Introductions That Get Listeners

4. Structuring Your Sermon for Maximum Effect

5. When You Can’t Find an Illustration

6. Good Illustrations – and Great Ones

7. How to Tell a Good Story

8. A Forceful Style

9. Crafting Words That Inspire

10. Pacing

11. Finishing Strong

12. Preaching Within Yourself – and Beyond

Excerpt: Journalists want to communicate truth, but we soon realize that effective articles are more than words logically arrangedd. An article that is read – the only kind worth writing – must have clear writing about a fresh subject, but it must also touch the human heart, addressing some human concern. It must do at least these two things at once. … Here again, magazine journalism can help. An engaging article must be universal enough to appeal to a large number of readers and particular enough to say something interesting. When a writer discovers that combination, he or she has discovered the article angle. (page 47, 48)


A New Hearing

Eslinger, Richard L. A New Hearing: Living Options in Homiletic Method. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987.

Eslinger, Richard L. A New Hearing: Living Options in Homiletic Method. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987.

Eslinger’s subtitle, “Living Options in Homiletic Theory,” implies that the old options are all dead (see excerpt below). While this may be an overly harsh assessment, there is no question that thinking about homiletics changed in the period around the original publication of this book. Eslinger may not be responsible for that fact, but many of those he writes about are. The genius of this book is that the author focuses on five of the key influences in narrative preaching (see list below), describing each preacher’s method, evaluating them, and then offering a sample sermon for each preacher. The five preachers chosen, particularly Lowry, Craddock, and Buttrick, truly have become known as the key disseminators of what has since been labeled “The New Homiletic,” focusing on narrative, induction, and phenomenology. Any preacher seeking to understand both the recent history and the practice of homiletics today will want to look carefully at this book.

Table of Contents:

1. Charles Rice – Preaching as Story

2. Henry Mitchell – Narrative in the Black Tradition

3. Eugene Lowry – Narrative and the Sermonic Plot

4. Fred Craddock – The inductive Method in Preaching

5. David Buttrick – A Phenomenological Method

Excerpt: Preaching is in crisis. This awareness has been with us for some time now, reducing pastoral morale and congregational fervor. But the way out, toward new effectiveness in preaching, is not yet clear. What is quite evident, though, is that the old topical/conceptual approach to preaching is critically, if not terminally ill. No longer buttressed by scriptural interpretation or the cultural ethos, this old orthodoxy of a discursive homiletic method persists in many pulpits simply for lack of a clear-cut alternative. Preachers gather together in workshops on their craft and chuckle when the leader refers to “three points and a poem.” Yet many pastors return from such events and continue to preach the propositions and illustrations mainly because for them “it’s always been done this way,” and it has become a familiar and seemly harmless habit. The inertia is aided and abetted in some situations by the persistence of a preaching service in which Scripture is minimally in evidence and is separated from preaching by all sorts of other liturgical “preliminaries.” As the great, last act of the preaching service, the sermon is not embarrassed either by proximity to the Word or by ritual acts of response which would iimply that there has been some call. But for whatever reason, the old homiletic persists well past its prime and on into its decline. (p.11)


History of Preaching

Edwards, O. C. Jr., A History of Preaching. Nashville: Abingdon, 2004.

The study of the history of preaching is informative, though not necessarily always practical. Preaching is a skill that might not be enhanced by an understanding of it’s past. This is because preaching is about the effective communication of God’s Word into present contexts. The manner of preaching is less important than its content, so long as the sermon is compelling to its intended audience. I’m interested in the preaching of John Chrysostom and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, not because I want to emulate them, but because they represent the history of my craft. I believe my audiences would respond well to Chrysostom today, not because he would preach like he did during his time, but because he was a great preacher, meaning that he would figure out how to communicate effectively in the current time. This is to say that it is the values of the men that matter (and they were almost always men). Great preachers value the Scripture. They value the audience. Such things do not change across time.

O.C. Edwards, A History of Preaching, is valuable in helping us understand where preaching comes from and how it has been practiced. The book is thoroughly researched and presented in a way that is accessible and readable. Where previous works like E. C. Dargan’s three-volume history focuses largely on the preachers, Edwards’ emphasis is upon the preaching, helpfully describing the nature of the preaching in its various periods with a strong eye to the historical context. “There is no activity more characteristic of the church than preaching,” Edwards writes. “…No other religion gives preaching quite the central role that it has in Christianity (3).”

Particularly helpful is the opening chapters of the book which describe the earliest Christian preaching and its relationship both to the synagogue sermons of the time as well as the ancient Greco-Roman rhetorical influences. The first sermon text available to us for study is the Paschal Homily of Melito of Sardis (circa 165 a.d.). While Christian preaching had already existed for more than a century and a quarter, “Already it had begun to show two of the main characteristics that would characterize it throughout the patristic period: (1) it would be based on the continuous exposition of a biblical text, and (2) it would utilize the techniques of Greco-Roman rhetoric (20-21).”

Less helpful are the latter sections of the book, describing recent homiletic history. I say less helpful, not because of a lack of scholarship in these sections, but simply because they appear to be incomplete, particularly from an evangelical perspective. The book does do justice to African-American preaching and to the preaching of women, which is welcome. But despite a few pages on Bill Hybels and the megachurch, no mention is made of Haddon Robinson or any other evangelical homiletician of the late twentieth century. Perhaps this is because evangelical homiletics has not embraced the more historically interesting approaches of the new homiletic and other such innovations.

Still, this book must be considered by anyone wanting to understand the nature and roots of the task of Christian preaching. While contemporary innovators might feel justified in changing the form of preaching, they ought, at least, to appreciate the historical implications of their adaptations.


First-Person Biblical Preaching

Edwards, J. Kent. Effective First-Person Biblical Preaching: The Steps from Text to Narrative Sermon. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Preaching and acting has an interesting connection. Preachers are not actors because our message is true and when it is practiced best, the preacher describes an actual commitment to a real God who is speaking through his Word in a real moment-in-time. There is no acting in it, though the communication skills of the actor might be helpful in the presentation. This, then, is the challenge of preaching narrative texts. How do we take the text seriously, not only for its propositional content, but also for its form of presentation without distancing ourselves from what we preach? How do we tell the story of Samson with a sense of immediacy and not be inauthentic?

In first-person preaching, the preacher enters into the story by personifying one of the characters, bringing truth to life by creating an experience of the text for contemporary listeners. It is a challenge, but Kent Edwards’ book can help. Edwards, following the well-established “big idea” approach of his mentor, Haddon Robinson, offers a step-by-step approach to developing first person sermons that can be appropriated and applied by contemporary listeners. In so doing, he helps us with narrative sermons and narrative biblical texts of every description. Bundled with the book is a very professional CD which has a video of Edwards’ Samson sermon.

This is a practical book, taking the preacher from the early exegetical steps all the way to the end of the process. There is advice here on everything from characterization, to manuscripting, to stage direction (blocking), to costuming. Some preachers will find the prospect intimidating, but even those who lack the dramatic skills required for this kind of presentation will still find value in the author’s instruction regarding the understanding and uses of biblical narrative. Chapter Eight, for instance, offers a number of alternatives for the effective and faithful preaching of the stories in the Bible.

This is a helpful book, well worth the investment of those who want to communicate the Bible not only for its ideas, but also through its form.

Excerpt: There is a sense in which a biblical sermon is like a cell phone call. In a biblical text, God is placing a call. He has a message he wants to communicate to his church. In order for the cell phone call to make it to its intended recipients, however, it must be successfully passed through a series of repeater stations. Preachers are like cell phone repeater stations. Our purpose is to pass on God’s message to its intended recipients without altering the message in any way. We are only successful when God’s voice is passed on to God’s people without any distortion of any kind. …

I do not preach first-person sermons in an effort to be cute or trendy. Nor am I overwhelmed by a desire to be relevant to our narrative-saturated culture. The primary reason I preach narrative passages of Scripture in a narrative style is to be faithful to the biblical text. I want to say what God said in the biblical text, and only what God said in the biblical text. I cannot be faithful to the meaning of the original text without being homiletically respectful of its genre.

The best way to preach the Bible’s narrative literature is by using a narrative homiletical form. First-person sermons are a legitimate narrative homiletical form. When you learn how to preach this type of sermon, you learn how to preach the stories of Scripture with great accuracy. You will also discover that just about everybody enjoys listening to them and that in the midst of their good time, your congregation is learning a tremendous amount of Bible. (20-21)

Table of Contents:

1. Why preach Expository First-Person Sermons?

Part One: Steps in the Exegetical Task

2. Beginning to Use the Narrative Exegetical Key

Step One: Adjust your interpretive paradigm

Step Two: Understand the larger context of the story you want to preach

3. Determining the Story’s Structure

Step Three: Determine the structure of your story.

4. What Comes Next?

Step Four: Analyze the characters

Step Five: Discover the setting of the story

Step Six: State the “big idea” of the narrative

Step Seven: Double-check your big idea

Step Eight: Make the application

Part Two: Steps in the Homiletical Task

5. Taking the First Steps in the homiletical Task

Step One: Select an appropriate text

Step Two: Ensure that you have identified the “big idea” of your narrative

Step Three: Develop the protagonist for your story

Step Four: Create your antagonist

6. Completing the Homiletical Task

Step Five: Set the story

Step Six: Plot the action

Step Seven: Determine the perspective

Step Eight: Create your lesser characters

Step Nine: Write the manuscript

Step Ten: Decide about props

Step Eleven: Refine your manuscript

Step Twelve: Block your sermon (optional)

Step Thirteen: Rehearse your sermon

Step Fourteen: Decide about costuming

Step Fifteen: Deliver your sermon

Part Three: Questions and Alternatives

7. Practical Questions about First-Person Preaching

8. Narrative Alternatives to First-Person Preaching

Appendix One: Examples of Narrative Preaching

1. Samson: The STrong Weak Man (Judges 13-16) by J. Kent Edwards

2. The Cripple’s Story (2 Samuel 1-9) by Don Sunukjian

3. Mary of Bethany (Mark 14:1-11) by Alice Matthews

Appendix Two: Implementation Worksheets


As One Without Authority

Craddock, Fred. As One Without Authority. St. Louis MI: Chalice Press, 2001.

As One Without Authority, first published in 1969 is one of the books that has changed the shape of preaching. The fact that a reading of this new edition sounds so familiar is only because the ideas first presented in this book have filtered through the literature of homiletics and the practiced of preaching for the last three and a half decades. This book has made its mark. Craddock, a marvelous writer, has been described as a key figure in the move toward narrative preaching, but is more properly understood as an advocate for induction in preaching (see below). This concern for inductive movement is driven by a fresh respect for the listener. “A line fastened at one end in the text but extended into the empty air at the other hardly constitutes an experience of the Word of God,” he writes (p. 103). This concern for the listener makes for more effective preaching but it also has got him into some difficulty at times with evangelicals who would question his fidelity to the text of Scripture. Such criticisms might not be entirely fair. Clearly, Craddock struggles with a tension between exegetical faithfulness and inductive movement. “Obviously, the next step in our consideration must be in the direction of a use of scripture that is supportive of the thesis regarding inductive movement and yet a use that does not violate the honest exegesis that the text demands as the scripture of the church (p. 94).” Still, following parallel movements in hermeneutics and theology, Craddock has opened the door to a heightened involvement of the reader/listener in interpretation. The challenge, as I see it, is to treat the listener with dignity without any compromise to a faithful exegetical process. Craddock was helpful to me in thinking through these issues.

Excerpt: However, indicution alone is here being stressed for two reasons: First, in most sermons, if there is any induction, it is in the minister’s study, where he arrives at a conclusion, and that conclusion is his beginning point on Sunday morning. Why not on Sunday morning retrace the inductive trip he took earlier and see if the hearers can come to that same conclusion? It hardly seems cricket for the minister to have a week’s head start (assuming he studied all week), which puts him psychologically, intellectually, and emotionally so far out front that usually even his introduction is already pregnant with conclusions. It is possible for him to recreate imaginatively the movement of his own thought whereby he came to that conclusion. A second reason for stressing inductive movement in preaching is that if it is done well, one often need not make the applications of the conclusion to the lives of the hearers. If they have made the trip it is their conclusion, and the implication for their own situations is not only clear but personally inescapable. (pp. 48-49)


Performance in Preaching

Childers, Jana and Clayton J. Schmit, eds. Performance in Preaching: Bringing the Sermon to Life. Grand Rapdis, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

Preaching is more than just the presentation of truth. It is an event that is “performed” in God’s presence. That is to say that an actual human witness engages a group of real people in the presence of the Holy Spirit to communicate the Word of God in real time. This is not performance in the sense of an actor on the stage, although preachers could learn much from the skill of an actor. This is performance in the sense of the activating of truth among people in the world.

Jana Childers and Clayton Schmit have edited a helpful book called Performance in Preaching: Bringing the Sermon to Life. The book was published in honor of the life and work of Charles Bartow whose earlier, God’s Human Speech, introduced many of us to these themes. The book also features a DVD which models much of the what the book is talking about.

Personally, I preferred the theological aspects of the book to its technical advice. Paul Scott Wilson’s piece on the nature of the “now” in preaching was particularly fruitful. Drawing on Nicholas Lash, he writes, “Every time a biblical text is properly interpreted, it is performed … every time a biblical text is lived as it is intended to be lived, it is performed (40).”

Alyce McKenzie adds, “Preaching is not merely an act of public self-expression. It is a performative act as contrasted with a spontaneous act. Preaching has intentionality about it, both in its preparation and in it’s delivery (57).”

We have heard much about lectio divina in recent years. For these writers, preaching is an expression of actio divina. It is an event of God’s self-disclosure in the world. How a human preacher performs this disclosure of the divine activity deserves our careful thought. This book will help us to that end.


Christ-Centered Preaching

Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994.

Exposition has long been understood as a means by which the teaching of God’s Word is made plain (exposed) and applied to the lives of contemporary listeners. Less well appreciated is the conviction that such preaching must focus upon the person and work of Christ. The conviction that every biblical text is ultimately christological is a driving concern for Bryan Chapell. The subtitle of the book: “redeeming the expository sermon” carries a double meaning for the author. Chapell wants to put a fresh emphasis upon redemption as a theme for biblical preaching. He also wants to redeem the practice of expository preaching itself. The book presents a fresh emphasis upon the classic themes of biblical preaching, dealing with the standard categories of explanation, illustration, and application. Not too much fresh ground here. Perhaps the greatest strength of the book, however, is it’s emphasis upon what Chapell calls, “the fallen condition focus” (see below). I once heard Keith Willhite from Dallas Seminary close a meeting where Bryan Chapell had preached. Willhite admitted, “the problem with hearing Bryan preach is that my fallen condition became all too well focused.” That will make for good preaching. It is not a bad book either.

Excerpt: Since God designed the Bible to complete us, its contents necessarily indicate that ins ome sense we are incomplete. Our lack of wholeness is a consequence of the fallen condition in which we live. Aspects of this fallenness that are reflected in our own sinfulness and in our world’s brokenness prompt Scripture’s instruction and construction. Paul writes, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The corrupted state of our world and our being cry for God’s aid. He reponds with his Word, focusing on some facet of our need in every portion. Our hope resides in the assurance that all Scripture has a Fallen Condition Focus (FCF). God refuses to leave his frail and sinful children without guide or defense in a world antagonistic to their spiritual wellbeing. No text was written merely for those long ago; God intends for each Scripture to give us the “endurance and encouragement” that we need to today. The FCF is the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or for whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage. (page 41-42)


Shape of Preaching

Cahill, Dennis M. The Shape of Preaching: Theory and Practice in Sermon Design. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007.

Sermons, like people, can take a great variety of shapes. Evangelicals may have been a little slow to realize this, given our reticence to compromise on Scripture. We have tended to err toward a more conservative approach in offering our homiletic guidance, so as to minimize the risk that we might do the Scripture damage. More recently, we have discovered that just as the Bible itself varies in form, so might our preaching.

Dennis Cahill has helped us by detailing some of these potential shapes of the sermon. As one of the many protogées of Haddon Robinson currently influencing evangelical homiletics, Cahill brings a rock-solid commitment to the authority of Scripture and more than twenty years of real-life pulpit experience. In other words, evangelicals can trust that what he has to say will allow them to spread their wings without compromising their commitment either to the Scripture or to their calling as expositors.

This is a great introduction to the forms and functions of preaching as it is becoming and not as it used to be. The book describes what I have called “small case ‘e’ exposition.” That is to say that it describes ways of preaching that expose the Scripture without demanding the linear, deductive form. Not that Cahill has no place for traditional form. Rather, he sees it as one of several shapes that the sermon can take alongside inductive preaching, semi-deductive preaching, inductive/deductive preaching, and narrative preaching. Those familiar with my own book, Choosing to Preach will recognize some of these approaches by different names. I’m not sure that Cahill’s list is exhaustive or that it pursues all of the potential shapes a sermon could legitimately take. The book does lean a little bit toward the propositional in its tone if not in its prescriptions. Nevertheless Cahill does an effictive job helping us understand the shapes and how to put them into practice.

The book is divided into two sections, the first more theoretical and the second more practical. The theoretical sections are well-researched and carefully considered. Cahill knows the territory. The practical sections are useful though perhaps not overly innovative.

I, for one, am grateful to people like Cahill who are able to help us bring a greater sense of variety and creativity to the preaching process. It just might make for more interesting listening and perhaps even more inspiring sermons.

Joy of Preaching

Brooks, Phillips. The Joy of Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel 1989.

“Preaching is truth delivered through personality.” This famous definition summarizes the direction and intent of this classic work on preaching. While the book was written the late 19th century, the things Brooks emphasizes have a surprisingly current feel. Specifically, Brooks describes the human side of the preaching task (“personality”). “The messenger must mingle himself with the message that he brings;” he writes, “and as a mere matter of fact, we know that every preacher does declare the truth from his own point of view and follows his own judgment (122).” This is not to deny the influence of doctrine and Scripture. “No preaching ever had any strong power that was not the preaching of doctrine (129),” he said. Rather, it is to acknowledge that the preacher has a significant role to play in the presentation of meaning. This book is worth the investment of time it takes to read it.

Excerpt: What, then, is preaching, or which we are to speak? It is not hard to find a definition. Preaching is the communication of truth by man to men. It has in it two essential elements, truth and personality. Neither of those can it spare and still be preaching. The truest truth, the most authoritative statement of God’s will, communicated in any other way than through the personality of brother man to men is not preached truth. Suppose it written on the sky, suppose it embodied in a book which has been so long held in reverence as the direct utterance of God that the vivid personality of the men who wrote its pages has well-nigh faded out of it; in neither of these cases is there any preaching. And on the other hand, if men speak to other men that which they do not claim for truth, if they use their powers of persuasion or of entertainment to make other men listen to their speculations, or do their will, or applaud their cleverness, that is not preaching either. The first lacks personality. The second lacks truth. And preaching is the bringing of truth through personality. It must have both elements. It is in the different proportion in which the two are miingled that the difference between the two great classes of sermons and preaching lies. It is in the defect of one or the other element that every sermon and preacher falls short of the perfect standard. It is in the absence of one or the other element that a discourse ceases to be a sermon, and a man ceases to be a preacher altogether.”(pp. 5-6)


On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons

Broadus, John A. On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. 4th Edition. Edited by Vernon L. Stansfield. HarperSanFrancisco, 1979 (1870).

This book is generally understood to be the first homiletic textbook of the modern era. Borrowing heavily from Augustine, Broadus offers a strong rhetorical approach to the practice of preaching. The book counsels clarity, reason, and proper arrangement of ideas in the pursuit of a convincing case for the gospel. Some excerpts…


The importance of arrangement may be further seen by observing the principal qualities of good arrangement. They appear to be unity, order, proportion, and progress. (81)

There is in preaching a frequent need for explanation. Numerous passages of Scripture are not understood or are even misunderstood by our hearers, and many have become so accustomed to passing over these that they are no longer aware that they present any difficulty. Some of the most important doctrines of the Bible are in general very imperfectly understood; those who believe them need clearer views of what they profess to believe, and those who object to them are often in fact objecting to something very different from the real doctrine. (129)

Every preacher, then, ought to develop and discipline his powers of argument. If averse to reasoning, he should discipline himself to practice it; if by nature strongly inclined that way, he must remember the serious danger of deceiving himself and others by false arguments. One who has not carefully studied some good treatise of logic should do so. It will make his mind sharper to detect fallacy, in others or in himself, and will help him to develop the habit of reasoning soundly. (143)

The importance of developing the reasoning powers is clearly enough involved in all the preceding discussions, yet some suggestions as to how it may be done might be helpful. Study books on logic. Study other books logically. There are many books of distinctively argumentative character which the preacher must read with care. He should make it his business to follow the arguments carefully, criticising, comparing, approving, or refuting, as the case may require. Besides this challenging reading, even general literature should for the most part be read observantly, analytically, and thoughtfully. And practice argument frequently. Disciplined thinking on the preacher’s own part is a necessity; he should think subjects through, working out processes of reasoning in his mind. (161)


Preaching with Integrity

Anderson, Kenton C. Preaching with Integrity. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2003.

Excerpt: “At first he thought it was a train. Jack Newman lived near the tracks. He was accustomed to feeling the foundations quiver whenever a heavily loaded train would pass through his back yard. He often wondered how his home held together given all the jarring.

But this was no train. That became obvious as he watched the curtains dance, the books on his shelf tumble, and the hallway mirror come crashing to the floor. This was an earthquake. Not a big one, mind you. The mirror had always been a little wonky. It was one of those things he had never got around to fixing. Too late now. It was over as soon as it started. The damage was minor. The house settled back into its accustomed fixedness. Nothing to worry about. No harm done. So why did it leave him feeling so unsettled? Why the uneasy feeling in his stomach? It had been some time since Jack had felt this way. He didn’t like it.”



“This book will be of great service to the Church of our Lord. Thank you for writing it.” Craig Brian Larson,

“A fresh perspective on a tough aspect of preaching, namely our own humanity… This book is sobering, challenging, and refreshing. If your experience is like mine, you will read Preaching with Integrity quickly but forget it only slowly – if at all.” Grant Lovejoy, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

“An excellent model of integrative preaching… I highly recommend this volume for those desiring a fresh approach at delivering the biblical message.” Alex Montoya, Author of Preaching with Passion.


Preaching with Conviction

Anderson, Kenton C. Preaching with Conviction: Communicating with Postmodern Listeners. Grand Rapids, MI:Kregel, 2001.


Excerpt: “The pulpit mocked him. Rooted and immovable, like an old-growth Douglas Fir it stood its defiant ground. Hand-built by some forgotten craftsman, this pulpit had served many a preacher. The shouters and the shriekers; the pounders and the pleaders, had all found shelter and a certain authority behind its imposing bulk. Its topside edges oiled and smoothed by the uncalloused hands of countless preachers bore witness to its durability. ‘I was here before you, and I’ll be here long after you are gone,’ it taunted.

The arrogant pulpit intimidated its present occupant. The Reverend Jackson Newman was feeling the pressure. Sensing the ghosts of preachers past he felt small and transparent whenever he took his place behind this ‘sacred desk’. He couldn’t find the expect punch. The authority necessary to dynamic preaching had long since excaped him. His sermons were no match for this tradition-steeped pulpit. It was only a matter of time.”



“I couldn’t put it down.” Scott M. Gibson, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, MA

“Contrary to what some people claim, the postmodern turn does not spell the end of solid, biblical preaching. But if preaching is to retain its power in the emerging context, preachers may well need to change. Here, Kenton Anderson charts the way forward. He advocates an approach that initegrates the cognitive focus, that characterized modern homiletics, with the affectivee and behavioural emphases, so important in the contemporary situation. And he tells a good story in the process.” Stanley J. Grenz, Carey Theological College and Regent College, Vancouver, BC

“I had the rare privilege of seeing a commentary on this book as it was being written. Kenton Anderson may well be the next creative voice that evangelicals have been waiting for. His work always demonstrates a keen interest in the direction of preaching. There is always room for a new talent in homiletics. I believe that Kenton is one of those. I heartily commend this book.” Calvin Miller, Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, AL


Choosing to Preach

Anderson, Kenton C. Choosing to Preach: A Comprehensive Introduction to Sermon Options and Structures. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.

Order the book


With the landscape of ministry changing, preachers need a variety of tools to effectively communicate God’s truth to today’s listeners. Beginning with a strong call to keep preaching, this practical book presents and describes five different models for doing so, also relating each style to well-known contemporary preachers.

Description:Today, traditional forms of preaching are being scrutinized and challenged. The biblical sermon is not immune to the pressure to evolve or even fall by the wayside, leaving pastors and seminary students confused over how best to communicate to today’s listeners.

In this forward-looking textbook, Kenton Anderson delivers a strong call to current and future ministers to indeed choose to preach biblical sermons, despite the obstacles to doing so. While preaching itself is non-negotiable, the exact form it takes can be much more flexible, allowing people to hear from God as they hear his Word preached.

Rather than presenting one model or process for preparing a sermon, Anderson explains several available options. As you discern your message from the Bible, will you begin with the text (deductive) or with the listener (inductive)? Will you focus on the idea (cognitive) or the image (affective)? The choices one makes lead to five possible sermon structures: DECLARATIVE — make an argument; PRAGMATIC — solve a mystery; NARRATIVE — tell a story; VISIONARY — paint a picture; or

INTEGRATIVE — sing a song.



Each model is described in detail and related to well-known contemporary preachers, including John MacArthur, Rick Warren, EugeneLowry, and Rob Bell. This book equips you with a variety of tools for your preaching tool kit. A CD-ROM with additional helpful resources is included, as well as discussion questions and practical exercises.

Choosing to Preach is also now available in Korean, Spanish, and Kindle formats.


Excerpt: I sometimes wonder whether preaching is worth the effort. I don’t know whether it is any harder to get up a sermon today than it used to be, but it sure feels like it. In the old days, preachers didn’t have so much competition. I suppose I’m not ancient enough to have experienced “the old days” but I imagine it to be the case. Surely there was a time when preachers didn’t have to compete with the luminaries of preaching on the radio. Surely there was a time when people felt obligated to come to church and listen whether the sermon was any good or not. There must have been a time when preaching was less complicated — when there was one way to prepare a sermon and everybody knew what it was.

If that day existed, it is no longer. Preachers today, if they must preach, are expected to be as deep as St. Augustine, as practical as Billy Graham, and as entertaining as Jay Leno. If not, the listener can find another preacher who is, if not down the street, then certainly on the television or on the internet. Or they might choose not to listen to preaching any more at all.

Preaching today is at a crossroads. Changes in church and culture have undone the prior consensus about the importance of biblical exposition as a staple of church life. Currently local church leaders are hearing from an array of influencers, some of whom would abandon the sermon, others who would retain the traditional sermon, and others yet who would preserve the sermon but with a much different form.

These different forms are many. There are numerous paths a sermon could take, each leading to different regions of the human heart and soul. Some sermons appeal to the head and others to the heart. Some emphasize the text of Scripture and others focus on the text of life. Most are somewhere in between, herking and jerking about the homiletic territory, enticing certain listeners and aggravating others. Unfortunately, the territory is not well mapped and many a preacher feels lost along the way. Many have given up the journey altogether. The truth is, there has been change in every age and the changes that are to come are likely beyond anything we have so far been able to imagine.

In the meantime Sunday is coming and the sermon insists itself. Whatever am I going to do? Is preaching really worth the effort? Is there not another choice that I could make? Okay, that is how I feel on Tuesday morning when I return to the office and face the challenge of getting yet another sermon together for the same people who heard me last week and the week before and the ones before that. Generally, the feeling passes. Sometimes it is the Bible itself that jump-starts my homiletic engine. Other times it is the people.

People who listen to preaching are special people. The pessimism described above is probably more theoretical than what is actually warranted. I often ask students at the beginning of one of my classes in preaching for the names of the preachers that have had a profound influence on them. I used to expect to hear the names of famous preachers, the ones on the radio or the ones with the largest number of hits on their websites. I expect they are going to tell me about preachers I have heard of, but such is not the case. My students tell me about their home church preachers, the ones they grew up listening to — the preachers without much reputation beyond their local neighborhood. They tell me about preachers who might not be flashy but who are consistent — preachers who might never get invited to bring the keynote sermon at the denominational convention, but who seldom fail to touch the mind or the heart of the few and the faithful that rely on them. I find this encouraging.


Deep Church

Belcher, Jim. Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. Grand Rapids, MI: IVP, 2009.

If you are anything like me, you have found yourself whip-sawed in recent years between the traditional and emerging churches. My recent comments on the Piper/Wright debate are a case in point. As much as I appreciate John Piper’s emphasis upon the legal aspects of the atonement, I find myself compelled by Wright’s concern for the broader implications of justification. As I read these conversations, I get the sense that the various parties are somehow “talking past each other,” as if they were speaking different languages.

For that reason, I was instantly drawn to Jim Belcher’s objective in his new book, Deep Church. Belcher, who has been something of an “insider” to the conversation over many years, is searching for a “third way beyond emerging and traditional.” Utilizing a phrase he found in C.S. Lewis, Belcher describes this third way as “Deep Church,” a way of doing and being church that draws on both sides of the continuum. The result, one hopes, is a church that avoids the excesses of the combatants, while embracing what is good in both.

It is a lot to ask for, and whether Belcher succeeds with his prescriptions, he does offer one of the best summaries of the discussion, even-handedly describing the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches. I suspect that both sides of the discussion will have reason to squirm in equal measure under Belcher’s observation.

The book is written mostly in the first person. It has the feel of a narrative as Belcher describes his conversations with people like Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, and Dan Kimbell. In one devastating section, he describes a now-famous meeting between Pagitt, Jones, and John Piper. Reading the book is a little like watching a Discovery Channel documentary on the state of church. It is often unsettling.

The book focuses on a number of key issues: truth, evangelism, gospel, worship, preaching, ecclesiology, and culture. This is as good a taxonomy of the issue as I am aware of. In each case, Belcher describes the dispute, usually beginning with the emerging critique of the traditional, following with the traditional response to the emerging critique, and then sketching out some middle ground and describing how Belcher and his team at Redeemer Presbyterian Church are working it out in Costa Mesa, CA.

Belcher’s appeal rests on at least two concepts, the idea of “centered-set thinking” and a concern for the so-called “Great Tradition.” I’ll admit that I didn’t find the jargon always helpful, but I did like the general ideas. The sense of it is that the church needs to pursue the Kingdom of God on all fronts, avoiding dualistic and individualistic theologies, all the while retaining a rock-solid centre on the Bible, as it has been traditionally understood. Reverting to the ancient Christian tradition, and its understanding of the Bible, provides a hermeneutic corrective to the over-personalized “relational hermeneutics” of our day. In addition, challenging the church to a more holistic application of our theology will deepen the quality of our kingdom service. While I’m not confident, these arguments will win the day, I’m pleased to hear them aired.

Of course, I was particularly interested in what Belcher had to say about preaching. Much of this section was a discussion of Pagitt’s “progressional dialogue” including his report of a personal visit to Solomon’s Porch to view Pagitt in action. While Belcher came away with the sense that there was little about Pagitt’s form that ought to worry, in conversation afterwards, Belcher discerned a more sinister hermeneutic. Pagitt, according to Belcher, believes that the sermon is an opportunity for hermeneutics to be worked out in community. Traditionalists are concerned, Belcher says, because this elevates the community above the Bible. Have people like Pagitt, lost their confidence in God’s Word?

Belcher offers Eugene Lowry’s “homiletical plot” as directing us toward a “third way” homiletic. While I greatly appreciate what Lowry has to teach us on the subject, I found it a little amusing to note that Belcher would lead us to a homiletic form that is more than 25 years old. Indeed, evangelicals are well behind the homiletic curve. It is established that a more inductive, and narrative-based approach to preaching goes a long ways toward blunting the excesses of the purely deductive and propositional approaches championed by the traditional church. I might suggest, however, that an integrative approach, such as described in my own book, Choosing to Preach, might be more in keeping with the direction Belcher wants to go.

In fact, this integrative idea does seem to permeate the book. The way forward is not to keep shooting at each other. The way forward is to integrate a love and concern for the Bible with a passion for the people and the cultures that we want to reach. In the end, we need to unite around our mission. To that end, I found it curious that Belcher didn’t have much to say about the so-called “missional option” given that his proposals seemed to fit well the directions offered by people like Craig Van Gelder and Alan Hirsch. In fact, Belcher quotes Hirsch extensively, seeing him (wrongly, I think) as part of the emerging church. It is this emphasis on mission, that has the best chance of offering a true third way, in my opinion.

I found I liked Jim Belcher. He seems humble, generous, and wise, and I appreciate him stepping so helpfully into the fray. I don’t expect that we will all immediately drop our differences and embrace the Deep Church paradigm around a rousing chorus of “Friends are Friends Forever.” Yet perhaps there is here, the offer of a start toward a more congenial future. I should hope so.



Buttrick, David. Homiletic: Moves and Structures. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.

How does the sermon form in the consciousness of the listener? A good question and one that David Buttrick seeks to resolve in this landmark book. Weighing in at 500 pages of small print, the book is a comprehensive look at a theology and theory of preaching that seeks to understand how the preacher can intentionally form the message in the mind of the listener.

Buttrick’s advice involves working with what he calls “moves” – set pieces in the architecture of the sermon that allow the listener’s mind to make progress from one idea to the next. While some have questioned Buttrick’s qualifications for speaking so authoritatively on such complex questions as the architecture of consciousness, still had advice with regard to these highly developed structures seems to ring true. People tend to hear things that are well built and tightly presented.

While it may not be “the most important book on preaching ever written” as some have written, this book will reward those who read it carefully. Some of Buttrick’s convictions grow out of his non-evangelical heritage and will be difficult for those who maintain a conservative view of the Christian faith. Still, there is much here to learn. Preachers ought to think about how their train of thought gets carried all the way to the station. Buttrick can help us with this.

Excerpt: Much of preaching can be glib, full of homiletic strategies which congregations have heard all too often. What may make preaching profound is a willingness to search deeply the actualities of consciousness. …A preacher may tell us that “we all feel guilty,” but the words may not convince. If, however, the preacher can actually describe how and where we feel guilty, we may be inclined to agree. So fine preachers will brood. Preachers will reach into consciousness to depict how we sense guiltiness. Does it shop up as an eye-lowering, uneasy self-consciousness? Is it a momentary, fleeting awareness? …Is there any awareness of God involved, or is the sense of sin bounced off half-articulated “oughts” that lie around on the fringes of consciousness? What actually happens? The question is crucial. Many preachers reach too quickly for some stock illustration to support contentions and never think down to actualities of human consciousness. Preachers who dare to probe deep levels of self-awareness, however, will be preachers whose word will have the ring of truth. Preaching does not persuade in the sense of arguing the truth of the gospel; preaching sets the gospel in lived experience, genuine experience, so that truth will be acknowledged. (page 33)