Thomas G. Long, The Witness of Preaching (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989), 216 pp., paper.
Princeton Theological Seminary has long been a center for homiletics and the teaching of preaching. Princetonians have made significant contributions to the preaching task, and have been among the most vocal advocates of preaching and proclamation.
Thomas G. Long, Francis Landey Patton associate professor of preaching and worship at Princeton, continues that line of succession and The Witness of Preaching will take its place among the worthy tomes penned by Princeton homileticians.
The Witness of Preaching begins with a sensitive discussion of the preacher’s entry into the place of worship and proclamation. Preachers, reminds Long, come from somewhere, and to forget this fact is to forget something of who we are. “When we who preach open the sanctuary door on Sunday morning and find a congregation there waiting for us, it is easy to forget that we come from these people, and not to them from the outside. We are not visitors from clergyland, strangers from an unknown land, ambassadors from seminary-land, or even, as much as we may cherish the thought, prophets from a wilderness land. We are,” he says, members of the body of Christ, “commissioned to preach by the very people to whom we are about to speak.”
Long has accomplished in this brief section what many homileticians fail to do; he has overcome the sense that preaching is something done on behalf of the people of God, and has reminded us that genuine preaching is an act of the congregation, accomplished through the preacher.
Preachers, he suggests, represent a spectrum of feelings toward preaching, from those who find the preaching event exhilarating and joyful to those who find preaching a burden. He indicates that he has a dual aim, to remind the eager that preaching requires “modesty and caution,” and to encourage the reluctant by indicating that preaching is “a ministry of exceptional joy.” He acknowledges the gifted and charismatic preachers, but indicates that the church is nourished, in the main, “by the kind of careful, responsible, and faithful preaching that falls within the range of most of us.”
Long is no stranger to contemporary schools of preaching, and he identifies three “master metaphors” of current homiletics: the herald, the pastor, and the storyteller.
The herald, he suggests, was the main metaphor of the last century, when Victorian divines and master orators ruled from pulpits and others tried to imitate their authoritative style. He also indicates the contribution of the neo-orthodox theologians, and especially Karl Barth, who spoke of God speaking through the mouth of His herald.
The herald image “contains a very high theological view of preaching” since it points behind the human preacher to the voice of God. The herald model points to the importance of the message and deemphasizes the importance of the preacher. As Long states clearly: “The task of the herald is not to be somebody, but to do something on another’s behalf and under another’s authority.” It points to the transcendent dimension of the preaching event.
On the other hand, Long warns that the herald image can “undermine almost all serious theological thinking about every practical aspect of creating sermons.” Further, it gives little attention to the context of preaching.
The pastor image focuses on the hearers with a pastoral interest in preaching to affect positive change in the hearers’ lives. “In short, the pastor wants something good to happen to and for the hearers as a result of the sermon.” The herald has a primary concern for the message and less for the means of communication, but the pastor must develop “a communications strategy” designed to bring about a change in the hearer. The pastor cannot be satisfied with the knowledge of a message, he must know the people.
Long suggests that the pastor has a greater awareness of the function of preaching as event and of the preacher as an agent. “The strength of the pastor image comes from the attention it gives to the inner dynamics of preaching and to the active role played by the preacher in causing them to occur.” Nevertheless, he also pointed to the liabilities of the pastor model, including a tendency to see the hearers as isolated individuals and to focus only on people in distress. Furthermore, the image places too high a premium on relevance and, most critically, “runs the risk of reducing theology to anthropology by presenting the gospel merely as a resource for human growth.”
The storyteller has been the primary focus of the past fifteen years, as the narrative revolution has found its impact on the art of preaching. Proponents of this model, Long notes, suggest that the storyteller embraces the strengths of the herald and the pastor without bringing their most damaging faults. Convinced that narrative is a superior vehicle for proclamation, they may include story as a feature of the sermon, or go so far as to structure the entire sermon in story form. Long demonstrates an appreciation for the storytelling model, but also concedes its liabilities. Though narrative may be the most potent means of communicating much of the biblical material, other sections of the Bible resist narrative treatment.
Few preachers fit neatly into any of these three categories, as Long concedes. Preachers may combine elements of each, or adapt certain sermons to different situations and texts. The author’s purpose in describing the three “master metaphors” is not to champion one over the others, but to suggest his own image of the preacher as witness.
Long acknowledges that the witness image is not new, but is rooted in the Bible itself. Yet, he admits some curiosity that the witness image has not been more prominent in the history of preaching. The image offers several advantages, Long suggests. First, it emphasizes the authority of the preacher because of what the preacher has seen or heard, and not on the basis of rank or power. Secondly, the preacher as witness encounters the Bible as a living Presence. He adds: “The picture of the preacher sitting alone in the study, working with a biblical text in preparation for the sermon is misleading. It is not the preacher who goes to the scripture; it is the church that goes to the scripture by means of the preacher.”
Beyond this, the image also indicates that the preacher should give careful attention to the structure and rhetorical form of the message in order to communicate the testimony. Long also notes that the preacher as witness does not indicate a position of neutrality. The witness identifies with the message and with the receiving community. Finally, the author suggests that the witness image “underscores the ecclesiastical and liturgical setting of preaching.”
Long calls for biblical preaching and sets this as the norm for the Christian church. It is normative, he insists, because it has been the prevailing pattern for the church and, more importantly, because it is the standard against which all other forms should be judged. Nevertheless, Long identifies preaching as biblical “whenever the preacher allows a text from the Bible to serve as the leading force in shaping the content and purpose of the sermon.” This may have little to do with how often the Bible is cited or with the apparent form of the sermon, he insists.
The task of biblical exegesis also receives treatment in The Witness of Preaching. Long offers a suggested five-step pattern of exegesis in preparation for preaching. The steps are, in succession: getting the text in view, getting introduced to the text, attending to the text, testing what is heard in the text, and moving toward the sermon. Nevertheless, he suggests that the goal of the preacher should not be to master a set of steps toward interpretation, but should be to move “toward an instinctive way of dwelling critically, attentively, and faithfully with the text.”
The deductive/inductive debate has raged for over a decade in preaching circles, with inductive preaching gaining the upper hand in the 1980s. Long considers the merits and shortcomings of each and suggests that the central point is how the preacher moves from event to claim based on the biblical text.
He proposes attention to focus and function. “Focus” deals with what the sermon is to say, and “function” with what the sermon is to do in the lives of the hearers. The preacher should determine a focus statement and a function statement as guides “in the creation of sermons that possess unity, clarity, and a firm connection to the biblical text.”
In other chapters Long gives attention to the form and structure of the sermon, proposing that each preacher needs to find an appropriate and comfortable sermonic form which fits the biblical text, while remaining open to variety and adaptability. His basic contribution in these sections is found in his suggestion that the two dimensions of focus and function should be broken down into smaller bits, with attention to what material is appropriate for each of these smaller units. This is a more creative suggestion than the less adaptive preaching strategems offered by many other preaching texts. Long also deals with matters such as introductions, transitions, and endings, along with a myriad of other homiletic concerns.
The Witness of Preaching is a significant contribution and will be gladly received by those who love preaching and relish the opportunity to glean from another preacher’s careful reflection on the preaching task. The volume will doubtless find its way into seminary classes on preaching, but it deserves a much wider circulation among preachers currently engaged in the task of proclamation.
Long’s suggestive metaphor of the preacher as witness is a promising conception. He has rescued the word from its use in reference to a detached and neutral observer, and has pointed to the role of the witness as a member of the community of faith.
The Witness of Preaching should be on every preacher’s reading list for 1990. The volume is short enough for a good weekend of reading and potent enough for months of reflection and refinement.
David L. Larsen. The Anatomy of Preaching: Identifying the Issues in Preaching Today (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 203 pp., paper.
The current revival of interest in preaching and the numerous books spawned by this renewal of interest have included several complete texts on preaching, dozens of smaller books focusing on particular aspects of the preaching task, and several extended essays on preaching and preachers. The Anatomy of Preaching falls into the last category, for it is essentially an extended essay on preaching and fifteen issues related to the preaching task.
Larsen, formerly pastor of the First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, is currently professor of practical theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago. He draws from more than forty years of experience in preaching and evidences a great love for Christian proclamation.
Larsen’s fifteen issues are arranged in fifteen chapters, each addressed by a question. His first chapter, “Does Preaching Have a Future,” considers the issue of viability. Interestingly, Larsen chose to deal more with the history of preaching than with its future, but he concludes the chapter where we might expect: he sees no future for the church without preaching. Other chapters deal with a range of issues from authority, spirituality, and relevancy, to intentionality, creativity, and morphology.
The chapter on authority, “What is Biblical Preaching?,” demonstrates Larsen’s high view of biblical authority and brings him into conversation with contemporary homiletical theorists such as David Buttrick, who he finds to be a fruitful discussion partner, but woefully deficient in his doctrine of revelation. Buttrick’s denial of historicity to much of the biblical material is rightly rejected, as is his suggestion that we preach, not from a text, but from a field of consciousness.
Larsen’s chapter-length considerations often fail to fulfill the promise of his question-form titles, but this is the hazard of a volume seeking to consider fifteen major issues in just under 200 pages of text. Nevertheless, his chapters are suggestive and creative, and offer the reader a fruitful opportunity for thoughtful rumination. Larsen demonstrates an evangelical view of Scripture and a high view of preaching. He encourages his readers to deal with these significant issues and offers a smorgasbord of promising suggestions related to the preaching task.
Elliott E. Johnson, Expository Hermeneutics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 311 pp., cloth.
The world of preaching and biblical exposition have been drawn into the maelstrom of the hermeneutical crisis which overtook other disciplines in an earlier stage. Basic questions of interpretation consume much of the effort of theology and biblical studies departments, and now homiletics as well. This should not be surprising, for basic issues of hermeneutics and epistemology shaped the earliest Christian considerations of preaching and early discussions of sacred rhetoric. The modern discussion is rooted in a complete collapse of hermeneutical realism in other disciplines, however, and this threatens to engulf homiletics as well.
Johnson, professor of Bible exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, has produced a major work in biblical interpretation for preaching in Expository Hermeneutics. The work is a major effort, and builds upon the historical-grammatical method of biblical exegesis.
The faculty numbered at Dallas Theological Seminary have never been reticent to deal with hermeneutical issues. Their contributions to the modern forms of the historical-grammatical method are well known, and have exerted a considerable impact on evangelical biblical interpretation which extends far beyond the graduates of the seminary.
Johnson champions a method of exegesis he identifies as the “literal” interpretation of Scripture. He rescues the term from its misuse in contemporary literature and parlance, and sets it as the standard for historical-grammatical exegesis. By “literal” Johnson means to suggest that the keys to interpreting a biblical passages lies within the passage itself, with consideration taken of literary form, context, and historical references.
Expository Hermeneutics is worthy of the preacher’s interest and reading. Johnson’s discussion of critical hermeneutical issues is interesting and profitable, if sometimes ponderous. His method of exposition evidences a high view of biblical authority and of the biblical authors.
Thomas G. Long, The Witness of Preaching (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989), 216 pp., paper.