Recent years have seen a rich assortment of books about the art and craft of preaching, and 2014 was no exception. While the past year has not produced as many volumes in this category as some years, the reading preacher nevertheless has gained access to a number of fine contributions to the literature of homiletics.
That complicates the task of selecting a book of the year, because there are several books worthy of the attention of Preaching readers, and no single volume towers above all the others as in some years. Nevertheless, this year’s highlighted book is one that has much to offer any preacher, from the rookie to the veteran.
On Preaching by HB Charles Jr. (Moody Press), is the Preaching 2014 Book of the Year. Unlike some of the other books highlighted below, this one is written by a pastor rather than a professor and reflects the concerns and issues faced by the local church pastor who preaches to a single congregation weekly.
Although still a relatively young minister, Charles writes out of many years of experience as a preacher and pastor. Those who have heard him recognize the unique gifts he has as a proclaimer of God’s Word, but he is also a serious student of preaching and writes regularly on the subject at his website. On Preaching is a collection and adaptation of many of the articles originally written for his website.
Subtitled Personal & Pastoral Insights for the Preparation & Practice of Preaching, the 156-page book contains an assortment of brief chapters dealing with the nuts and bolts of preaching, from prayer and planning to illustrations and outlines. The newer preacher will find a great deal of help in the practical counsel, and the veteran will appreciate Charles’ insight on issues such as plagiarism, pastoral identity and ambition.
As Mac Brunson put it, the book “gives us a practical yet profoundly gripping challenge to do the work of an expositor. Pastors everywhere need to read this book, and even more importantly, practice its content.”
To that endorsement we add a hearty “Amen!” While you wait for your copy of On Preaching to arrive, you can read our interview with HB Charles in this issue. (Editor’s note: Charles did not know his book would be our Book of the Year at the time of the interview.)
In addition to our Book of the Year, there are several other excellent volumes deserving of a place on the preacher’s bookshelf. Among them:
Persuasive Preaching: A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion by R. Larry Overstreet (Weaver Book Company)
When I was invited to write a foreword for this book, I said, “The reader will find in this book a valuable discussion of what persuasion really is, what the Bible has to say about it, how it is modeled in the New Testament, and what role persuasion should and should not play in our own preaching in the 21st century. Larry has provided solid biblical content and practical guidance that will be a powerful resource for preachers and church leaders. He writes with clarity and—dare I say it?—persuasive power.”
Overstreet was a pastor for 17 years; then, until his retirement, taught and led the D.Min. program at Northwest Baptist Seminary. He is an excellent preacher and student of preaching, and this book will be a useful resource for preachers as they seek to proclaim the gospel in an age when persuasion is viewed with suspicion.
Preaching the Farewell Discourse: An Expository Walk-Through of John 13:31—17:26 by L. Scott Kellum ( B&H Publishing)
This unique volume offers preachers a guidebook to developing a sermon series on this section of John’s Gospel. Kellum does a masterful job of blending hermeneutics and homiletics as he illustrates how to approach the biblical text, understand its insights, and translate them into a message for preaching.
Jim Shaddix calls the volume “a clinic on how to start with a text of Scripture and allow it to give birth to relevant, prophetic sermons that maintain the integrity of speaking on God’s behalf.”
Preaching in an Age of Distraction by J. Ellsworth Kalas (InterVarsity Press)
In Preaching in an Age of Distraction, long-time Asbury Seminary Professor J. Ellsworth Kalas helps us as preachers step back and better understand our environment, and then offers counsel to help us respond wisely to the distractions of our age. Kalas reminds us that while we spend our days immersed in biblical texts and theological thought, our people live in a different world. Facing such challenges, preachers and teachers must learn to deal with distraction in our congregations and in ourselves.
Kalas spends the second half of his book offering wise counsel to church leaders in the use of various strategies for connecting with our distracted age. Among the approaches he discusses at length: an emphasis on excellence, a commitment to creativity, a recognition of stylistic issues (what Kalas calls packaging), and faithfulness to biblical content and doctrine.
Preaching in an Age of Distraction is solid and helpful counsel from one who’s a long-time pastor and has taught pastors for many years. Wise pastors will take his insights to heart while facing the challenge of preaching in this distracted age.
Giving Blood: A Fresh Paradigm for Preaching by Leonard Sweet (Zondervan)
In Giving Blood, Leonard Sweet aims at redirecting preachers away from their text and word-driven paradigm toward a new semiotic approach, which focuses on stories and images. He said, “Semiotics is about pointers, not points.” Sweet wants preachers to rethink their craft so as to reduce the emphasis on the text and enhance the image-based, experiential element. He makes the valid point that contemporary American culture is story-driven and that effective communication requires that we speak to listeners in language they can grasp.
In our earlier review of the book, we said, “Evangelicals likely will find discomfort in Sweet’s downplaying of the significance of the words of the biblical text in favor of an almost total emphasis on image and metaphor. Jesus preached primarily in parables, but other examples of New Testament preaching differ significantly. Surely there is a place for both approaches in today’s pulpit.”
Still, this is a book that deserves the attention of those committed to preaching effectively in a postmodern age.
Michael Duduit is executive editor of Preaching and founding dean of the College of Christian Studies and Clamp Divinity School at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina.