It’s All In How You Tell It: Preaching First-Person Expository Messages.
Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003. Paper, 143 pages
$12.99. ISBN 0-8010-9150-0.
Too often, I hear preachers say that while they would like to
take a more expository approach in their sermons, they fear their
people won’t stand for a “dry and dusty” verse-by-verse approach.
That caricature of expository preaching is all too common among
evangelical preachers. Now along comes a father-and-son contribution
that further dispels the notion that exposition equals boredom.
It’s All in How You Tell It: Preaching First-Person Expository
Messages is written by Haddon W. Robinson, the “600-pound gorilla” of
expository preaching (and professor of preaching at Gordon-Conwell
Seminary), and his son Torrey, now a Baptist pastor in Tarreytown, NY.
Recognizing that many preachers have only a single, deductive
sermon model in their repertoire – which is repeated Sunday after
Sunday for years on end – the Robinsons want pastors to understand
that “The Scriptures provide no single form that Christian sermons
must take.” They point out that the biblical authors used a variety
of communicative approaches, from story to history to letters, “all
forms borrowed from their cultures and used to communicate what they
had to say.”
The authors present inductive development as an important model
for preachers seeking to communicate in a contemporary culture that
gives little inherent authority to the biblical text. One of the most
popular inductive methods is the use of story, they say, and “one of
the best ways to develop a story is to use the first person, to climb
inside the story and tell it from the perspective of one of the
“Crafting a first-person sermon,” the authors observe, not only
requires all the biblical study of other methods, “but it requires
more. It calls on you to use your imagination as an interpretive
tool.” Such preaching, they believe, not only increases the interest
of the listeners – it also reinvigorates the preacher who has fallen
into a hum-drum sameness in his preaching preparation.
The Robinsons make the case for the first-person expository
sermon, which “is based on an accurate interpretation of scripture
and applies its meaning to the hearers. It does this through the
retelling of the scriptural account from the vantage point of a
character who was part of the story.”
They discuss the process of study and preparation – identifying
many of the issues which must be considered – and how to select and
craft the character through whom the story will be told. They offer
four “stages” of sermon construction, then explore the process of
actual presentation (movement, delivery, costuming).
The concluding section of the book is a collection of seven
first-person expository sermons, with contributions from both authors
plus several other excellent preachers.
It’s All in How You Tell It is a well-written and helpful guide to
a preaching model that could offer many pastors an occasional,
much-needed breath of fresh air in their preaching schedule.