1998 marked a resurgence in books about Preaching. At Preaching, except for our annual review of books, we attempt to limit our review to books having to do with preaching and/or worship leadership. In 1997, it was tough coming up with books to review. Not so this past year. Many of these books have already been reviewed in previous issues of Preaching. This review may help provide some context to the helpful works in preaching published in 1998.
One of the most significant new releases is David L. Larsen’s The Company of Preachers (Kregel). An encyclopedic volume of 850 pages, not including appendices and index, it deals with virtually every preacher who has made a significant contribution to the field of homiletics from the Old Testament Prophets through the 20th Century. It certainly will have great resonance among those who study homiletics academically and among those who are lovers of history. He begins with a brief theology of preaching which is written from a thoroughly evangelical perspective. Preachers who read it will be encouraged by the uniqueness — some would even say quirkiness — of different individuals God has used in history. Larsen shows significant scholarship in providing such an encyclopedic volume.
David Buttrick has weighed in with Preaching the New and the Now (Westminster/John Knox). Buttrick brings a significant voice to the homiletical conversation. He argues that preaching must present a compelling vision of the kingdom of God. For him, the kingdom involves a large measure of social activism. Although he seems to scoff at many notions that evangelicals hold sacred, his social message is a stimulating corrective to becoming too individualistic in our faith.
In Preaching that Matters: The Bible and Our Lives, (Westminster/John Knox) Stephen Farris, Professor of Preaching and Worship at Knox College in the Toronto School of Theology, explores the useful topic of analogy in preaching. Farris argues that preaching is the Word of God for us insofar as it coheres with the Biblical witness. He argues that analogy offers a “way of linking the world of the biblical text and the world in which we live and preach that affirms similarity but respects dissimilarity.” His is a very useful idea for those who desire to connect Bible and Life.
Not only does Farris present a compelling case for the use of analogy, he presents a methodology for using it more effectively. He provides tools that may be used in analyzing oneself as well as one’s audience. He does not squeeze his analogical understanding into any one sermon form but presents several different models in which analogy is a helpful approach to preaching.
With the stresses and pressures of ministry in the new millenium (a phrase I’m already sick of) we all need encouragement. The Christianity Today Institutes Leadership Library and Mastering Ministry series have given way to The Pastor’s Soul series. I am always blessed and encouraged when I read these books. Offerings in this series thus far include The Power of Loving Your Church, Pastoral Grit: The Strength to Stand and to Stay, and Preaching with Spiritual Passion: How to Stay Fresh in Your Calling (Bethany House).
These books are all a blessing and an encouragement but the last volume, written by Ed Rowell, is the one that deals most specifically with preaching. Rowell speaks of the daunting task of finding something fresh to say every week even in the midst of indifference, turmoil, and outright opposition. Through it all, we learn to do what we do out of our love for Jesus Christ and our desire to serve him.
The first person narrative sermon can be very effective when done well and can be highly embarrassing when not done well. Daniel Buttry, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dearborn, MI has written First Person Preaching: Bringing New Life to Biblical Stories (Judson). After highlighting the importance of narrative and drama in the biblical story itself, Buttry offers a sound methodology for effective presentation of first person narratives.
The work of exegesis need to be more thorough in presenting first person narratives. More scriptural allusions need to be drawn upon in order fully to interpret a biblical character. Imagination and artistry then come into play as one crafts the raw material of exegesis and interpretation into a biblically faithful presentation of a character or scene from that character’s life. There are occasions when a preacher may want to dress “in costume” or simply add some outer garment that would make it clear to the listeners that a shift from their pastor to Pontius Pilate, for example has taken place. His methodology is as sound as it can be in the space allotted to it.
Buttry presents a wide array of first person narrative sermons. They represent testimonies of the faithful and reactions of the skeptical as well as biblical and non-biblical characters. One slightly different wrinkle is “A Letter from Mary,” in which the preacher simply reads a letter which has ostensibly been written by a biblical character. It bypasses questions about introduction and costume and allows the preacher a format with which he may be more comfortable — simply reading a letter. Buttry’s book will stimulate fresh and creative ideas for preaching.
Elizabeth Achtemeier is keeping her word processor busy in her retirement. She has come out with two reference tools which will help preachers preach Old Testament texts more faithfully. Preaching Hard Texts of the Old Testament (Hendrikson) is a tool which deals with 32 Old Testament texts which present difficulties for the contemporary preacher. These deal with topics such as the sacrifice of Isaac, the cherem in which Joshua and the Israelite were ordered to destroy completely every living thing in Canaan, and the command to the reconstituted community under Ezra to put away their foreign wives. For each of these 32 texts which encompass every major division of the Old Testament, she gives an exegesis and then suggestions as to how one may then deal with that topic from the pulpit. She gives strong consideration to the lectionary but does not limit her selections to the lectionary.
Another reference tool by Achtemeier is Preaching from the Minor Prophets. There is only so much that can be said about an entire book of the Bible in 6 to 10 pages. Achtemeier does an effective job of summarizing the historical and theological contexts of each books. She is not intending to write an additional commentary but to help the preacher build a bridge from text and commentary to contemporary audiences. She lifts out selected passages from each of the books and offers suggestions on how that text may be preached. Her contributions will enable more effective proclamation of the message of these obscure but powerful spokesmen for God.
Stephen Olford is one of the most highly revered expository preachers of our time. Nearing the age of 80, he still maintains a full schedule of speaking and conference leading. Through Encounter Ministries and the Stephen Olford Center for Expository Preaching in Memphis, TN, he now offers continuing education and encouragement to pastors. Along with his son, David, he has offered the compressed wisdom of his years of preaching in Anointed Expository Preaching (Broadman & Holman). It is a very thorough work which deals not only with the nuts and bolts of sermon preparation but also with the life of the preacher. More than merely saying, for example, the preacher must be a person of integrity, he fleshes out what it means to be a person of integrity. His comprehensive approach to the preacher’s total life and work habits are this book’s greatest strength. Those who are attracted to Dr. Olford’s highly deductive style of expository preaching will find this book of great benefit.
Philip Wogaman, of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. has offered a volume entitled Speaking the Truth in Love: Prophetic Preaching in a Broken World. Although many of the readers of Preaching will not share Wogaman’s theological or political perspective, he offers sound principles for preaching prophetically in a pastoral context. A fuller review of this book will appear in the next issue of Preaching.
Reading sermons, whether as models of effective preaching or as devotional material, can be very enriching. There are several volumes of sermons which are worth mentioning in this survey. Barbara Brown Taylor is a master of sermon artistry. The volume Teaching Sermons on Suffering: God in Pain (Abingdon) offers several sermons, mostly on Lenten themes which speak powerfully of both human and divine suffering. A Baylor University survey of preachers named Taylor as one of the twelve most effective preachers in the United States. Walter Burghardt, S. J. has also been so honored. His Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters (Paulist) offers a style of preaching which may be different from what Protestant evangelicals are used to but will prove enriching to pastors who are willing to broaden their horizons.
In addition to these worthy volumes, James Earl Massey’s The Burdensome Joy of Preaching has been recognized as the Preaching Book of the Year for 1998. These chapters represent the Conger Lectures delivered at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL in 1995. A more complete discussion of this book may be found on page 3.
The books on homiletics which appeared in 1998 will further enrich the proclamation of the gospel. If you want to be a more effective preacher, there is plenty of new material to help you!

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