Massey, James Earl. The Burdensome Joy of Preaching. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998. 98pp. ISBN 0-687-05069-3.
Those who have heard James Earl Massey preach, or teach about preaching or have read his books about preaching will quickly agree that he is well suited to write about The Burdensome Joy of Preaching. In more than 40 years of preaching, teaching, and writing, he has had ample time to reflect over all that goes into the preaching task. Anyone who has preached can resonate with Gardner Taylor’s assessment of the “sweet torture of Sunday morning.” Massey offers his thoughts on that “sweet torture” in these pages.
I recently heard a radio commentator ask, “What is the one thing that someone in your profession would need to know above all others in order to be ‘successful’?” I would venture to say that in terms of a preaching ministry, the sine qua non is a call experience. I am relieved to have my hunch con-firmed by no less than James Earl Massey. He begins this work, which has grown out of several lectureships at prestigious seminaries across the years, by dealing with the inward side of preaching. Preaching is audacious because it pre-sumes to speak for God. It makes sense then that a sense of calling would be paramount. One can only speak for Someone Else with Their authorization.
Preachers feel the burden of wanting to get the message right and delivered in such a way that the full impact of the message is received by the listeners. Unfortunately, the pulpit presentation that one dreams about on Thursday and Friday in the study often fails to materialize on Sunday morning. Preachers often leave church on Sunday afternoon depressed over their failure to live up to their highest hopes for pulpit brilliance on Sunday morning. In the midst of such vicissitudes and uncertainty, there is nothing that can encourage the preacher any more than to know that God has called and equipped him or her for this task.
If the inward side of preaching focuses on the preacher’s soul, the outward side focuses on the benefit of preaching for the souls of others. Four key sub-themes that Massey develops are perceptions, meaning, style, and involvement. The point of a preaching ministry is to allow the message to be heard by those to whom we preach. A preacher whose own soul is right will come across to his or her hearers as someone who has the best interests of his listeners at heart.
Key to being perceived as having the listeners genuine best interests at heart, is being viewed as God’s representative. This, too, flows from a sense of calling upon our lives. Massey states, “The adequate resources [the anointing] makes available to us are the validating marks of Christ’s presence with us.” Preaching’s outward side is most effective when it is characterized by love for those to whom we preach.
Preaching is not merely the activity of a preacher who is engaging in some kind of cathartic activity solely for his or her own benefit. Neither is it a one-way exhortatory process whereby the preacher tells the congregation something exclusively for their benefit. At its best, preaching builds community, particularly the community of faith.
Massey states, “The miracle of community happens within the rich context of sharing, when both the preacher and the hearers match in eagerness, earnestness, trust, openness, and regard.” Preaching at its best should flow out of the life of the preacher who is open to the congregation and whose life matches the proclamation he is presenting. Massey calls for authenticity and integrity in one’s proclamation.
While there are some who strongly discourage any mention of personal anecdotes in the pulpit, Massey affirms “opening to the hearers’ view some pertinent aspect of one’s own experience with life and truth.”
Rather than merely holding up one’s life as an example, Massey points out that revealing one’s own weakness, struggles, and foibles — particularly when dealing with a potentially controversial topic may create new openness to the truth in the hearers. He relates his experience of being annoyed at a fellow passenger on an airplane who seemed to be oblivious to the attendants’ request that all passengers buckle their seat belts only to realize that his own seat belt wasn’t fastened. He says sharing this story helped to disarm his audience. In preaching, we expose both a common foundation and a common focus for Christian living.
Authentic preaching has an eventful quality to it as well. An eventful person is defined as one whose actions influenced subsequent development along a different course that would have happened otherwise. There is much in contemporary society to make preachers feel “uneventful.” Aside from the foolishness of preaching itself, there are consumeristic demands of the church these days as well as an explosion of knowledge. Preaching becomes eventful, first and foremost when the preacher has been utterly mastered by the text.
As much of Christianity is caught as well as taught by the preacher’s personal involvement with the text. Massey further defines eventful preaching as: preaching that is called forth by perceived needs and is informed by scriptural guidance. Massey asserts that we become eventful preachers by cultivating patient togetherness with people, by earnest prayer that keeps us oriented to God, and by the diligent application of ourselves in careful study of God’s word.
James Earl Massey is indeed an impressive figure. His dignified persona, Christian grace and preaching and teaching experience offer much to preachers who come after him. Those who meditate over the themes he raises in The Burdensome Joy of Preaching will find their pulpit effectiveness enhanced.
Taylor, Barbara Brown, Ronald Allen, ed. Teaching Sermons on Suffering: God in Pain, Nashville: Abingdon, 138 pp. ISBN 0-687-05887-2
Preachers who are looking for prepackaged sermons to lift out and preach for themselves may not appreciate this volume by Barbara Brown Taylor. Preachers whose main objective in reading sermons is to scour them for illustrations may or may not appreciate Taylor’s work. Those who desire to have their sense of wonder at the homiletical skills of a master craftsperson deepened will find Taylor’s sermons wonderfully stimulating.
Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal priest in Clarkesville, GA who has also been named in the Baylor University survey of preachers as one of the twelve most effective preachers today. These 23 sermons appear in a series edited by Ronald Allen which seeks to elevate the teaching ministry of the pulpit. Although these appear in a series whose intention is to teach, they do not come across as didactic sermons as one would traditionally conceive of such.
Nevertheless, Barbara Brown Taylor is a superb wordsmith and a master of the homiletical craft. The teaching of these sermons comes through a fresh glimpse of the images she chooses to present rather than through propostional statements. The reader will be allowed to share in 23 sermons divided into the categories of the pain of life, the pain of death, and preaching Christ crucified. A more perfect symmetry might have been attained if a section had been included on the hope of resurrection. One does sense that note coming through the individual sermons.
Preachers who allow Taylor’s giftedness with words to saturate their minds will be blessed indeed and find their preaching strengthened.
Stephen Farris, Preaching That Matters, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 165 pp.
Stephen Farris states three convictions and asserts three claims in setting forth his premise in Preaching that Matters. He snares the convictions that God has spoken, that His speech comes through the history of Israel and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that God speaks through contemporary preaching. Out of those convictions comes a series of claims — God has spoken to us in the scriptures, we hear a voice from beyond, and that we fallible humans can preach a word that comes from God. There would be little disagreement with Farris regarding his convictions and the claims he draws from those convictions. The substance of Preaching that Matters is an attempt to delineate how preachers can deliver a word that matters.
Farris, who teaches preaching at Knox College of the University of Toronto, argues that the effective use of analogy enables the preacher faithfully to present biblical messages. He believes that analogy can be “a way of linking the world of the biblical text and the world in which we live and preach that affirms similarity but respects dissimilarity.” Further, analogy enables one to “make a comparison between the similar features or attributes of two otherwise dissimilar things, so that the unknown, or less well known, is clarified by the known.” In setting forth this paradigm, Farris has given preachers a helpful tool for preaching and has said much that we can affirm.
Though analogy provides a helpful understanding of preaching, there are dangers in carrying the paradigm too far. For instance, David Buttrick argues that an over-dependence upon analogy can “domesticate God” and “scale down God’s revelation to our conventional wisdom.” Farris himself recognizes these weaknesses and in fact calls attention them himself.
An analogy is dependent upon a point of contact. Farris explains that this is not used in the Barthian sense of a point of contact between God and humanity but rather between the biblical cultural and contemporary culture. In order to be able to relate the biblical culture analogically to contemporary culture, one must be conversant with “the web of stories and images that exists in the minds of a large percentage of the population.” Farris provides a helpful instrument which will allow preachers to answer several critical questions about “Exegeting their congregation.” Since preaching has also been defined as the bringing of God’s truth through human personality, Farris includes an instrument that will allow the preacher to “Exegete him or herself” as well.
One of the endearing qualities of Farris’ work is the high regard he demonstrates for Scriptural faithfulness. He counsels his students to “preach from the overflow” of a life that has a vital and dynamic walk with Christ. He also asserts, as a prescriptive to weak preaching, “Double the time you spend in your study and spend most of that time working on the biblical text.”
After making his case for the use of analogy in preaching, Farris provides several helpful instruments which may be used in moving from text to sermon with both biblical and cultural faithfulness. These tools help provide deeper reflection over the basic homiletical questions of “How much of the text am I going to deal with?” “How does the text fit into its literary surroundings?” “What is the form or literary type of the passage?” and so on. Each section comes with practice questions which enable the reader to sample Farris’ methodology for herself.
To employ Farris’ methodology, after one has done the exegesis of the biblical text, one must find the points of analogy between the biblical culture and the contemporary culture. This would include a careful consideration of persons and groups behind the text and an attempt to see how they fit into the contemporary scene. Here it is also important to understand whether the biblical text is a challenge to its original hearers, whether Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, for example, should be taken as words of challenge or as words of comfort to the contemporary hearers. After wrestling with such questions, one is then ready to shape a sermon.
Samples of Farris’ homiletical art are included so one may judge the worthiness of his approach for himself. An effective preacher must always be on the lookout for methods and instrumentalities by which he or she may effectively translate the Word of the Bible into a Word for today. I commend this book to you.
Book Notes
A Relevant Word: Communicating the Gospel to Seekers by Robert G. Duffett (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1995), paper, 166 pages.
Few words show up more in the literature of church leadership than the word “seekers.” Over the last decade, that term has served as a foundation for hundreds of books and articles. Some treatments have encouraged churches to adjust their methodology to reach such unchurched but open “seekers,” while others have made the case that the church must avoid adjusting its message to appeal to non-Christians.
Duffett’s book is addressed to those whose ministry targets “seekers.” In a movement that may be tempted to exalt the pragmatic at the expense of solid philosophical foundations, Duffett has provided a useful homiletical approach for seeker-targeted communicators. Even those who serve more traditional churches will find useful insights for communicating the gospel within our changing culture.
Duffett’s book was written while he was on the faculty of Northern Baptist Seminary. He has since become Provost of Ottowa University in Ottowa, Kansas. (Michael Duduit)
Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision by David F. Wells (Grand Rapids: Wm, B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1998), hardcover, 228 pages.
Following his challenge to the church about the deterioration of Christian theology (No Place for Truth), Wells turns his sights on the place of the church in a disintegrating culture. Wells seeks to analyze how Christians can speak to a culture whose moral fabric is torn — a secularized culture in which the very notion of sin is no longer understood.
Wells effectively analyzes the deep challenge posed to the church by postmodernism. It is a book which pastors need to read in order to understand the cultural changes we are experiencing and understanding how we must confront a secular culture.
Wells is Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA. (Michael Duduit)

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