Harold Freeman, Variety in Biblical Preaching: Innovative Techniques and Fresh Forms (Waco: Word Books, 1986), 207 pp., $12.95, cloth.
The task of translating the timeless into the timely will always be with us. Rooted in what John Stott terms “an unbridged chasm between the biblical and the modern worlds,” the task calls every serious preach to communicate the Word anew and afresh.
Harold Freeman points back to Jesus’ problem with those who tried to put new wine into old wineskins. Our problem is different, suggests Freeman: “The gospel now sounds like ‘old wine’ to many people.” They have heard it again and again.
The issue, says Freeman, is not that we need new wine, a new message, “but it may be time to put the old wine in new wineskins.” The answer is variety in biblical preaching.
Freeman, now Professor of Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, came to that position after more than twenty years in the pastorate. Variety in Biblical Preaching bears the marks of one who has faced a congregation filled with familiar faces — those who have, in Fred Craddock’s words, “overheard the gospel” time and time again. The book represents Freeman’s attempt to put theory and experience into a helpful volume addressed to the preaching minister seeking models of preaching both biblical and fresh.
Sermonic variety, Freeman notes, is rooted in the scripture itself. Throughout the biblical witness the gospel is communicated in a variety of conventional, and by contemporary standards, unconventional models. Freeman seeks to identify models appropriate to both the biblical testimony and the present need for new wineskins.
This double-edged goal is doubly difficult. Most preachers think they have a pretty good idea what “biblical preaching” is, but limit this to standard forms of exposition from which they never stray. Their congregations are rarely surprised, and may be infrequently challenged.
On the other hand, one does not look far before finding a myriad of creative preaching methods which can be considered “biblical preaching” only by means of a vivid and charitable imagination. These less biblical models should not deter the preacher from the search for variety, however. We should, suggests the author, learn from the mistakes of others.
Freeeman defines biblical preaching as “the relating of biblical truth to contemporary life.” The form, therefore, is not crucial. “The fact that Scripture is related to life is what determines whether biblical preaching occurs.”
According to Freeman, the biblical message has two points of reference: the prior biblical revelation and the contemporary situation. In much the manner Stott spoke of the preacher’s task as bridgebuilder, Freeman identifies the preacher’s role as an arc between the biblical revelation and the present actual situation — what he calls the “then of the text” and the “now of our time.”
If this is the case, the raw material for the preaching task is the given biblical revelation and the fabric of contemporary life. Few preachers are unaware of their responsibility for biblical exegesis, yet many seldom think of their roles as exegetes of life.
The preacher who is an expert interpreter of scripture but has little thought of modern life is unlikely to be heard. The preacher who knows the current situation but neglects the biblical text says little which anyone should hear. Creating the arc between these two givens is a task Freeman calls “managing the middle.” Quoting Rudolph Boren, he notes that often, between the text and life, “an accident takes place.”
Freeman’s goal in the volume is to suggest a variety of biblical preaching styles and models which might well prevent such an accident. Among these are the dramatic monologue message, the dialogical message, and narrative preaching, each of which receives major consideration from Freeman. Also noted are media-augmented sermons, inductive preaching, segmented sermons, and the drama-augmented message.
The dramatic monologue sermons make maximum use of the congregation’s natural interest in people and their stories. Taking the part of a biblical character, the preacher speaks from the character’s perspective and makes the text come alive. Theology and life are connected before the congregation’s eyes and ears.
Freeman lays out the process of researching, writing, and presenting a dramatic monologue message for maximum effectiveness. His suggestions should aid the motivated preacher in the process of developing dramatic expertise for the pulpit.
Dialogue was a popular issue in the sixties and seventies. Preachers engaged their listeners in an often confusing process of listening and speaking. Now may be a timely opportunity to find an appropriate model of dialogue for biblical preaching.
Dialogical preaching, Freeman notes, has its roots in the biblical traditions. Though the monologue is the most common form of preaching, the dialogue offers unique opportunities for innovation and genuine communication. Of the models suggested in this volume, the dialogical message is probably the most difficult to manage and to master. Freeman’s presentation should assist the preacher in the consideration of this innovative model.
Freeman’s third major model, the narrative sermon, continues to grow in popularity as more and more preachers rediscover the narrative structure of both the biblical texts and our lives. The current interest, the author notes, is really a belated return to basics. It all began, in essence, as a story.
The preacher as storyteller should be a comfortable and natural role. Freeman offers several helpful suggestions as he considers the loss of the story in Christian preaching and its recovery. In a helpful section, he suggests strategies of narrative preaching from both narrative and nonnarrative biblical materials.
Congregations need time to adjust to innovative preaching. Once the “what’s next?” stage has passed and the congregation is accustomed to innovation and creativity a genuine opportunity may emerge for other forms of experimental preaching. Freeman suggests four varieties of messages: the inductive message, the segmented sermon, and sermons augmented by media and drama.
Inductive preaching is rooted in contemporary modes of thought, which are often inductive in form. Traditional preaching generally follows a deductive pattern, with the text at the beginning and application following. Inductive preaching, though as biblical as deductive models, starts with the contemporary situation and moves to the scripture. The situation raises the issues the scripture will address. The sermon is, therefore, bridging the chasm from the contemporary situation to the biblical text, rather than from the text to the situation.
Both models have proven effective in the pulpit, and both are based on sound exegesis and genuine insight into the human situation. The effectiveness of the preaching task is enhanced by use of both methods.
The segmented sermon will sound strange to many readers. In essence, this model suggests interspersing segments of the sermon with other parts of the worship service. A portion of the sermon may be separated from the next segment by a hymn, prayer, or other worship event. This model has an increasing relevance in an age of television and the mass media. The television age is marked by seven-to-eight minute segments of information separated by commercial breaks. Freeman’s brief investigation of this model will prod the reader to consider the advantages and disadvantages of this variety of preaching.
The preacher may call upon media and drama to augment the sermon for maximum effectiveness. Freeman gives greater attention to the media-augmented message, but considers the drama-augmented message as well. The media can be complementary or distracting, depending on the situation and the appropriateness of the medium. Drama may illustrate the truth of the sermon in ways a merely oral presentation can never bring to light.
Freeman’s models are, in his words, “suggestive, not exhaustive.” Variety hi Biblical Preaching is a book worthy of the preacher’s serious attention. If congregations are resistant to variety, preachers are more so. In fact, the congregation may be more accepting of variety than the preacher would ever imagine.
Biblical truths communicated effectively reach the deepest levels of human existence, and fill the void no other words can fill. Congregations hearing the Word anew and afresh are not likely to confuse new wineskins for new wine. Freeman challenges all to risk the innovative for the sake of effectiveness.
Ian Pitt-Watson, A Primer for Preachers (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 107 pp., $5.95, pb.
Successor to the proud tradition of Scottish preachers, Ian Pitt-Watson taught for many years at the University of Aberdeen before joining the faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1980. This brief primer is designed by the author for both the seminary student and the practicing minister.
For the student Pitt-Watson offers a brief introduction to the preaching task as new subject matter. For the preaching minister he has a more dynamic intention: a refresher course in preaching for those who have grown weary in the task. For both intended audiences the book is ably suited.
A Primer for Preachers is one of the best short essays on preaching to appear in recent years. Coming from one whose great love for preaching is obvious, it has an infectious quality apparent to even the most casual reader. Pitt-Watson holds preaching in high esteem and he has high expectations of preachers.
Seminary students, he notes, leave seminary with an arsenal of theological dynamite, but, he notes, “they seldom look dangerous.” Faithful preachers of many years service may have lost “that vital spark” which leads to exciting and powerful preaching. Pitt-Watson has presented here an essay which should make both student and veteran more “dangerous” in the pulpit.
Preaching, suggests the author, is not merely a variety of communications theory “that happens to be about God.” It is, by his definition, “God speaking through us who preach.” Those who model their preaching after modern communications theory may be effective communicators, but their message is unlikely to square with the biblical model of preaching.
Professor Pitt-Watson admits to a “love-hate relationship with preaching.” It is an exacting and demanding task which demands more than the preacher may feel able to give. Yet while he might gladly cast off the responsibility, “another part of me knows that in the pulpit I find a kind of fulfillment, a joy, an exhilaration like no other.”
All genuine biblical preaching is, by the author’s definition, expository. He does not mean by this a slavish dependence on verse-by-verse exposition, however.
“Sometimes, on a bad day, it could turn out to be no more than saying weakly, inaccurately, and at length what the Bible was saying for itself with power, precision, and economy.” In the hands of a careful preacher this method can be highly effective, but Pitt-Watson warns that “no methodology can guarantee that a sermon is really biblical.” That, he warns, will be determined not by form, but by content.
Biblical preaching is, according to the author, the merging of two stories, His and ours.
“Above all, preaching is the remembering and retelling of how our stories are being gathered into His.”
In two short chapters Pitt-Watson considers the two texts of the sermon: the text of scripture and the text of life. Both texts, he suggests, require of the preacher sound and careful exegesis.
Pitt-Watson compares the exegesis of the biblical text to an iceberg: much of it will never break the surface of the sermon. Preachers will find the author’s suggestions concerning biblical exegesis for preaching most helpful.
The homiletic perspective requires what Pitt-Watson terms “a kind of binocular vision.” One lens must focus on the biblical text while the other sees the text of life, which is itself rooted in the revelation of God. “We must look honestly at both, knowing that if we do the Spirit-given moment will come when the two texts will fuse into one and we shall begin to see both in new dimensions of depth.”
A key insight in the essay is the author’s focus on the sermon as an organic unity. Sermons, he suggests, “are more like babies than buildings.” That is, “We do not really construct them — they grow in us.”
He illustrates the organic unity required of the sermon by means of the model of the body. The sermon needs a skeleton, a cardiovascular system, flesh, and musicle. The skeleton is the conceptual structure, the bloodstream its emotional flow, the flesh its incarnational theme, and the muscle that which requires and enables action.
The fundamental action the sermon should evoke in the listener is repentance, suggests Pitt-Watson. All preachers will find his discussion of conversion interesting and insightful.
In two compact chapters the author deals with issues of sermon development and delivery. Much of these sections will be familiar to the experienced preacher, but Pitt-Watson adds unique insights and colorful suggestions.
In a discussion of the actual delivery of the sermon and the exercise of voice and gesture, Pitt-Watson calls for an exploration of the full range of intensity and inflection. As he suggests, “the aim is to free us up to do in the pulpit what we do naturally elsewhere, to enable us to be ourselves — only more so!”
Two final chapters deal with the nature of biblical truth and suggested resources for further development. In both the author offers uncommonly perceptive insights and urges the preacher to develop fully a holistic understanding of truth and preaching. “In preaching,” he states, “the whole person is addressed by the whole truth.” A high calling indeed.
Book Notes
William H. Willimon, And The Laugh Shall Be First: A Treasury of Religious Humor (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986), 156 pp., $12.95, cloth.
Few preachers exhibit the judicious use of humor characteristic of William Willimon. His own writings abound with the whimsical, the ironic, and the cathartic. In this brief volume Willimon, a Preaching contributing editor, has gathered several favorite pieces of religious humor into a short but powerful collection.
Selections range from H. L. Mencken’s “The Hills of Zion” to Martin Marty’s “Fundies in Their Undies.” “Fundies” and others will find both catalysts for thought and good reasons for chuckles as they peruse this latest contribution from the Minister to the University at Duke.
“Among all creatures,” says Willimon, “human beings are the only animals who both laugh and weep for we are the only animals stuck with the difference between the way things are and the way things ought to be.” You ought to read this book.
Robert E. Webber, Celebrating Our Faith: Evangelism Through Worship (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986), 112 pp., $11.95, cloth.
Professor of Historical Theology at Wheaton College, Robert Webber has given more careful attention to worship than any other evangelical theologian of this period. When he speaks on worship, folks pay attention.
Webber’s intention in this book is to consider the most appropriate means of evangelism, a means faithful to the biblical imperatives and to the nature of the church in the contemporary world. He focuses on both the evangelism of unbelievers and the restoration of lapsed believers — a twin focus much needed but seldom seen.
The model Webber describes in this volume is liturgical evangelism, which he suggests is rooted in the third-century church as it found its way in a pagan society. Not all readers will find the emphasis on liturgy familiar to their denominational contexts. All will find rich insights and suggestions for creating a nurturing and transforming worship experience.
Elizabeth Achtemeier, Preaching as Theology and Art (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984), 142 pp., $8.75, pb.
Elizabeth Achtemeier plumbs the depths of the biblical witness with aplomb and energy. This volume contains the full text of several sermons which demonstrate the model of preaching Achtemeier suggested in her earlier book, Creative Preaching.
Preaching, she suggests, is both theology and art. It is based in a history and a tradition founded in the earliest church and the New Testament kerygma. The preacher is thus a church theologian-and the only theologian most church members will ever meet.
On the other hand, preaching is also an art form. It is not so simply because it is oral communication, but because it is oral communication in the service of the church, directed to the community of faith in order to make a difference. The sermons and descriptive chapters make for rich reading.
Michael J. Hostetler, Introducing the Sermon: The Art of Compelling Beginnings, “The Craft of Preaching Series” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 85 pp., $5.95, pb.
The blurb on the cover says it best: “Preaching is like a football game except that in preaching the two-minute warning comes at the beginning of the game. If the preacher does not get off to a good start, he is likely to lose, and so is his congregation.”
Hostetler offers a surprisingly cogent and powerful essay on the purpose and execution of compelling beginnings. He demonstrates that all sermons need great attention to the introduction-the point at which the congregation decides to listen or to shift into psychic neutral.
Hostetler identifies four “contact points” the sermon must touch: the secular, the biblical, the personal, and the bridge from the introduction to the body of the sermon. His presentation is itself compelling.
John W. Drakeford, Humor in Preaching, “The Craft of Preaching Series” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 105 pp., $5.95, pb.
Though most humans can appreciate humor and laugh with great ease, few are skilled stewards of humor. The preacher is not called to be a comedian. Nevertheless, few places are in greater need of the strategic deployment of humor as the Christian pulpit. Communication occurs without humor, but much more readily and more lasting with humor as energy and catalyst.
Drakeford, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Counseling at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, offers readers keen instructions on the use of humor in the pulpit. The work is fertilized with Drakeford’s helpful suggestions about the role of psychology in humor.

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