Few readers of Preaching will be unfamiliar with the contributions of Dr. Fred Craddock to the world of preaching and homiletics. His stature among preachers will but increase with the impact of his most recent work, Preaching, Preaching magazine’s 1986 “Book of the Year.”
Currently serving as Professor of New Testament at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Craddock has a national and international impact through his books and video series. Long a favorite speaker and lecturer, he was interviewed during the 1987 Congress on Biblical Preaching as he presented the Mullins Lectures in Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Interviewing Craddock is R. Albert Mohler, Associate Editor of Preaching.
Preaching: Our readers know you and your work. Those of us who have observed the emergence of your preaching model can detect a rather pronounced shift in your estimation of the stature of preaching within the Christian community.
In your book As One Without Authority (1971), you began with a chapter entitled “The Pulpit in the Shadows.” Your current work suggests a much more optimistic evaluation. How do your see the current state of preaching?
Craddock: Well, I certainly would not choose a chapter heading like that today. The departments of preaching in the seminaries are well-staffed. Schools which for the last twenty years did not require a single course in preaching now require three, six, or even nine hours in preaching.
Beyond that, the electives in preaching are well-populated in schools across the country and many schools are trying to find more teachers of preaching, so the days of the doldrums and caricatures, jokes, put-downs and condescension have subsided. The situation is much different now, over fifteen years since I wrote As One Without Authority.
Preaching: That addresses the academic stature of preaching among the other theological disciplines. What about the current state of preaching as a church office?
Craddock: Preaching is much stronger. The increased expectation of the congregation is finding its response. I find a great deal of strong preaching among younger ministers.
There are ministers in their forties and fifties who never had any training in preaching through their seminary experience in the civil rights era. They just did not put much stock in it and went instead into counseling or a one-on-one ministry. The “sit-down ministry” among some of the late forty- and early fifty-year olds is very good.
But this younger crowd, the twenty-five to forty-year olds, includes many really strong preachers who strive to improve their preaching. The church appreciates this. This group would include a good many Catholic priests too.
This is not to say that there are no good or great preachers among the older generation. That is not true — but the appreciation for preaching has demonstrably increased and ministers are responding to that challenge.
Preaching: William Muehl’s last book was entitled Why Preach? Why Listen?. That puts the issues right before us. Why do we preach?
Craddock: Well, because we must. We must join the biblical word with the human voice of the believer standing up in the company of other believers. Preaching has a socializing, community-building force. It brings the page of the text to life in an oral way. The nuances of the human voice maximize the content of the biblical message.
Preaching has a heavy tradition that generates a high level of expectation like no other single act in the church. Wherever you have an expectation this high, the possibility of gain, of fruit, of change, is great.
Preaching: Your model of preaching defies many traditional categories used to describe dimensions of the preaching task, including categories of sermon styles — thematic, topical, expository, and other labels. What categories do you find useful?
Craddock: That is a good question. I really do not often think in those terms. I think more in terms of a response to the questions: What is the minister seeking to say? And, what is the minister seeking to do? By “do” I mean encourage, enlighten, correct, celebrate, confront. I think in terms of these functional categories.
Preaching: One of the most interesting sections of your most recent book is on the centrality of the life of study in the context of the life of the pastor. You have a most interesting section on time in study as time with the congregation. A good many preachers feel sequestered in their studies — and in competition with other pastoral duties. Is time spent in sermon preparation really time spent with the congregation?
Craddock: Through preaching, you share the time spent in the study with the whole congregation. This time should be placed over against time spent studying something which will be shared in a one-on-one session. Therefore, there is more justification for studying two hours every morning, if it is to be shared in preaching and teaching, than for taking time to read this good book for a session with one person.
I don’t want to minimize that, but studying is time I am going to spend in preparation for the general gathering of the church — where the fruits of that study will be shared. It is not time spent apart from the congregation. The congregation is, in a sense, present with you as you study in this manner.
Preaching: Most preachers feel a sense of guilt in that they do not spend enough time in study. This is a difficult question, but how much study do you see as an adequate level of preparation for the challenge of the preaching task?
Craddock: It seems to me that if the minister gives for study two hours every morning, he can do it, she can do it. This leaves for evening and other leisure hours other kinds of reading.
In this morning period I mean just the hard study, not a lot of fun, but the necessary heart of it. If you go from 7:30 to 9:30 or 8:00 to 10:00 every morning, the accumulated benefit of that will be enormous. You can pick up just where you left off. If it is a regular thing, it can become more study than some individuals committed during their entire school experience.
The regularity is very important and gives you the maximized benefit of accumulated insight. I think if the preacher will do this, the preacher will know a great deal, share a great deal, and be well prepared.
Preaching: You are a gifted preacher as well as a teacher of preachers. The fruit of your preaching demonstrates a great ability to draw material from your reading in the past, your cogitations, your seasoned thoughts. Do you have any particular secret for your ability to access that material?
Craddock: No, I don’t. It is embarrassing that I don’t. I keep two kinds of raw material in front of me. I have a notebook in which I scribble things I come across: journalistic pieces, news items, commentary materials, or just informational items. I write them in that notebook or in something else where I can find them.
Then, in addition, I have a journal that is the germinal reflection on what I have read, with whom I have talked, and what I have done. It is almost like a diary, but this journal is the medium for many items, otherwise merely informational, which will find themselves in a sermon.
Preaching: You are a biblical scholar by training, and have an obvious love for genuinely biblical preaching. How would you define biblical preaching over against other possible forms of preaching?
Craddock: I think biblical preaching is that form of preaching which gets both the content and the purpose of the message from the text itself. This comes through a process of understanding the text. What is the text trying to do? Is it what I am trying to do? What does the text say? Is that what I am saying? Those questions expose the meaning and purpose of the text and lead to biblical preaching, whatever the form of the sermon.
Preaching: In your discussion of qualities to be sought in a sermon you include several one would expect to find and others which were a surprise. I was particularly struck by two qualities you identified: recognition and anticipation.
I would guess that many preachers might not think of these two qualities in the preparation of a sermon. Would you elaborate on these qualities and their importance in preaching?
Craddock: I think the importance of recognition is apparent whenever the congregation is in view. Here, out in front of the preacher, is a body of Christian people, many of whom have been Christians for a long time. What does it say about them if I get up there and give a message in which they don’t recognize the material or the message?
I think most of what I said, maybe ninety percent, would be recognizable. The person could say, “Why yes, I knew that.” The other ten percent of the message is then an opportunity for growth. But if the preacher presents a message dominated by material the congregation does not recognize, they will not hear the message.
If I have been in this church for thirty years and I cannot recognize a thing this preacher is saying, if I do not recognize it at all, I will do one of two things: I can get mad at the preacher, or I can feel put-down and stupid. Both of these are incredibly unhealthy.
Now, on the other hand, anticipation is that quality which keeps the congregation listening to the sermon. It lets the listener know that something is happening here, we are going somewhere, there is a destination, this person has something in mind I will want to hear, and it keeps me listening. It is the same quality that keeps you watching a television program or reading a good novel. There must be something which will be worked out through the sermon.
Preaching: Would you see anticipation more easily developed in an inductive sermon, or in a deductive model?
Craddock: The inductive sermon is constructed to do precisely this, to move from recognition to discovery. Built into this process is a healthy dose of anticipation.
Preaching: Though many preachers have learned much from the inductive model, and many have shifted to a model which relies primarily on that method, many were trained in the deductive model. Indeed, most preachers find themselves in a deductive model from time to time. Is anticipation impossible in a deductive model?
Craddock: It is not impossible in a deductive model. By the way, you can give the appearance of a deductive sermon and shift with an almost parabolic force. For instance, Robert Funk has a little syllogism: “All sinners are punished. Jim is a sinner. Jim is punished.” But suppose you present it: “All sinners are punished. Jim is a sinner. Jim is forgiven.” It then has another turn and breaks the syllogism. The anticipation of this turn is true anticipation and can be built into any kind of sermon.
Preaching: You have located the Word of God at the ear of the listener rather than at the mouth of the preacher. What does this mean for the preacher who wants to be biblical? How does the preacher envision the task of preaching with the realization of the Word at the congregation’s ears?
Craddock: What it means is this: If I know the hearer intimately, the good and the bad, I can therefore anticipate any obstacles to good communication. I can anticipate the questions, the objections, and I will voice them for my hearer as I lay out this message.
The preacher needs to know the likely response to the message and build this knowledge into the sermon. If I know when the congregation is likely to think: “Now I hear what you are saying, but it will not really work when you get down to it,” I will anticipate this and be ready to voice this objection, along with a response: “But have you thought of this?” I may be able to open your ear, and you may be able to hear the message.
If I don’t voice your objection but leave you sitting there with it, it becomes a barrier. This barrier will prevent the Word of God from lodging in you as the listener.
Preaching: The fact that the reader has found his or her way into this magazine indicates an interest in preaching. What would be your message to these readers?
Craddock: The primary thing I would say, I suppose, would be a word of encouragement to the preaching minister to find a way in your present setting to have a regular, habitual discipline of study, reading, prayer, and reflection. Do a little bit every day and do not allow yourself to give it second place by that immensely intimidating task of “getting up a sermon.” Do a little every day.

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