Samuel D. Proctor, The Certain Sound of the Trumpet: Crafting a Sermon of Authority (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1994), paper, 137 pages, $12.
Mention the word authority among ministerial colleagues and you’re likely to get peculiar looks that betray the thoughts, “Authority, I’m not into that. I’ve always viewed myself as an enabler.” Use the word authority in a book title and people will detour that section of the bookstore shelf for more user-friendly titles, like Seven Steps for Getting People to Like You as Their Pastor. Speak of sermons and authority in the same sentence and the wrath of homileticians will descend upon you more quickly than the plagues that engulfed the obstinate Pharaoh. So along comes a book calling for certainty at a time of relativism, authority in an age of recalcitrance. Does such a book deserve even a second glance? Actually, avoiding it might lead to homiletical malnutrition.
Samuel D. Proctor is pastor emeritus of Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School, and professor emeritus at the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University. He has taught preaching at the Divinity School at Vanderbilt, at United Theological Seminary at Dayton, and at Duke Divinity School. He delivered the prestigious Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale in 1990.
A quick glance at the table of contents reveals that Proctor relies on a Hegelian structure for sermon design. Some preachers might quickly disregard the reliance on antithesis, thesis, synthesis as outdated modes of philosophical inquiry, offering little rhetorical help in light of contemporary homiletical designs toward narrative, induction, and imagination. But Proctor, poetic with his prose, makes a convincing case for this approach as “one way of doing sermons.”
Proctor begins by discussing “The Call of the Preacher.” This chapter alone is worth the price of the book, especially for those who wonder — now and again — whether the blood, sweat, and tears that they put into their preaching is worth the effort. The author declares:
The sermon is different from other staged events because it seeks to tilt life God-ward, to encourage us to answer the horizontal, mundane, pedestrian issues of living toward the face of God. It recognizes that we were born to live more than a one-dimensional existence. It urges the listener to see all of life in the light of God’s presence, God’s person, and God’s power, and not merely in the light of our limited, finite capacity or in the light of our brief sojourn here (pp. 9-10).
He reminds every tired preacher that we have the “burden of interpreting life’s annoying vicissitudes and relating them to the larger purposes of God in creation” (p. 12). There is nothing trivial about preaching. Great preaching presents Jesus Christ to the modern mind “transposing him from a world of goats, camels, fig trees, and mustard seeds to a world of crack, teenage gun fights, child abuse, stealing in high places, and education without values” (p. 13). Reflecting on this chapter will drive preachers first to their knees and then to their pulpits with a new realization that preaching can do something.
Not unlike other current books on homiletic theory, Proctor calls for preachers to know their congregation’s contextual situation — physically, socially, psychologically, and theologically. Then the preacher must ask a key question: “What should the word for them be on this day, in this place.” For the author, “This word comes as a major proposition, a one-sentence statement that embraces a salient truth for that audience at that time [emphasis added]” (p. 25). Here is where the authority rubber hits the sermonic road for Proctor. The major proposition is the idea — the message — of the sermon. Trying to make a sermon out of a non-idea is futile: “Before any sermon goes anywhere the preacher must have focus and direction” (p. 26).
Some might argue that Proctor’s approach appears too dogmatic. The argument goes: “Sermons should leave room for multiple interpretations. Otherwise some people might feel excluded or offended.” While Proctor would agree that inclusion remains a hallmark of the Gospel, flaccid, neutral, insipid sermons are not sermons at all. Preaching should be compelling, spoken with authority: “As the trumpet must blow a certain sound, the sermon must speak with authority” (p. 26; cf. 1 Cor. 14:8).
For those beaming with glee, who read authoritarian into Proctor’s use of authority, who are ready to use preaching as a “bully pulpit” for promoting personal agendas, beware. Authority, for Proctor, exists grounded in submissive obedience to Christ. It is not the preacher who has authority, but that which is proclaimed. A sermon of authority rests in the majesty of God, not in the mundaneness of the preacher.
In the chapters that follow, Proctor delineates what he means and does not mean by the sermon’s proposition. The proposition sets the course for the sermon; it tells what the sermon is about — its thesis. The antithesis describes the human situation that the sermon addresses. The synthesis answers the congregation’s “relevant question” and comes as close as we can to giving I the people ‘something to live on’ for the coming week” (p. 111).
Proctor suggests that this homiletical method can be used for a variety of sermon types, admitting, more than once, that it is only one method for sermon preparation. Throughout the book, he gives numerous illustrations supporting his method and incarnating it with examples from his own sermons. Preachers who have trouble arranging sermon ideas into a cogent rhetorical package will benefit greatly by trying Proctor’s method. Those who have shied away from the word authority when it comes to preaching will find the book refreshing to read. Finally, all who have heard Samuel Proctor preach will appreciate this glimpse into his personal method for sermon preparation.
Warren W. Wiersbe, Preaching & Teaching with Imagination: the Quest for Biblical Ministry (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1994), hardcover, 400 pages.
Warren Wiersbe, the author of more than 100 books, has served on the staff of Youth for Christ International and as pastor of churches in Indiana, Kentucky, and Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church. He admits he wrote this book not as an expert in homiletics or imagination theory, but as a teacher and preacher concerned to challenge other preachers “to move out of the academy into the marketplace and to start communicating God’s truth the way God communicated it to us in His Word” (p. 9).
The book is presented in three parts: I. Imagination and Life; II. Imagination and Scripture; III. Imagination and Biblical Preaching. In the first section, Wiersbe criticizes the weakness of much biblical preaching in its urge to analyze the bark on every tree of the forst, only to miss the majesty of the forest itself:
… we have so emphasized the analytical that we’ve forgotten the poetic. We see the trees waving their branches, but we hold the branches still, examine them scientifically, leaf and twig, and all the while fail to hear the trees clapping their hands at the glory of God (pp. 35-36).
The author presents ample evidence that preachers need to develop healthy imaginations, turning their minds into “inner picture galleries.” He calls preachers to rediscover the power of metaphorical language so “you turn people’s ears into eyes and help them see the truth” (p. 43). He rightly argues that effective preachers develop a “showing” mindset rather than merely a “telling” one. People respond to sermons that forcefully paint pictures of the glory of God’s truth for hearers instead of just providing more biblical information about God. Wiersbe builds this case in a chapter creatively entitled “Skeletons in the Pulpit, Cadavers in the Pews.” He also chides preachers for spending inordinate amounts of time developing alliterative outlines — often straining the gnat to drink the camel — when the time could be better spent discovering and developing images for touching people’s minds and hearts.
In the second section, Wiersbe, drawing from the well of his experience as a Bible teacher, provides exhaustive examples of images found in the major genres of biblical literature. For those who leave the first section a bit skeptical about the value of images, this part shows the biblical writers’ mastery when it came to using metaphors and imagination. The examples here are sure to pique preachers’ imaginations.
Section III deals with the practical aspects of sermon preparation. Wiersbe rightly asserts that too many sermons “share the recipe, or the menu, but not the meal; and our people go away hungry” (p. 202). He continues: “It isn’t enough simply to exegete a passage, find a theme, and then develop an outline on that theme, based on the truths of the passage.” Such is known as the process of “building a sermon.” Wiersbe indicts this method by saying that “‘Building a sermon’ is too often a mechanical process that focuses so much on analysis, content, and organization that it minimizes synthesis, intent, and motivation.” He would rather refer to the process as “giving birth to a sermon,” an organic practice emerging out of life. In the balance of the book, Wiersbe develops the method, providing numerous helpful examples. The wisdom found here is beneficial and practical.
Preaching & Teaching with Imagination is a fine book. However, what Wiersbe says about preaching and imagination can be found in many homiletics books written since the 1970s. Many of these books were written by folks not typically read by evangelicals. The sad part is that names like Fred Craddock, Eugene Lowry, and David Buttrick are as unknown to many evangelicals as the names Warren Wiersbe and Haddon Robinson are to non-evangelicals. To his credit in this book, Warren Wiersbe draws on scholars from across the theological spectrum, including Walter Brueggemann, Frederick Buechner, David Buttrick, H. Grady Davis, Northrop Frye, Sallie McFague, Charles Rice, Thomas Troeger, and Paul Scott Wilson. By drawing from this rich well of knowledge, Wiersbe shows there is much we can learn from each other, even in our differences, to advance God’s Kingdom. Preachers who take Wiersbe’s advice seriously will be better preachers, no matter their theological persuasion.
D. Stuart Briscoe, Fresh Air in the Pulpit: Challenges and Encouragement from a Seasoned Preacher (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), paper, 189 pages. $10.99.
For over twenty years, D. Stuart Briscoe has served as pastor of Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In Fresh Air in the Pulpit this sought-after preacher offers practical advice for infusing new life and excitement to the task of pulpit ministry. He criticizes the ministerial tendency to change methodology when some aspect of ministry needs rejuvenation. Instead, in Part One he calls for refreshing that begins in the life of the preacher: by “Being Powerful” under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; by “Being Careful” about the motivation and grounding of our preaching ministry; and by “Being Faithful” to the One in whose name we preach.
Briscoe describes the congregational pressures that often impede effective pulpit ministry: pressure from intimidators, adulators, and agitators. It’s impossible to read this section without thinking about the personifaction of these pressures in actual ministry settings. Briscoe has done preachers a real favor in naming the culprits. He also describes more indirect pressures that affect pulpit ministry like political pressures, the pressure of relevance, and the pressure of competition.
Perhaps the most helpful chapter is found in Part Two, which deals with Fresh Air in the Pews: “The Predictable and Unpredictable in Worship Services.” He offers a liturgical model, describing each of the elements and how each fits into the worship scheme as a whole. He encourages worship leaders to be “Predictably Unpredictable.” Because the topic of worship is often missing from homiletic texts, I wish the author would have developed his discussion here even further.
In Part Three of the book, Briscoe discusses Fresh Air in the Study. He presents his approach to a preaching plan, developing introductions and conclusions, and other rudimentary elements of preaching ministry. The final part, Fresh Air in the Pulpit, deals with matters of pulpit performance.
Other books on preaching provide more in-depth homiletical analysis or sophisticated critiques of contemporary preaching theory. Such was not Briscoe’s aim. Here is homespun wisdom, peppered with humorous anecdotes from the author’s life and preaching ministry, designed to encourage preachers. Hence, the book lives up to its subtitle.
Henry H. Mitchell and Emil M. Thomas, Preaching for Black Self-Esteem (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), paper, 156 pages.
One of the greatest contemporary challenges in preaching faces those who minister in African-American congregations, with all of the economic and social difficulties those communities encounter. Mitchell and Thomas are convinced that one of the primary needs faced by African-Americans is enhanced self-esteem which will allow them to regain a proud sense of identity and overcome the problems that plague their communities. Further, the authors are convinced that preaching is one of the major vehicles through which a message of ethnic self-esteem can be expressed.
Mitchell and Thomas discuss various issues related to their topic, and include abbreviated sermons which speak to those issues. The book will be of interest not only to African-American ministers but also to preachers who wish to better understand the issues Black Americans face in contemporary culture and how the church can better minister to them.
Mitchell teaches homiletics at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. Thomas is pastor of Jerusalem Baptist Church in Palo Alto, California.
Elizabeth Smith Bellinger, editor, A Costly Obedience: Sermons by Women of Steadfast Spirit (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1994), paper, 128 pages, $13.
The contributors to this volume share a unique identity: each ministers within a denomination (Southern Baptist Convention) which overwhelmingly rejects the place of women in the pastorate — evidenced by the fact that only two of the fourteen contributors serve as senior pastors in local churches.
Some sermons deal with the issue of women in ministry, while others take on varied topics. As with any such collection, sermons are of uneven quality — some are quite good, while others are weak. Preachers will find a variety of interesting quotations and illustrations.
Bellinger is the associate director of Central Texas Senior Ministry.
John Stroman, Pray in This Way: Sermons on the Lord’s Prayer (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), paper, 92 pages, $7.95.
Abingdon Press is to be congratulated for its willingness to continue to publish books of sermons — a segment of publishing all but abandoned by most religious publishers. In this small volume — part of the Protestant Pulpit Exchange series — Stroman deals with the contemporary human issues we encounter in the Lord’s Prayer.
Stroman is pastor of Pasadena Community Church in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Jack C. Rang, How to Rend the Bible Aloud (New York: Paulist Press, 1994), paper, 144 pages.
This book is an update and revision of Oral Rending of the Scriptures by Charlotte I. Lee. It is a helpful introduction to the public reading of Scripture which will also benefit preachers as they seek to improve sermon delivery. Most seminary preaching classes put the major emphasis on sermon preparation and construction; those preachers who have given insufficient attention to oral delivery will benefit from this volume.
Rang teaches oral presentation of literature at the University of Dayton in Ohio.
R. Michael and Rebecca Sanders, The Pastor’s Unauthorized Instruction Book (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), paper, $7.50.
This little gift book offers 276 aphorisms/maxims/wise counsel for ministers. Many are good (#14, “Don’t fight battles over the color of the carpet.”) and some are obvious (#1459, “The longer pastorate is usually the more effective.”). A few even deal with preaching (#58, “Learn how to give a gratifying Mother’s Day sermon.”). Pastors who have served ten years or more have already learned most of this the hard way, but it would be a delightful gift for a young minister (or one preparing for ministry service).
The Sanders are United Methodists in southern Illinois; she is an attorney, and he is a former Southern Baptist pastor.
Samuel D. Proctor, The Certain Sound of the Trumpet: Crafting a Sermon of Authority (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1994), paper, 137 pages, $12.