Chevis F. Horne, Preaching the Great Themes of the Bible: Stimulating Resources for Doctrinal Preaching (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1986), 294pp., pb.
The fact that some of the greatest theologians of the church have been great preachers comes as no surprise to most preachers. Recent figures of the stature of Barth, Brunner, and Theilicke serve to remind theologians of their responsibility to express a theology which issues in proclamation.
The obverse of this fact is not always so readily accepted. Not only is the theologian to be a preacher, but every preacher is inherently a theologian. A few minutes into a sermon the listener may find the preacher to be a very poor theologian, but the material which forms the basis for the sermon demands that the preacher deal with doctrine–and therefore act as a theologian.
In this book Chevis Horne reminds preachers of their responsibility in doctrinal preaching and offers sound guidance toward powerful doctrinal proclamation.
Few pastors enjoy the broad-based popularity of Chevis Horne. For over thirty years Horne served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Martinsville, Virginia, where he now serves as pastor-emeritus. After retirement from this prestigious pulpit, Dr. Horne served for several years as professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
Experience as both preacher and teacher of preachers is evident in this significant volume. Horne writes in a popular style and the book is not encumbered with academic language.
Nevertheless, the volume demonstrates considerable engagement with the theological themes. It is by no means a systematic theology or a book on the preparation and delivery of sermons. It is, in the author’s own words, “a homiletical approach to theology,” a look at theology from the pulpit.
Horne suggests that the great themes of the Bible are like a symphony–“They occur over and over again.” Horne plumbs the depths of these doctrinal themes ranging from creation to the final consummation.
The book finds its origin in his experience at the Passion Play at Oberammergau, Germany. Filled with a vivid experience of truth “clear and compelling,” the author sketched the outline which would later form the chapters of Preaching the Great Themes of the Bible. The author’s excitement shines through the creative approach demonstrated in this volume.
Horne guides the reader through the symphonic themes of scripture as one who is at home in the biblical materials. Few sections demonstrate much interaction with contemporay theology, but all sections exhibit serious engagement with Scripture.
Each chapter is replete with references to biblical passages relevant to the theme discussed. Each chapter also includes a section dealing explicitly with the scriptural basis for preaching on the theme and suggestions for sermons.
Each chapter includes copious illustrations relevant to the doctrinal themes. These range from personal stories to figures of speech, fulfilling Horne’s definition of an illustration as “anything that can focus a truth and set it in a clearer light.”
Horne calls for the preacher to “let your imagination transpose you into the historical situation…Be there, see, hear, feel, and handle again the original experience.” This can only produce more powerful preaching.
The work is obviously the fruit of many years of preaching and serious reflection about the preaching task. Much of the written material–indeed almost every chapter–has the texture of words which have been proclaimed. Chapter titles such as “Hope: Affirming Life in Spite of Everything” practically cry to be preached.
Preaching the Great Themes of the Bible is no substitute for the preacher’s continuing engagement with contemporary theology, nor is it intended to be. It is, however, a most helpful resource for the preacher ready to enrich the doctrinal content of Christian proclamation.
The secret of great preaching, suggests John Stott, “is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions.” In that light this is a most helpful volume.
Jerry Vines, A Guide to Effective Sermon Delivery (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 170pp., $9.95 hb.
Few contemporary homileticians actually deal with the means and methods of the delivery of sermons. Gone are the days when theological seminaries customarily had among the faculty one who taught “elocution” or “voice” for preachers.
In a day of increasing specialization those areas of responsibility have largely been abdicated to the voice pathologist or speech therapist. Nevertheless, preachers with good content will never be good preachers unless content is matched with effective delivery. With this conviction in mind Jerry Vines addresses his preacher colleagues with this helpful volume.
Vines, now pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida, came to his intense interest in the mechanics of sermon delivery by way of the traumatic appearance of a nodule on a vocal cord. Chronic hoarseness and the impending threat of surgery conspired to drive Vines to specialists who changed his vocal habits and cured his chronic vocal problems.
“What seemed to have been the worst thing that ever happened to me actually was one of the greatest blessing to come my way,” he explains. The lessons the author learned through this experience and over thirty years of pastoral experience come together in this small but significant volume.
In Part One of the book Vines deals with the mechanical aspects of preaching. After a tour through the vocal apparatus, the author moves to discuss relaxing, breathing, articulating, integrating, improving, and caring for the voice. Such careful attention to the voice and its organs will help the pastor to transcend the laborious and ineffective delivery Spurgeon lambasted as “articulate snoring.”
In addition, attention to basic care for the vocal apparatus will add years of effective use beyond what would result from the abuse of the voice so often common of preachers. Much of the advice given in these chapters would appear to be mere common sense–but not commonly followed.
“Mental Aspects of Sermon Delivery” comprise the second major section of the book. The effective preacher must get behind the processes which produce the words in spoken form and understand “the processes which produce our flow of words.”
The two elements suggested by Vines are mental visualization and mental vitalization. For the first the author suggests that the preacher reach back to the mental images which are the basis for the spoken expression. This, Vines suggests, makes the difference between preaching which is dull and sermons which are powerful. The preacher “must not only think in pictures himself, he must enable his people to visualize what he is saying as well.”
By “vitalization” the author means the process whereby the sermon gains the power of intensity. By this process the preacher masters the content of the sermon and prepares with the specific congregation in mind.
Vines mentions Alexander Maclaren’s habit of preaching his sermon first to an empty chair representing the people he knew would hear his message. Though this technique is not likely to win universal emulation, the principle behind it is quite sound.
Vines then turns to the words themselves, “the rhetorical aspects of sermon delivery.” The author stresses the difference between the written and oral styles. A word which comes alive on the written page may fall flat on the ears of the congregation, and vice versa. The preacher is exhorted to pay close heed to nuance, emphasis, clarity, and economy.
In a most interesting chapter Vines discusses the preacher as persuader. He notes that few contemporary writers deal with this dimension of preaching. Many, one would safely presume, are appalled by the blatant manipulation often observed among some preachers. Yet preachers neglect this dimension at great peril.
Vines reminds the reader that persuasion was a component of the earliest Christian preaching recorded in the Bible. Not all readers will agree with Vines at every point, but all preachers must consider the faithfulness of their preaching as persuasion.
The last two sections of the volume deal with psychological and spiritual aspects of preaching. Such issues as the preacher-audience dynamic and body language are considered with helpful insights.
Vines closes with an exhortation to preaching he characterizes as “heart preaching” and “anointed preaching.” He notes: “This section is not academic with me. The matters discussed are deeply personal and make up an indispensible part of my own philosophy of and approach to sermon delivery.”
Preachers with styles of delivery far removed from Vines’ own model will benefit from reading this compact volume. All will admire and emulate the serious attention Vines brings to the preaching task.
Jon Johnston, Christian Excellence: Alternative to Success (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 227pp., $6.95, pb.
To the modern mind few things seem less attractive than an “alternative to success.” In business, in the media, in education, and even in the church, success is usually assumed to be the coveted end–with the various products, programs, and people the anointed means.
Jon Johnston suggests that success and excellence are competing ideals. The Christian, Johnston suggests, is called to excellence, not success. The author defines success as “attaining cultural goals that are sure to elevate one’s perceived importance within that culture.” This may mean wealth, popularity, power, and/or privilege.
Johnston quotes an anonymous source who wisely suggested: “Success is what your butcher would have if he were a surgeon.”
Success, the culturally-mandated standard so prevalent in our culture, is obviously at odds with biblical values. A quick survey of the contemporary church and its members, however, reveals a widespread surrender to these pernicious values.
Excellence, far more difficult to define, is not always the opposite of success, but is indicated by motive. A servant is unlikely ever to be judged successful, yet may achieve excellence through dedication and integrity.
The answer to the problem of success is assuredly not mediocrity. The faith of Abraham, Peter, and Paul, and the whole of the biblical testimony is incompatible with the notion of mediocrity.
The alternative is the standard of excellence: a standard which roots in the heart, not in the mores of secular society. Excellence, with its source in the character of God’s holiness, is the worthy standard of Christian conduct, individual and corporate.
Johnston’s valuable book points the reader in the direction of these considerations. In twelve interesting chapters the author describes a lifestyle marked by the high standard of excellence. The book is full of sound insights, but the greater value of the volume lies in its exciting theme, which should incite excellent thoughts in the reader.
Book Notes
James C. Humes, Podium Humor: A Raconteur’s Treasury of Witty and Humorous Stories (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), 299pp., $6.95, pb.
Humes, former White House speechwriter and practicing attorney, has collected a unique volume of stories recently reprinted by Harper and Row. This is not a mere collection of jokes for the pulpit. It is designed to assist the speaker in finding a humorous style. Humes describes seven styles, ranging from “the laugh-trigger” to “the tale spinner.”
James Bright Wilson, Pathetic Protestant Preachers (Claremont, CA: Prudence Press, 1985), 605pp., $11.95, pb.
With a title like this, one hardly expects an uplifting treatise on preaching and preachers. James Bright, retired Methodist minister and professor of philosophy, injects that he really does like preachers and has always been “pro-pastor even when the pastor was not a pro.”
The book is in the form of a long letter from Wilson to his pastor about the sad state of preaching as evidenced on television. Furthermore, the average mainline Protestant pulpit is infected with mediocre leadership, Wilson alleges. Acerbic in tone throughout, the volume nevertheless contains some valuable insights for the stout-hearted reader.
John Killinger, Lost in Wonder, Love and Praise: Prayers and Affirmations for Christian Worship (Lynchburg, VA: Angel Books, 1986), 200pp., $12.95, pb.
John Killinger, now Senior Minister of First Congregational Church, Los Angeles, collected these prayers, calls to worship, confessions, affirmations, and benedictions from his years as Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church, Lynchburg, Virginia. An artist with words, Killinger points the reader toward worship more worthy. Privately published, the book is available from Angel Books, P.O. Box 3390, Lynchburg, VA, 24503.

Share This On: