Preaching Like Paul by James W. Thompson. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) Paper, 177 pages. ISBN 0-664-22294-3
Paul’s letters form the content of much Christian preaching, but can the ancient apostle himself provide a useful model for preachers in a postmodern era? In Preaching Like Paul, James Thompson makes that case.
Thompson, who is professor of New Testament and associate dean of the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, begins his books with a useful review of and reflection on the impact of the “new homiletic” on the current generation of preachers. He offers a timely critique of the weaknesses of the new homiletic and its thoroughgoing dependence on narrative homiletical forms.
In one of his key observations, Thompson points out that “Inductive preaching functions best in a Christian culture in which listeners are well informed of the Christian heritage.” He notes Fred Craddock’s observation (in Overhearing the Gospel) that “induction helps people appropriate the message that is already known.” But that is precisely what we do not find in today’s church. Today, “people have little knowledge of biblical content.” That poses challenges which the “new hermeneutic” may be ill-equipped to meet.
Indeed, Thompson observes that the new homiletic has avoided Paul because his texts don’t fit “the postmodern fascination with story. Paul speaks as one with an authority that makes both preacher and congregation uncomfortable.”
Thompson believes that “preaching in a post-Christian culture has much to learn from the preaching of a pre-Christian culture.” Thus, his call to contemporary preachers to look to Pauline literature (and to Paul’s model) as the “missing dimension” in contemporary preaching.
The next section of the book offers a lengthy and insightful study of the nature of Paul’s preaching. Thompson points out that Acts and the Pauline letters offer two different portraits of this first great missionary preacher. In Acts, he is an itinerant evangelist “whose preaching results in conversions wherever he travels. In the epistles Paul nurtures churches, speaking only to the congregations that were formed as a result of his evangelistic preaching.” While many observers have pointed to the epistles as the primary evidence of Paul’s preaching — and thus, his supposed irrelevance as a model for contemporary pulpits — Thompson argues effectively that we must use the entire New Testament record to paint an accurate portrait.
He notes: “his pastoral and discursive preaching actually participates in a larger narrative. The epistles are, in fact, the continuation of a conversation. This larger story involves Paul’s own story, the story of his listeners, and the story that Paul has communicated to his congregation. Paul’s discursive preaching is not the only dimension to his communication, but it is the necessary sequel to his earlier evangelistic preaching. If we probe beneath the surface of the epistles, we discover a preaching ministry that involves a progression from evangelistic and narrative preaching to discursive reasoning.”
Through a wide-ranging analysis, Thompson concludes, “The Pauline model suggests that preachers will not be totally separated from the rhetoric of their own time. Preachers are inevitably influenced by contemporary modes of discourse. Nevertheless, they should recognize the distinctiveness of Christian discourse. Preachers remain ambassadors for God, and their words appeal to the authority of God.”
Preaching Like Paul is an important book for contemporary preachers, who are often encouraged to adapt their message and methodology to the spirit of the age. As James Thompson points out, our brother Paul demonstrates that the message of the gospel stands above every age, and so should the preaching of that gospel.
Creative Styles of Preaching by Mark Barger Elliott (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000). Paper, 173 pages. ISBN 0-664-22296-X
A student once asked me if it was appropriate to use his gift of creativity in a sermon. I replied that from my experience with student preaching, there had never been much of an absence of creativity — the challenge is to make sure creativity doesn’t take the place of the biblical text.
In Creative Styles of Preaching, Mark Barger Elliott attempts to provide an overview of some of the various homiletical models being used today. Elliott is pastor of Riverside Presbyterian Church in Riverside, Illinois, and though he writes out of a Mainline perspective, he attempts to be fair in including evangelical representatives in his discussion.
Elliott provides nine chapters which serve as “a travel guide of the homiletical landscape.” Each chapter includes a brief treatment of one of these styles or approaches to preaching (Narrative, African-American, Evangelistic, Topical, The Four Pages of the Sermon, Preaching the Literary Forms of the Bible, Pastoral, Biblical, Imaginative), then offers two representative sermons. Although not all of the preachers included are widely known, a number are, including Fred Craddock, Samuel Proctor, Tony Campolo, Haddon Robinson, and Barbara Brown Taylor.
The chapters themselves do not offer a “how-to” approach to these various homiletical styles. Rather, they suggest some typical characteristics of the style, and present some of the key advocates and / or practitioners of the style. For example, in discussing narrative preaching, Elliott offers a brief introduction to the homiletical conversation on narrative preaching, then discusses the contributions of writers like Thomas Long, Eugene Lowry, Fred Craddock and Edmund Steimle, along with the critique of Charles Campbell. The reader will not find a comprehensive discussion of the nature of narrative preaching, but will be introduced to some of the key thinkers and ideas surrounding this homiletical style.
Readers who would like to be introduced to some of the conversations taking place in the homiletical community today will find this a helpful volume. Elliott’s analysis is not intensive but it does hit the “high points” on a variety of topics that have been part of the homiletical discussion in recent years. Some of the selections, however, may seem odd to many readers. While narrative preaching is clearly a useful category in such a collection, one has to wonder why “evangelistic preaching” is considered a separate category or style. Narrative preaching is a methodology, while evangelistic preaching uses a variety of methodologies in pursuit of a larger goal. The same might be said of African-American preaching, which does not fit neatly into a single homiletical style.
While I was grateful for the chapter on “Biblical Preaching” I was somewhat amused at the use of this chapter title. Shouldn’t all Christian preaching be “biblical”? Within the chapter, Elliott makes it clear that what he is really referring to is “expository” preaching, or preaching which allows the biblical text to shape the form and content of the sermon. At any rate, any chapter which places Walter Brueggemann next to John MacArthur and Haddon Robinson is worth reading!
The sermons which Elliott includes are of varying quality, though several will be of real value to most readers. Overall, the book is an interesting and useful — if brief — introduction to a variety of homiletical issues and topics, and will be helpful to those who want a quick introduction to many of these conversations.
Born to Preach: Essays in Honor of the Ministry of Henry & Ella Mitchell, edited by Samuel K. Roberts. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2000) Paper, 148 pages. ISBN 0-8170-1368-7
Henry and Ella Mitchell have been both teachers and models of preaching within the African-American community for many years. This volume is a. festschrift in their honor, consisting of essays written by faculty members of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University in Richmond, VA.
Essays cover a variety of topics, such as: how does preaching relate to the economic or cultural context? What is the ethical dimension of preaching in the African-American church? exploring the relationship of biblical criticism and heremeneutics to preaching in the African-American church. Some essays will be of real interest to preachers, while others would be most appropriately placed in an academic journal.
Henry Mitchell is former dean of the School of Theology at Virginia Union, where he also served as professor of history and homiletics. Ella was associate professor of Christian education and director of continuing education at the same institution.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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