Killinger, John. Fundamentals of Preaching (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 213 pp., $9.95.
With this book John Killinger has produced one of those few volumes which exceeds the promises of its back cover. The publisher’s promise that the volume is “an eminently useful and practical book on preaching” is a conservative pledge. Killinger, for fifteen years Professor of Preaching, Worship, and Literature at Vanderbilt Divinity School, is currently Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Lynchburg, Virginia. The author combines academic and pastoral expertise in his presentation of the fundamentals of preaching.
The volume is characterized by a lively and interesting presentation. The chapters are relatively brief and succint, yet offer a sound introduction to the many facets of preaching. Fundamentally, the book is a window into the mind of a literate and creative preacher for whom every preaching opportunity is a challenge and every sermon a new experience.
Killinger, one of at least two-well known preachers in Lynchburg, brings a unique quality of drama and style to his preaching which no book can adequately communicate. Nevertheless, the vitality of the sermonic task is implicit on every page. Each chapter contains a wealth of practical suggestions richly illustrated and enticingly described. The reader is challenged by the many suggestions contained in each chapter. Killinger does not suggest his own style as the paradigm for all preachers. Rather, he suggests a variety of sermon constructions, delivery styles, and preaching models. Like a catalytic agent in a laboratory, this volume in the hands and mind of a preacher will produce new and useful compounds.
Within the pages of this brief volume are chapters concerning sermon construction, introductions and conclusions, illustrations, style, and delivery. Killinger is at his best when he allows the reader a glimpse into his own model of preaching. Killinger is a master of illustration. Each chapter is replete with illustrations appropriate to the concern of the chapter, but readily adapted to the sermonic task. The volume is worth the purchase price just for the illustrations, but the preacher who neglects the remainder of the book misses valuable material. Killinger’s list of ‘miscellaneous suggestions’ regarding the use (and abuse) of illustrations is a challenge to greater effectiveness, integrity, and economy.
The book grew out of Killinger’s lectures on preaching to divinity students at Vanderbilt, but demonstrates a relevance developed through his present pastoral experience. Due to its brevity, it will not likely become the standard text for preaching courses at seminaries, but will be highly valued as supplementary reading. The volume is strongest when dealing with matter of sermon construction and the integration of biblical material to contemporary society. It is weakest when discussing sermon delivery and styles of presentation. This is precisely the point at which this volume differs from other introductory texts; it is fundamentally less concerned with the open throat than with the open mind.
Killinger demonstrates familiarity with most classic and contemporary models for preaching and brings his presentation to life with a multitude of illustrations concerning the style and methods of notable preachers of past and present. The author understands both preaching and preachers. The reader gains new insights into the achievements of Fosdick, Stewart, and Brooks, among other notable preachers of the past, as well as a greater understanding of contemporaries, including John Claypool and Edmund Steimle. Several innovative models, including dramatic preaching and narrative techniques are discussed, though briefly.
Killinger’s book should appeal to ministers of all seasons. It is indeed a primer for the novice, but also a refreshing update for those primed by years of pastoral experience. Preaching, as presented in this volume, is a challenging vocation. The best preachers are as dilligent as they are gifted.
Though many books on preaching offer helpful insights and interesting suggestions, few volumes muster the excitement Killinger exudes in this volume. A distinctive sense of the preacher’s calling is apparent, coupled with a sense of mission. The sermon is to serve the people, and Killinger’s suggested models for integrating biblical truth and human needs should be helpful to any preaching minister and appreciated by the congregation.
The reader of this volume is immersed into the great and noble tradition of Christian preaching. Killinger writes of the preaching task with a clear sense of vocation. ‘We are the fragile vessels who will be left behind when the next generation comes along. But for now we have the treasure, the message, and we must learn how to preach it.’ The creative reader will be a better preacher for the reading. Fortress Press is to be commended for the reasonable cost of the volume in soft-cover.
Buechner, Frederick, A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984), 190 pp., $12.95.
Frederick Buechner, Presbyterian minister and prolific author, has collected together in this volume an assortment of sermons, lectures, and articles in a short anthology. A Room Called Remember should serve as a fine introduction to Buechner for those few preachers who remain uninitiated into the ever-growing cadre of his readers. Those who are already familiar with Buechner’s works will see in this collection his distinctive style and flourish.
The essays combine the profound development of his longer fiction works with the witty sponteneity of Peculiar Treasures and Wishful Thinking. Buechner confesses that the book is a ‘grab bag.’ Many readers will likely share with this reviewer admiration for one who has such a bag in which to grab.
Preachers will read Buechner with an eye and ear to his mastery of language. The author is a wordsmith with few peers. This skill, coupled with Buechner’s ability to see the profound in the ordinary, makes for fascinating and thoughtful reading. Grace appears in his stories and sermons as an unobtrusive presence within the mundane. Buechner’s essays are both challenging and comfortable.
Though many preachers glean a multitude of poignant illustrations from Buechner, the primary benefit is creative insight. The reader comes to understand that one’s own life is equally full, if less reflective. Buechner’s sense of meaningfulness stands out from our contemporary secularisms with convicting power.
This anthology contains Buechner at his best, with the sermons enticing and the assorted other pieces imminently readable and thoughtful. In this essay
The Speaking and Writing of Words,” the reader catches a glimpse of Buechner’s philosophy of language. The words seem to have a life of their own.
There is a sense of directedness in this collection. The individual pieces were not written for a faceless, nameless readership, but for congregations at universities, seminaries, and the Congregational Church of Rupert, Vermont. Buechner remains the same throughout.
Sanford, John A. King Saul, the Tragic Hero: A Study in Individuation (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 144 pp., $6.95.
Biblical personalities have long been favorite sources of lively and interesting sermons. All too often, however, the freshness and vitality of the biblical narratives is lost after the stories are recited year after year with the same plot development and moralisms. Adults in the congregation have heard the stories since childhood, and familiarity without freshness breeds contempt — or even worse, boredom.
John A. Sanford, a Jungian analyst and Episcopal priest, reveals in this volume a portrait of King Saul which should refresh the preacher’s understanding and enrich his preaching. Texts concerning Saul are not usual fare in contemporary preaching. Our continuing focus on success and greatness steers the preacher away from one who is an apparent failure.
Saul is, indeed, a tragic hero. He appears in the Old Testament, as a colleague once put it, to give David’s publicity agents a good time. Sanford brings his expertise as a Jungian analyst to his skill as a minister and identifies in Saul the process of individuation which led to his fall from greatness.
Lessons from the story of Saul are less appropriate for simple moralisms than for insight into the process of individual development. Saul never became a whole person. As the author suggests: “Saul’s failures and mistakes may prove more instructive than the successes of others.”
In fact, a new reading of Saul may reveal an important figure, whose heroism, though tragic, is every bit as important for the preaching task as is King David’s more popular heroic character.

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