Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Baker Book House, 1994), 374 pages, $24.99.

Twenty years ago, in connection with some graduate studies, I reviewed the many hundreds of biblically-oriented homiletics texts produced in the previous 175 years and found 90% of them to be repetitive and mundane. Of course some of the “classics” stood out as fresh and highly significant. These included the many volumes by A. W. Blackwood and by W. E. Sangster, John A. Broadus’ Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, Phillips Brooks’ Lectures on Preaching, H. Grady Davis’ Design for Preaching, together with a handful more. These all well deserve the continued interest they have sustained over the years. Now, over this latter half of the twentieth century, we continue to profit from contemporaries such as Haddon Robinson, Thomas G. Long, and Fred B. Craddock. Bryan Chapell’s new Christ-Centered Preaching may well be destined to join their illustrious ranks.

In our era, only James S. Stewart in his A Faith to Proclaim has dared boldly to confront the all-too-common pulpit distortion of the age first noted by Brooks as “preaching which must be called preaching about Christ as distinct from preaching Christ,” a malady which tends to spread in unfortunate proportion to an otherwise worthy focus on the impactive dimensions of Christianity on our needy society.

Bryan Chapell has now tackled the virus that robs so much contemporary preaching of its virility and dulls its confrontational character. This innovative discussion of the authority and redemptive power of the Scriptures when exposed uses all the insights gleaned from contemporary studies in communications dynamics. But he contends that the determination of a sermon’s subject remains only half-done when the preacher has merely discerned what the biblical writer was saying. Chapell thus affirms that only a clear understanding of each specific passage’s purpose can facilitate an unclouded capacity to proclaim its truths effectively.

He offers a therapy which centers on what he calls “a redemptive approach to preaching,” and displays how this particular purpose may vary from passage to passage. But he also insists that true applications of any such specific biblical substance can only proceed authentically within the over-arching theological concern of a “fallen condition focus” and its power to reveal the sub-Christian character of much that passes for authentic pulpit proclamation. This focus he defines as “the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or for whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage” (p. 42).

This principle, only barely hinted at in most homiletics texts, is herein adroitly analyzed, carefully clarified, widely applied, and well illustrated. The centrality of this idea to the whole of Chapell’s volume, and its position as integral to everything from introductions to conclusions — along with his attention to transitions, structures, applications, illustrations, and presentations — makes this volume not only contemporary but also unique, and will assure its influence for many years. For our disillusioned and frustrated “post-modern” world it offers a comprehensive yet concise and well-proven approach to relevance for today’s preaching tasks.

Chapell’s volume provides summary but adequate attention to evangelistic, wedding and funeral messages, as well as giving useful and natural examples of the application of tested psychological principles and speech dynamics for today’s pulpit. Dress, deportment and style are also addressed.

While the treatment pays little detailed attention to the handling of “critical” problems in hermeneutics, and its holistic emphases are such that this volume does not seem to require them, a full chapter which dealt with some contemporary movements could have improved its clout.

The author discusses the tension between selective or continuous pulpit series. He advocates a preference for subjects chosen in relation to the needs of the congregation rather than one totally given over to a more general and directed pulpit entity such as one fully-controlled only by a lectionary. But he neglects to offer much help for our discovery of such needs by analysis, or through a congregational survey or other program which would nourish their verbalization. Such minor gaps are, however, balanced by his intelligent discussion of series preaching, cautions against dangers, and words of wisdom about tools and how to use them — all in the same chapter.

As befits the vice-president and dean of a respected Presbyterian seminary, the convictions that Chapell espouses are freshened by an authentic theological context all too often forgotten in pulpit practice today. I am not at all surprised that jacket commentators described it as “an outstanding tool,” “a substantially new contribution and much needed,” “a solid yet contemporary approach,” “the best I’ve seen on this subject,” and “Finally a book on preaching where one can hear ‘the soft sound of sandalled feet.’ Christ is the message of the preacher, and this book will enable the preacher to lift Him up in ways that will change lives.”

I found the work to be scholarly in its research base, balanced in its argument, succinct and focused in its presentation, creative in its emphases, seminal in its potential, and also delivered with some panache, a vivacity uncommon enough in preaching volumes to be itself quite remarkable. This book is simply a “must” for every student and pastor. With most of the current publishing year over, this volume may well become the best of 1994. I have yet to find a better one.

Donald L. Hamilton, Homiletical Handbook (Broadman & Holman Press, 1992), paper, 207 pp.

As our century draws to a close, one rather scary development in the ever-increasing flood of preaching volumes is the proclivity of homiletics professors to publish their introductory class-notes as texts to be used for others. To be sure, such volumes have provided many valuable resources over many years in the past, but so many of today’s preaching books seem only to offer the same fast food re-heated and repackaged — a process which always leaves much of the material dry and unpalatable.

Hamilton’s slim volume is an unusual exception. Here is an instructor in preaching and pastoral ministries who has carefully researched and well presented a significant summary volume designed explicitly for the beginning student.

Unlike so many other texts of this nature, Hamilton’s volume wastes little time in obscure and theoretical discussions of preaching philosophies, psychologies, and communications principles but plunges right in to demonstrate their significance pragmatically. After a brief but reasonably valuable chapter on the place of preaching in the Kingdom, he immediately lays down a strong rationale for his major focus: the importance of sermonic structure. He then surveys nine diverse techniques — as he calls them — which together (for him) appear to cover all useful preaching approaches.

His work is filled with useful illustrations but might have been considerably improved by the addition of exercises for students at the conclusion of each chapter which would allow them to experiment with some of the more significant ideas he propounds. While the first response of most to his treatment would undoubtedly be a comment concerning its traditional form and its practical rather than theological focus, even the most critical will have to confess that he does include attention to narrative and inductive methods. Although little is new in all he introduces, the clarity of his presentation and the scope of its embrace mean that such a volume cannot be dismissed merely as a rehash of old ideas.

An unusually outstanding element in his treatment is the group of eleven chapters on the relationship of preaching to specific biblical books and passages. Introductory preaching texts have seldom been known for the responsible attention they have paid to the diversity of preaching approaches which need to be carefully chosen and skillfully teamed with the great variety of particular types of literature which exist within the biblical revelation. Here is a book which provides some valuable analyses and suggestions. These chapters therefore represent an authentic (albeit admittedly simple) attempt to introduce beginning preachers to such necessities.

Broadman & Holman, a fusion of two highly-respected publishers (together well-known for quality textbooks, reference works, and Bibles), is to be congratulated for this provision of a useful resource which pastors can use with confidence to structure a local church lay-preaching course. His book is so well designed, basic, straightforward, and simply written that it obviously best fits the needs of undergraduate and Bible college students. However, in this days of burgeoning enrollments in diploma courses and extension center programs, it deserves high attention from all.

Book Notes
Michael Duduit
Warren W. Wiersbe. Be Myself: Memoirs of a Bridgebuilder. (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1994), 347 pp.

Those who have long known and enjoyed the teaching and writing ministry of Warren Wiersbe will enjoy this highly personal collection of memories and insights from this gifted communicator. Even those unfamiliar with Wiersbe will benefit, since his story reflects the development of an important part of America’s evangelical subculture since the 1930’s.

For those unfamiliar with this widely-published author, Warren Wiersbe grew up in suburban Chicago in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and his involvement with Youth for Christ brought him into contact with the early ministries of a variety of evangelical leaders, including Billy Graham, Ted Engstrom and others. He served as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Covington, Kentucky, then returned to Chicago to serve as pastor of the historic Moody Memorial Church (whose previous pastors included R. A. Torrey and H. A. Ironside).

From 1982 until 1990, Wiersbe served as featured teacher on the “Back to the Bible” radio program, introducing his ministry to a new audience. Since 1990, he has continued to travel and speak widely, and to publish more books — he is author of more than 100 books, including the “BE” series of Old and New Testament book studies.

This book will help in introducing the man Billy Graham calls “one of the greatest Bible expositors of our generation” to a still-wider audience.

Calvin Miller, The Empowered Communicator (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), hardcover, 218 pp.

One of the church’s compelling communicators offers seven “keys to unlocking an audience.” Miller points out that “This book is written for all preachers who, much more often than we would like to admit, live Sunday by Sunday in that locked-out world.” The book is practical and engaging, and preachers will find it a useful tool in evaluating their own efforts.

Miller spent twenty years as pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Omaha, Nebraska. During that time the church grew from ten members to more than 2,500. He now serves as professor of communications and writer in residence at Southwestern Baptist Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. He also serves on the Board of Contributing Editors of Preaching.

Chad Brand and Clark Palmer, editors, Holiday Sermons (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), hardcover, 163 pp., $14.99.

This is a handy little collection of a dozen sermons related to various holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Palm Sunday and Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Independence Day. All of the preachers represented in this brief collection are conservative evangelicals; contributors include Stuart Briscoe, Stephen F. Olford, Calvin Miller, Jack Hayford, Ed Young, and W. A. Criswell.

Gail R. O’Day and Thomas G. Long, editors, Listening to the Word (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), paper, 268 pp.

Listening to the Word is a collection of essays on preaching, published in honor of Fred B. Craddock, recently retired from Emory’s Candler School of Theology, where he became a significant influence on the shape of American preaching over the past two decades. The essays — all but one written by faculty members at mainline seminaries — take on a variety of topics relating to contemporary preaching.

Leighton Ford, The Power of Story (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994), paper, 186 pp.

Leighton Ford is an effective Christian communicator, and in this book he takes on a topic that’s of great interest in contemporary preaching — the use of story — and emphasizes the value and place of story in evangelism. The writing is lively and engaging, and preachers will find outstanding insights and illustrations. The author is president of Leighton Ford Ministries, and a former associate evangelist with Billy Graham.

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