Read an Excerpt
By Fred B. Craddock
Abingdon PressCopyright © 1985 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Purpose and Format
This volume is offered to the reader as a textbook in preaching. In the opinion of some observers, such a work comes too late because the day of textbooks is now past, in this and every other discipline. This judgment is supported in part by the now familiar argument that knowledge explosions render textbooks obsolete upon publication. More particularly in the case of preaching, however, it has been contended that no useful textbook can be written as long as the field of communication remains in a state of flux due to experimentation with new technology. But these observations speak just as persuasively that a textbook in preaching would at the present be too soon rather than too late. Such a conclusion is not without support. After a generation of walking alone, the object of general ridicule and preoccupied in self-flagellation, preaching is again making new friends among other disciplines and renewing old acquaintances with biblical studies, literary criticism, and communication theory. The consumer posture is being abandoned and the discipline is again a producer. It is a fruitful time. Articles, essays, dissertations, and books on preaching and directly related subjects constitute a very respectable bibliography. Maybe this germinal time should not be interrupted with attempts to freeze the products in a textbook. Maybe textbooks should wait until the fruit has ripened fully and has been culled by more critical reflection and debate. This line of thought makes some kind of sense.
However, the teaching and learning of preaching goes on, in season and out of season. Tools to aid the process need continually to be devised, shaped not only by the new ideas refreshing the discipline, but also by the capacities and sensibilities of preachers who are themselves products of a culture sending and receiving messages in new ways. But let us not be uncritically enamored of the new. Some older volumes on preaching could profitably be reissued, not as a sentimental return to old paths but as a confession that part of the malaise in the discipline is due not to a stubborn refusal to move beyond tradition but to a thoughtless failure to listen carefully to that tradition. One becomes a concert pianist not by abandoning the scales but by mastering and repeating that most basic exercise. Who could say, after all the centuries, that reading Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poetics or Augustine's instructions on preaching is no longer of benefit to the preacher? There are fundamentals to good writing and speaking and preaching that abide, and it is the burden of a textbook to gather and to offer these, especially in a time of fascination with experimentation. Granted, textbooks in this or any other field will not likely enjoy the long life as have some in the past, but length of life is not decided by anyone in particular, certainly not the writer. In fact, a book designed to serve the discipline for years to come would probably serve poorly in the present.
This volume, then, is offered as a textbook in preaching to those for whom all our research and writing is done: those who preach. It is the regular preaching in and by the church that determines finally whether homileticians are vindicated in their work or whether they have only been engaged in intramurals with colleagues.
To say that a volume is designed as a text is to say something about the readers for whom it is intended and the format in which its contents are arranged. As for intended readers, they are the men and women for whom preaching is or will be a regular responsibility in ministry. They are those who have the grace and courage to be vulnerable enough to listen, to discover, to improve. Some are in seminary; others are involved in continuing education, privately or in a structured program. Of course, the seminarian and the practicing preacher bring to their study two very different perspectives: one is in rehearsal while the other is reflecting upon experience. There is no need to debate here which is the better teaching moment; both have advantages and disadvantages as is the case in any class of students some of whom already are preaching and some of whom are not. Where experience is lacking, openness to entertaining various approaches is not. Where experience is not lacking, its advantage is often shortened by a tendency to protect and defend one's repertoire of methods and messages.
The question is, Can one's text serve both groups? The answer is yes, if two conditions are met. In the first place, the pedagogical approach must be based on recognition rather than recall. Most of us have extremely poor recall but superb powers of recognition. Learning by recognition is simply being enabled to see how much we already know about a subject which we did not know we knew and about which we had no clear terms or categories. Those taking their initial course work in preaching can be taught by this method; it is not reserved solely for those in refresher courses who recognize material covered in seminary. A child first entering the world of grammar or mathematics can learn effectively by recognition. In fact, the recognition of what one already knows is so liberating and such a builder of confidence that one's appetite and capacity for that portion of learning that demands recall is usually increased sharply. On the other hand, when the primary pedagogical approach is based on recall of names, terms, vocabulary, dates, and places, one feels ignorant and overwhelmed, not to mention confused by a mass of information with questionable bearing upon the task at hand, learning to preach effectively. Needless to say, this book seeks to make maximum use of recognition as the primary path to learning.
Second, one book can serve both the preacher and the preacher-to-be if the format provides the reader with both a clear walk through the entire process of sermon preparation and delivery and clear markers along the way for the benefit of those who might wish to review or refresh themselves on one particular phase of the process. The structure of this book is an attempt to answer the question, How do I prepare and deliver a sermon? It is hoped that the division of the answer into well-marked stages and steps will not make the process seem mechanical and rote. The risk of that criticism is taken, however, in order to provide ease of location for anyone wishing to attend to a particular point of interest or need.
Throughout the book examples and exercises are provided both to clarify the point under discussion and to invite the reader to engage in the process. Such participation enables the student to face early the anxieties and inhibitions about preaching with which we all contend during our lifetime. In addition, there comes with this participation the pleasure of one's own insights, the discovery of one's own particular gifts, and the gradual transfer of ownership and responsibility for preaching from textbook writers and teachers to the student. Most of these examples will be drawn from or directly related to biblical texts. The decision to do this was neither casual nor due to the writer's natural gravitation toward his own field of specialization. The choice is rather due to a conviction and an experience: the conviction that preaching should be nourished, informed, disciplined, and authorized by Scripture, and the experience of being taught by Scripture that there is no single form of speech which qualifies as a sermon. Both Old and New Testaments amply testify to the rich variety of shapes the proclamation may take. Whoever goes to the Bible in search of what to preach but does not linger long enough to learn how to preach has left its pages much too soon. The Bible will serve, then, as the companion to this text, and its frequent use will enable us not only to talk about what we are doing but also to do what we are talking about.
Basic Assumptions About Learning to Preach
The discussion of preaching in the chapters that follow proceeds on two basic assumptions. The first is that learning to preach is difficult, and the difficulty is not greatly relieved by having a skilled instructor or by the discovery that one seems to be naturally a "good talker." The fact is, preaching itself is a very complex activity. So many are the variables that even arriving at a satisfactory definition of preaching is a continuing task. One can attempt to be comprehensive and include in the definition the message, the messenger, the recipients, and the method and still sense immediately that other factors should have been included. For example: imagine that you are approached by a student who has just come from a seminary class. This student describes the session that day by saying the professor lectured for forty minutes and then preached the last ten minutes of the period. With no further description, how do you understand the shift from lecturing to preaching? What was the difference? The professor departed from prepared notes? The delivery was more lively and animated? The content was more personal in terms of both the lecturer's and the students' involvement in the material? Did the professor become less descriptive and more hortatory, maybe even warning or scolding a bit? Did the students continue to take notes, take more notes, or cease writing during that ten minutes? Once you have said to yourself what was involved in a move from lecturing to preaching, share the hypothetical situation with another. Is that person's response the same as yours? We all know and yet none of us seems to know what preaching is.
In order to state the complexity of preaching, "both ... and" expressions are more suitable than the simpler "either ... or." Preaching is the concerted engagement of one's faculties of body, mind, and spirit. It is, then, skilled activity. But preaching has to do with a particular content, a certain message conveyed. As eating is not merely chewing, but chewing food, so is preaching necessarily defined not only by speaking but also by what is spoken. And since the basic content is not a creation of, but a gift to, the speaker, preaching is both learned and given. However, hardly anyone would accept the sum of activity plus content as an adequate description, for the active presence of the Spirit of God transforms the occasion into what biblical scholars have referred to as an "event." Preachers and listeners hold and articulate doctrines of the Spirit with wide differences, but the absence of the power of God reduces the delivery of the sermon to a sad repeat of the futile efforts of the seven sons of Sceva described in Acts 19:11-16. The evil spirit over whom they imitated Paul's words and gestures turned on them with the words, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?" (verse 15).
Preaching is both description and address. The old debate among New Testament scholars as to whether the gospel consists of the presentation of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as in the Gospels, or the word of the cross with which Paul addressed his hearers has not been and should not be resolved as either... or. Not only are both ingredient to the biblical witness but each needs the other. Properly understood, any narration of the story of Jesus must carry an implied if not expressed word of address to the listeners in order to qualify as preaching. Speaking that is "about" God or Jesus or related themes but is not "to" the hearers may be interesting and may even be followed by a cordial discussion, but it is not preaching. Preaching is to the listeners intentionally and, therefore, even the indicative mood carries the imperative in its bosom. Similarly, speaking that "addresses" the hearers but does not have the content of the faith is not preaching but empty intensity, hollow exhortation.
Preaching is both private and public. It is private in that the process of preparation, unless noticeably aborted, creates in the preacher a strong sense of ownership, a profound embrace of the message. This is not to say that one preaches only what has been practiced (a slender menu, even from the saintliest among us) or that the efficacy of preaching is totally contingent upon the faith and life of the one who preaches. But it is to say that the prayer, research, study, and reflection in which a sermon is forged tend to bury that message deep in one's values, thoughts, and passions, and generate in the preacher a strong conviction that this message is important, can make a difference, and will not be delivered as though nothing were at stake. But anyone who has spoken on a subject of immense personal significance knows that the heart lies a great distance from the tongue. Therefore, on such matters one does not speak easily, especially to an audience that includes the stranger and the casual passerby. However, preaching is also social and public. The sermon is not one person's self-disclosure any more than theology is taking one's own pulse to see how one feels about a matter. Rather, the preacher voices the message of the community of faith, articulates it to that community and from that community to the world. "For God so loved the world" is the expression which sets the sermon in its proper context. True, introverted persons often draw their breath in pain to proclaim to any and all who will hear, but the pain must not be allowed to win. Otherwise only a comfortable few will receive the Good News and that which they hear will probably be a subjective distortion of the gospel.
Preaching is both words and the Word. To deny any relationship between one's own words and the Word of God, whether due to one's notion of proper humility or to an abdication of the authority and responsibility of ministry, is to rob preaching of its place and purpose. From such a perspective, a silent pulpit would be the logical and honest conclusion. On the other hand, to identify one's own words with the Word of God is to assume for ourselves God's role in preaching. Neither one's own strong convictions on a matter nor the scaffolding of many verses of Scripture can justify the claim. Nor is it the case that a changed tone of voice provides the flag by which the Word of God can be identified among many human words. Rather, the preacher takes the words provided by culture and tradition, selects from among them those that have the qualities of clarity, vitality, and appropriateness, arranges them so as to convey the truth and evoke interest, pronounces them according to the best accepted usage, and offers them to God in the sermon. It is God who fashions words into the Word.
Perhaps nothing further need be said in the service of the first basic assumption. When these attempts at description are converted into experience, the point will be more than clear. And the complexities of preaching are experienced quite early in the learning process. Even the first-year student begins to ask, Are sermons supposed to translate ideals into standards? If so, is not something vital lost? A thousand-dollar bill can be changed into quarters and dimes, but even if the change is exactly correct in value, the experience of that value has changed radically. Does the obligation to clarify always involve compromise? If our task is to evoke response in others, what happens to integrity which insists that the first obligation is honest expression of oneself? Must every bright idea pass through the fire of intense study? Careful investigation never seems to lose its power to intimidate and threaten. And on and on. Learning to preach is difficult because preaching is difficult.
Excerpted from Preaching by Fred B. Craddock. Copyright © 1985 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.