Calvin Miller, Marketplace Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 188 pp., paper, $12.99.
Calvin Miller — professor of communications and homiletics at Southwestern Baptist Seminary and a contributing editor of Preaching — is known for years of successful pastoral leadership in Omaha as well as for many insightful books and articles. As his new portfolio at Southwestern now includes specific time for research and writing, we may well expect more materials of significance from his pen to appear on publishers’ lists in the future.
If so, Miller will need to strive hard to reach any higher plain than he has achieved with this new volume. Marketplace Preaching is truly an apogee among all the fresh orbits into which our homileticians launch preaching theory today. Here is a powerful rocket blast against pulpit boredom, and a brilliant application of new homiletic technologies which also carries a valuable payload of intensely practical ideas.
Yet unlike some others, Miller carefully crafts his new volume to be a practical instrument which enables preachers to gain the kind of shopping-mall accessibility today’s congregations demand. He presents his plan in a user-friendly fashion which makes it come alive as a companion to walk beside us along our sermonic journeys. Miller helps us learn the arts of focus, relevance, motivation, and packaging.
Here is a volume which may well be described as a consumer-oriented map to pulpit reality. It honestly faces issues of personal spirituality, the orientation of themes for the contemporary ear, the values of a casual and colloquial vocabulary, and the practical usefulness of verbal pace and projection. It could also be defined as a look behind and beyond the current emphases of seeker-sensitive services based on understandings of the paradigm shifts in today’s culture, but one that is liberally sprinkled with handles which the average pastor can grip with ease.
But Marketplace Preaching is much more than this. Miller clearly tells us exactly where worship, humor, illustrations, images, narratives, form and style fit best within our contemporary culture. He calls on preachers to proclaim the Good News in the spirit of the marketplace even as Christ and Paul did before them.
He illustrates his themes well, then summarizes them with in-text headings and diagrams. His pragmatic approach even extends to the drafting of a typical Monday through Sunday schedule which allows for the application of his ideas. He advocates preparing a thorough written manuscript, then abandoning it in delivery.
You can use this volume inch-by-inch to lift your sermons into a new relevance, applying a page or two to each until the skills are mastered. Miller is something of a new car salesman, who carefully introduces us to the latest model sermon just released. He ushers us into the showroom, watches us gaze in awe at the brilliant splendor of its finish, and explains the power behind its super-modern drive. He explores the delights of its low-resistance design so artfully that although we tremble at the technology, we still reach for our wallets determined to acquire it for ourselves. He convinces us that the tires will grip well in any situation and that, with such a vehicle in our possession, its traction cannot slip and skid off unbelieving heads and hearts.
Yet while Miller does tell us where the rubber hits the road, he has not quite shown us how. The inclusion of several sermons as an appendix — annotated to illustrate just where and why he does what — might well be expected to demonstrate the how of the process. Perhaps his next edition will include this. That would make it a perfect volume to introduce preachers to these communication dynamics. It is so close to perfection now, however, that I plan to use it as one text in a pastoral preaching seminary class I teach this fall. My only problem is determining what else I can possibly add to the discussion after we have listened carefully to all Calvin Miller has said!
Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1993), 274 pp., paper, $10.95.
Here is a unique book which will be appreciated by a diversity of preachers and laity. Taylor is Rector of Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church in Clarkesville, GA, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, a speaker on the national Protestant Hour radio program a popular speaker at clergy seminars, and the author of two sermon collections, Mixed Blessings and Seeds of Heaven.
Part autobiography and part model sermon presentation, this volume is filled with helpful and discerning counsel. With gut-wrenching honesty, the author faces the issues and stresses which strain and stretch every pastor who strives to break through barriers raised by personal history and negative contexts. William H. Willimon describes her offering well as “an engaging story of the birth of her own voice as a preacher, the struggles to bring the gospel to speech, and the joys of being an instrument of God’s will.”
A creative, timely and authentic contribution to the literature of spiritual formation, this book chronicles the author’s growing disillusionments growing up in American society during the Vietnam era, the common frustrations felt by all those who face unexplained suffering, and the heartaches arising within all men and women when our God, as we imagine Him to be, refuses to act according to our expectations. Sweet memories, wistful desires, and joyous discoveries fill its pages, rubbing crushed shoulders against many of the agonizing realities with which life crowds us all.
One somewhat unexpected delight is her emphasis on the rediscovery of Luther’s “priesthood of all believers” concept, and her insistence that while ordained clergy fulfill spiritual offices, every Christian is to be a witness whose spiritual vocation is as real as that of the preacher. “To interpret the good news of the past so that it is understood as the good news of the present and the future.”
If you are intrigued by the way that well-chosen words can hit and fit, the crystal clarity of Fred Craddock’s gentle introduction will please you almost as much as Taylor’s singing syntax. If you respond to quality sermon models, or seek resources for fresh interpretations of seemingly-stale texts, you will find her imaginative hermeneutics to be as theologically valid as they are vigorous and new.
While her work is not at all exegetically irresponsible, it may not be nourishing enough for some. Expositors will prefer a bit more “meat and potatoes” communication of the actual biblical content, with a bit less of her often delicate and delicious hermeneutical displays. The extended life situation illustration with which she ends her best sermon, “The Lost and Found Department,” is worth the price of the book. Her own preparation process (pp. 80-86) pulses with a spiritual and practical heartbeat somewhat rare in works of this kind.
Any preacher can profit from the heart lift and soul stretch that such a volume provides.
Richard Lischer, The Preacher King: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Word That Moved America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 344 pp., hardcover, $25.00.
It is impossible to understand the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., apart from a recognition of his identity as a Christian preacher. Richard Lischer, professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School, has provided the consummate study of King as preacher.
The Preacher King is both biography and homiletical analysis. Lischer traces King’s youth and early ministry, and follows King’s career through his growing political and social leadership, demonstrating how King wove his sermonic training and gifts into the public speaker who electrified crowds and helped change a nation.
Few if any American preachers in this century have had the influence of King. This fascinating book will offer insights that will engage both clergy and lay readers.
Wayne McDill, The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 278 pp., hardcover.
One of the newest of Broadman & Holman’s “Professional Development” series, McDill’s book 12 areas for strengthening sermons. Chapters cover topics such as “Seeing What Is There” and “Bridging From Text to Sermon” to “Drawing Pictures, Telling Stories.” The volume contains a number of good insights for preaching.
McDill is a former pastor who now serves as professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.
Kenn Filkins, Comfort Those Who Mourn (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1992), 195 pp., paper.
One constant for most pastors is preaching funeral sermons. Depending on the age of the church, many pastors spend several hours a week preparing for and leading funeral services. Filkins’ book will provide helpful counsel to preachers for personalizing funeral messages.
Filkins ministers with the Gilmore Church of Christ in Farwell, ML
Mark Galli and Craig Brian Larson, Preaching That Connects (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1994), 159 pp., paper.
This excellent little book offers excellent insights for preachers in adapting journalistic skills to the preaching craft. Galli and Larson will help readers focus and sharpen their communication skills. It’s a quick read — and worth it.
Mark Galli is managing editor of Christian History magazine and the Preaching Today cassette series. Larson is a contributing editor to Leadership journal. Both have served as pastors.
William D. Watley, Bring the Full Tithe (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1995), 128 pp., paper, $10.00.
Watley is an outstanding African-American preacher, and this collection of sermons “on the grace of giving” will offer ideas and insights to preachers as they approach their own stewardship messages.
William Watley is pastor of St. James AME Church in Newark, NJ.
Evans E. Crawford with Thomas H. Troeger, The Hum: Call and Response in African American Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 92 pp. paper.
Crawford offers us a unique look at the preaching tradition in the Black church. Readers will particularly appreciate his insights concerning the preacher’s “homiletical musicality,” which Crawford describes as “the way in which the preacher uses timing, pauses, inflection, pace, and the other musical qualities of speech to engage all that the listener is in the act of proclamation.” Rather than a focus on sermon structure — typical of most homiletical texts — Crawford thinks of preaching in musical terms, emphasizing how sermons are heard and the response they generate with the listener.
Evans E. Crawford is acting Dean and teaches homiletics at Howard University in Washington, DC. Thomas Troeger teaches preaching at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Calvin Miller, Marketplace Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 188 pp., paper, $12.99.