Bryan Chapell, Using Illustrations to Preach With Power. (Revised Edition) Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001. ISBN 1-58134-264-0. Paper, 208 pages.
Let’s be clear up front: this is not a book of sermon illustrations (although it does contain some good ones). Rather, it is a guide to help preachers learn how to find and use illustrations more effectively.
Any preacher who has been at the task for awhile recognizes the absolutely critical nature of illustrations in the preaching process. Good illustrations not only offer our listeners an interesting break from more abstract thought; they are often the most effective part of the sermon in driving home a concept or principle. Thus, it behooves every preacher to take time to better understand how to harness the power of illustrations. And Bryan Chapell offers us valuable insights in that process.
Chapell, who serves as President of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, as well as teaching preaching there, first published this volume in 1992, but this new publication has been revised and updated. In response to those who criticize the use of illustrations, he observes: “Illustrations are not supplemental to good exposition; they are a necessary form of exposition in which biblical truths are explained to the emotions and the will as well as the intellect.” Although acknowledging that illustrations can be misused, he argues forcefully that they provide an essential tool for the task of communicating God’s truth.
This book may be more important now than when first published a decade ago due to the growing emphasis on narrative in preaching. (Just consult the interview with Haddon Robinson to see how the place of narrative has grown in the homiletical conversation.) “The shift from illustrating propositions in expository messages to substituting narrative for propositional truth in entire messages has been pronounced and pervasive,” Chapell notes. He address this issue, including consideration on “The Limits of Narrative.”
Chapell offers a brief overview of the historical use of illustrations in preaching of previous generations, and offers a consideration of the current homiletical landscape and the place of illustration in it. He also considers evidence from current learning and communication theory which helps us understand why and how illustrations are so important. Always focused on faithfulness to scripture, Chapell argues the case for the wise use of illustration, then discusses at length the process of constructing and presenting them effectively.
He also offers some cautions about illustrations, noting, “Illustrations that are not carefully crafted may inadvertently undermine the pastor’s character or erode a congregation’s trust.” Here is a chapter every preacher (particularly young and inexperienced ones) should consider a “must read.”
Using Illustrations to Preach With Power is a practical, helpful guide to one of the most important tasks preachers face. It deserves a place on every preacher’s bookshelf.
David L. Larsen, Telling the Old, Old Story: The Art of Narrative Preaching. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications. ISBN 0-8254-3096-8. Paper, 320 pages.
Here is another reissue of a previously published work (first released in 1995 by Crossway). In this fine volume, long-time homiletics professor David Larsen deals with the issue of narrative preaching. (He is now Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.)
Larsen discusses the genre of narrative literature in scripture, then deals at length with constructing the sermon dealing with a narrative passage. He discusses the particular challenges biblical preachers face in communicating the truths found in such texts.
In the third major section of the book, Larsen digs into preaching issues that relate to specific types of narrative material: parables, miracle stories, apocalyptic, etc.
As is clear in other articles in this issue of Preaching, the subject of narrative continues to press preachers and demand from them new insights and approaches. Larsen’s book will be a helpful tool in that effort.
Paul Wilke, Excellent Protestant Congregations. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. ISBN 0-664-22329-X. Paper, 259 pages.
In this unique and interesting book, writer Paul Wilke identifies a group of nine “excellent” churches which are innovatively and effectively reaching people in their own communities.
Although there are several references to mainline Protestantism, the reality is that the churches profiled don’t fit neatly into any category. They include mainline, evangelical and pentecostal congregations. The thread that runs through these nine — plus a larger group of 300 listed in the book — is a commitment to excellence and a willingness to adapt methodology to reach people.
Wilkes is a writer and TV producer who became Project Director of the Parish/Congregation Study at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, funded through the Lilly Endowment. The study sought out Protestant churches — regardless of denomination — which are characterized by vibrant worship and innovative programming. As Wilkes observes, “These churches look about them as if for the first time, put aside assumptions, and try to understand who indeed these people are and how they might be served.”
Pastors will find this an intriguing book to read, and few will come away without finding an idea or two to try for themselves.
Robert Leslie Holmes, Lifelines: Your Final Answer to Life’s Biggest Questions. Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald Intl., 2000. ISBN 1-883893-56-0. Hardcover, 167 pages.
Leslie Holmes is an outstanding biblical preacher, and this book reflects the work of his pulpit ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA.
Each chapter consists of a “Life Line” — a principle which, if followed, “will help you live your life on a higher plane than is otherwise possible.” Each chapter is identified by a question; for example, Does It Matter What I Believe? If There is a God, What is He Like? Where Did Jesus Christ Come From? What is the Greatest Love Story in History? Where is Jesus Today? Is There Life After Death?
A total of eighteen such “Life Lines” provide rich preaching ideas and a variety of quality illustrative material. Preachers will find this book a useful resource.
Earle W. Fike, Jr., A Month of Sundays. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8361-9142-0. Paper, 256 pages. $14.99.
This volume includes a collection of 32 sermons from a long-time Church of the Brethren pastor and denominational leader. The sermons are well-written and creative, though not expository in style.
Preachers will be particularly interested in some of Fike’s seasonal sermons, especially the variety of Easter sermons. Pastors who struggle with a creative approach to proclaiming the good news of Easter will enjoy Fike’s story-sermon, “The Year Easter Got Lost.”
Lewis A. Drummond, Ripe for Harvest: The Role of Spiritual Awakening in Church Growth. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001. ISBN 0-8054-1656-0.
Lewis Drummond is Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Beeson Divinity School, and a gifted writer and speaker on evangelism and church growth. (He was also an original member of Preaching’s Board of Contributing Editors.) In his most recent book, Drummond weaves together his insights on spiritual awakening and church growth.
Drummond shares valuable insights which will be helpful to pastors who have a healthy hunger for their churches to reach people. Among the subjects Drummond deals with are prayer and worship; it might be hoped that in future editions he would take on the role of preaching in this important area of study.
James Emery White, You Can Experience an Authentic Life. Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-8499-3787-6.
Pastors often ask me how they can get sermons published in book form. One answer is to pay a printer; another is to preach series of lively, practical messages around compelling themes. The latter approach is on display in James Emery White’s new book, based on the ten commandments.
White is founding pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, one of the nation’s fastest-growing congregations. His messages are biblically-based but are rich with contemporary illustration and targeted application. Pastors will want to note the model White offers in drawing illustrations from movies, magazines, and the pages of today’s newspaper.
This book provides an outstanding example of communicating biblical truth in a framework that will make an impact on today’s listeners.

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