Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, Michael Duduit, editor (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1993), 607 pp., cloth, $34.99.
This book was written by more writers than the Bible. Forty-nine different theorists and preachers have contributed to it. One author could not have written it all. One preacher could not practice it all.
Michael Duduit, the editor, has persuaded a band of professors and practitioners — three-fifths of them Baptist — to reflect on the major issues that contemporary ministers must tackle when they preach. They zero in on more topics than the average minister has ever thought about.
It is standard operating procedure in a review of a compilation to point out that they are of uneven quality. While that is also true of this collection, the contributions in this volume rate generally high grades. Only three or four chapters are somewhat superficial. On the other hand, several of the chapters are of the highest quality.
The Handbook of Contemporary Preaching divides into nine sections that range over the history of preaching, through the study of the biblical text, to preaching forms, into preparation and the speaking of the sermon. Other sections center in on how preaching relates to other aspects of ministry, preaching to the needs of listeners, and some special concerns faced by contemporary preachers. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography on preaching compiled by Richard Allen Bodey, a great start for anyone doing research in the subject of preaching.
Two sections are particularly strong: the articles on studying the biblical text, and the discussions of special concerns for preachers today. Raymond Bailey says things that “go without saying” but that need to be said about ethics in preaching, and William Hull’s chapter on “The Contemporary World and the Preaching Task” should be required reading for any minister who wants to be deeply relevant to the age in which we live.
Individual articles stand out as well. David Dockery’s discussion on “Preaching and Hermeneutics” provides a great deal of usable information in a condensed form. The chapter on outlining by Hugh Litchfield would add clarity to thousands of sermons each Sunday if preachers followed his advice during the week. Homileticians attempt to answer the question, “What does the preacher do with his thought when he prepares to preach?” Stuart Briscoe answers that question by giving the reader a glimpse into his thinking process as he prepares his sermon. If an unexamined sermon is not worth preaching, then James Cox will be welcome reading as he provides nineteen questions that will guide a thoughtful minister as she evaluates her sermon.
In the section on “Preaching and the Biblical Text,” Elizabeth Achtemier — the only female contributor — provides some excellent guidance on how to approach preaching from the Old Testament. Other writers explain how to study and present particular types of biblical literature. Ken Mathews suggests several workable leads for study in the Pentateuch. Sidney Greidanus has written a particularly helpful chapter on “Preaching in the Gospels,” and Scott Hafemann, through his article on “Preaching in the Epistles,” will scare off superficial preachers who think that preaching Paul’s letters takes no mental sweat. His footnotes, like many in the handbook, are as helpful as his article. Richard Melick closes the section on the study of the biblical text with an insightful and encouraging discussion on Apocalyptic literature.
Other contributors give an assist to ministers determined to relate their sermons to listener’s needs. Wayne Oates in his treatment of “Preaching and Pastoral Care” points out that rather than approaching life through doctrine, we can also come at doctrine through life. John Killinger offers some practical, down-to-Sunday morning observations about the place of the sermon in worship. Many readers will be taken back, however, by his suggestion that sermons should last only about eight minutes. In fact, this is one instance where contributors to this volume clearly disagree. Other writers who have written for this volume could hardly get out of their introductions in eight minutes.
Steve Brown has written the chapter on illustrations and confesses that he sometimes turns to books of illustrations for help (probably kept on his shelf in a plain brown wrapper labeled “Theology”). Brown’s homiletical heresy is balanced by at least two other writers for the handbook who dismiss these stories as “canned” because they fail to reflect life. But disagreements like these are the strength of this handbook. They demonstrate the obvious: preaching is more an art than a science, and all of this advice needs to be taken with a dose of salt.
Two other features make this volume a happy addition to a preacher’s library. One is a series of thumbnail sketches of noted preachers that introduce each new section of the book. These snapshots may acquaint some readers to famous personalities who have contributed to the development of the sermon throughout history. Another feature is a selection of ministers who have given the Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching sponsored by Yale University since 1871, and a list of some of those who have presented the Warrack lectures in Scotland since they began in 1920.
Are there weaknesses in this Handbook? A few. Any book of this size cannot be uniformly strong. Even the best teams have some .150 hitters. For example, more women might have been included. A chapter on how women know and process information, based on recent research, would have helped male preachers to relate more ably to a majority of their hearers. Most women have to translate sermons into “womaneze” from male orientations and illustrations. The predominance of Baptists and ministers from the South skews the contributions in that direction, but this is not a fatal flaw since preachers, all over the country and in differing fellowships, have more in common than in contrast in their ministries.
Because the book takes up fifty topics it can be overwhelming to those who take seriously all they read. An attempt to read the book through from start to finish will leave the reader with intellectual indigestion. Better to read the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching slowly, a section or an individual chapter at a time. Consider what each writer has to say. Interact, react, and when the counsel fits your need, act.
The Handbook of Contemporary Preaching provides a review on preaching and pastoral ministry as good as any course given in a theological seminary.
Book Notes
Robin R. Meyers, With Ears to Hear: Preaching as Self-Persuasion (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1993), paper, 165 pp., $11.95.
Meyers believes that preaching goes beyond a dialogue with the Scripture and with the congregation, and also takes the form of a creative dialogue with the preacher himself. The author believes that “the best way to persuade the people is to persuade the toughest customer the Gospel has: the preacher.” He believes the preacher is not called to “deliver the goods” so that the congregation will buy, but to create “rhetorical experiences in which the listeners are the real producers” –and the preacher is not exempt from that process.
Meyers is professor of speech and rhetoric at Oklahoma City University and senior minister at Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, OK.
Lee Strobel, Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry & Mary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), paper, 236 pp., $9.99.
Few preachers today are unaware of the remarkable growth and development of Willow Creek Church in suburban Chicago. Under the leadership of pastor Bill Hybels, that church has adopted an unconventional strategy for reaching unchurched persons, including the use of a “seeker-service” on Saturday and Sunday. Nearly 15,000 persons a weekend fill such services at Willow Creek.
Until 1981, Lee Strobel was one of those “unchurched Harry” types the church seeks to introduce to faith. Formerly a journalist with the Chicago Tribune, today Strobel is a teaching pastor at Willow Creek, and this important book seeks to help pastors and other church leaders understand why they aren’t reaching the unchurched, and how to go about overcoming the barriers that keep people from responding to the Gospel today.
Of particular interest to many pastors is a chapter for Christians who are married to such unbelievers. Strobel offers encouragement and advice in gently leading an unbelieving spouse to Christ. It’s an unusual church that does not have such persons as members, and this may be a helpful resource pastors can share with those members who struggle with this issue.
Preachers who want to understand and reach the unchurched today need to read this book.
Donna Schaper, Hard Times: Sermons on Hope (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), paper, 95 pages.
This brief volume, containing eleven sermons, is the latest in the “Protestant Pulpit Exchange” series published by Abingdon. Schaper is area conference minister for western Massachusetts for the United Church of Christ, and former pastor of First Congregational Church in Riverhead, NY.
Appreciation should be expressed to Abingdon Press for their commitment to publish books of quality sermons in an era when most traditional Christian publishers have long since abdicated that role. Though there is a limited marketplace for such books, it is nevertheless an important service to the churches and to preaching ministers, and Abingdon has demonstrated a ministry vision that goes beyond the financial bottom line.
Thomas Murray, His Truth Keeps Marching On: Sermons from the Military Pulpit (Lima, Ohio: Fairway Press, 1992), paper, 93 pp., $6.50.
Fairway Press is part of CSS Publishing, which has also continued to find a steady market for sermon books. This book is in two parts: in the first section, Murray discusses the unique elements of preaching in a military setting; in the second portion of the book, a group of eight sermons are included. Sermons are by Baptist, Disciples of Christ, Jewish, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist chaplains. Following each sermon, Murray has included an interview with the sermon writer and a commentary written by another chaplain.
Murray is an ordained Presbyterian minister serving as an active duty chaplain in the U.S. Army. At the time of the book’s publication, he served with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Kuwait.
Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Climbing the Rainbow (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993), cloth, 173 pp.
Lloyd Ogilvie is one of the most effective biblical communicators around, and this latest volume offers a wealth of insights and illustrations preachers will find helpful. Each chapter — originally a series of sermons, now adapted — is based on one of the divine “I will” sayings, and offers encouragement for Christian living in the face of the pressures of modern living.
Ogilvie is Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, CA. He is also a Contributing Editor of Preaching.

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