The flourishing of the Homiletics programs in many seminaries and the increased number of those who are seeking to make their mark on the field insures that there will be no shortage of new books on preaching in any given year. Many seasoned pastors also seek to commit their homiletical philosophies, struggles, and discoveries to paper.
There were many releases in homiletics in 1999. This article will focus on the works which were received for consideration in the category, “Year’s Best in Homiletics.” The trend seems to be toward anthologies which highlight a diverse array of homiletical styles and models.
One such book is Patterns of Preaching: A Sermon Sampler (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 252 pp. Paper ISBN) by frequent Preaching magazine contributor Ronald Allen of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Allen provides a sampler of diverse homiletical styles and patterns under the headings of traditional, contemporary occasional, and theological. He writes a description of each style he is describing and then includes sermons by such preachers as Fred Craddock, Tom Long, Henry Mitchell, Eugene Lowry, David Buttrick and Charles Rice. For example, in the Traditional section, he gives a description of verse-by-verse preaching followed by a sermon by Fred Craddock. Other sermon styles highlighted here are the Puritan Plain Style, a Simple Inductive Sermon, and Sermons That Make Points.
In the section dealing with contemporary homiletical approaches, he has sermons by David Buttrick which serve as a model of his “plots” and “moves” as well as a model demonstrating Eugene Lowry’s “Homiletical plot” which moves from “oops!” to “yeah!” In writing about Patterns for Subjects, Allen includes such topics as Wedding and Funeral homilies as well as explanations of Doctrinal preaching and Teaching sermons. Contributors include William McClain, Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, and Thomas Troeger.
Allen’s concluding section gives an overview of preaching from several diverse theological perspectives. Since Preaching is evangelical in its editorial orientation, the section on evangelical preaching would be of great interest to its readers. The sermon here is provided by Bryan Chappell.
Allen’s Patterns of Preaching would be a good reference tool for anyone who feels that his or her preaching is in a rut and realizes the need to cultivate a more diverse homiletical repertoire. If you want a good forkball to go with your homiletical fastball and off-speed pitch, Allen’s work is for you.
Ron Allen has also collaborated on a volume by Westminster/John Knox Press entitled Preaching Verse by Verse. He draws on a long tradition from church history of the lectio continua in an effort to tell those of other theological persuasions, in effect, “You don’t have to be a fundamentalist (or even an evangelical) to preach verse by verse.” The main objection many people have to verse-by-verse preaching is that it may tend toward dullness and in the minds of others may be little different from delivering a running commentary.
Allen demonstrates how dating back to the Qumran community, through Origen, Luther and Calvin, verse by verse preaching has been a staple. The verse by verse approach has proven particularly effective in congregations comprised of younger members who sense a need to learn the Bible. It was particularly refreshing in this volume to find positive mention given to Lloyd John Ogilvie and to Martin Lloyd-Jones, two effective preachers whose names don’t seem to appear much in the homiletical literature.
There are pitfalls to be avoided in this approach. One must learn to keep “the forest” and “the trees” in proper perspective, not majoring too much on either perspective. Allen provides several helpful suggestions in preparing a verse-by-verse message as well as suggestions for structuring a verse-by-verse message. Model sermons are also included. Allen’s work is an apologia for the viability of verse-by-verse preaching for those who may not be inclined to consider such a perspective. His suggestions are helpful.
In an earlier edition of Preaching, Rick Ezell’s Hitting a Moving Target (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 157 pp., paper ISBN 0-8254-2528) was reviewed. He offers several very useful exercises which can help the preacher discern what is true about his or her situation even though it may seem like preaching to a parade. Ezell has been pastor of Naperville Baptist Church in Naperville, IL for 12 years and is a frequent contributor to Preaching. I thank God for such a resource, having just accepted a call to the very transient suburbs of Washington, DC. Ezell seeks to broaden his appeal to all those who speak publicly for Christ but this reviewer wishes he would have been more forthright in his use of the word “preaching.” In today’s fluid culture, preachers will benefit from Ezell’s volume.
David L. Larsen is Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, and author of The Anatomy of Preaching: Identifying the Issues in Preaching Today (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 193 pp., paper, ISBN 0-8254-3098-4) As the title would suggest, this volume represents Larsen’s attempt to identify what is important in preaching today. Larsen has been busy of late, having produced last year’s encyclopedic The Company of the Preachers, a history of virtually every significant pulpiteer since the time of Christ.
After many years in the classroom, Larsen has an ear for the kind of issues aspiring preachers wrestle with and has much practical wisdom to offer. He deals with issues such as the future of preaching, persuasion versus manipulation, sermon movement, and the Spirit’s empowerment with great effectiveness. I did have one gnawing feeling of discomfort as I read this book however. The sources cited in the footnotes (Thank God for Kregel’s use of footnotes vs. endnotes, but that’s another sermon.) seemed rather dated. The material would have been stronger and more persuasive with more contemporary citations.
Perhaps it is millennial fever at work, but histories of preaching seem to be abundant over the last few years. Last year it was the aforementioned Company of the Preachers by David Larsen as well as a multi-volume work by Hughes Oliphant Old. This year Ronald E. Osborn releases Volume 1 in A History of Christian Preaching entitled Folly of God: The Rise of Christian Preaching. (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 458 pp., paper, ISBN 0-8272-1428-6) There is one disconcerting fact about this work. The cover indicates that this was released after Osborn’s death. I was unable to discern if this is a multi-volume work which will be picked up by someone else, if other volumes are in production, or if this project will cease with Osborn’s passing. His purpose in writing volume 1 was to provide a history of preaching which: takes seriously for each period its understanding of scripture and its witness to faith born within the common life; attempts to discern how the cultural tradition and the circumstances of the era combined with the gospel to produce a message characteristic of the times; observes what the preaching reveals of the spirit of the age; and notes, with regard to its rhetorical intent as persuasion, its effect on personal and corporate decisions.
Volume 1 takes us through the third century in a very thorough and helpful way, dealing with both homiletical strategies and theological insights. It is hoped that someone will be able to see this project through to completion.
With millennial madness fast approaching, insight into preaching apocalyptic texts is always appreciated. Larry Paul Jones and Jerry L. Sumney have written Preaching Apocalyptic Texts (St. Louis: Chalice, 151 pp., paper, ISBN 0-8272-2954-2). The authors teach at Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington, KY. This combination of a Biblical studies professor (Sumney) and a homiletical professor (Jones) gives a good overview of the nature of apocalyptic as well as insights into how it can speak to our times. After delineating some of the desirable characteristics of an apocalyptic preacher, the authors provide exegesis and sample sermons of several apocalyptic texts. In a time of apocalyptic fervor, this volume is a welcome addition to any preacher’s library.
The urbanization of our culture demands that we understand the dynamics of preaching in the urban context. Concordia Publishing House, usually an in-house publisher for Lutherans, releases Voices from the City: Issues and Images in Urban Preaching by John Nunes (St. Louis: Concordia, 141 pp., paper ISBN 780570-053750). Nunes addresses the issues involved in urban ministry in general and preaching in an urban context by extrapolation. He addresses the challenges of helping those in poverty escape its grip and also helping those who are trapped by cycles of sin and destruction. The book has a heavy Lutheran flavor seasoned by an urban, African-American perspective. It is interesting reading for those concerned about urban ministry.
One of the perks of my tenure at Preaching magazine was the opportunity to receive new homiletics releases while they were still “hot off the press.” Effective preachers need constantly to learn new strategies for changing with the times. As Leonard Sweet said recently, “We need to keep doing the same things differently.” A well-read preacher will know how to present the unchanging truth of the gospel in ever-changing ways.

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