Donald Coggan, Preaching: The Sacrament of the Word (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1988),; 170 pp., $12.95, cloth.
The great carved pulpit of Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most famous preaching platforms in all the world. Likewise, the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, commands a stature unique in Protestantism. In 1974 Donald Coggan became the one hundred and first Archbishop of Canterbury, a trust he held until his retirement in 1980. The author of several previous books, including Paul: Portrait of a Revolutionary and The Heart of the Christian Faith, Coggan has now turned to consider the place of preaching within the church.
Preaching: The Sacrament of the Word found its root in Coggan’s conviction that preaching has fallen on bad times in the church. Without doubt this is the case in certain sectors of the church. Though preaching has experienced a renaissance of sorts in some churches, other churches, including numerous European state churches, have seen a continuation of the decline in the power and prestige of the pulpit. Coggan’s book “springs from a conviction that it is largely for lack of an understanding of what Christian preaching is, and of the part played in it by preacher and congregation, that the Sacrament of the Word has fallen on bad days.”
Consistent with his Anglican heritage, the former Archbishop sees preaching as a sacrament of the church; a sacrament with significance equal to that of the Eucharist. His vision of holistic Anglicanism is “bi-focal” — with the focus on both the Sacrament of the Word and the Eucharist. This bi-focal vision is a healthy corrective in the context of recent tendencies in Anglicanism to offer less attention to the preaching event.
With vivid imagery Coggan recalls a dream he experienced in which he had been invited to one of his diocesan churches to preach. “When,” the inviting clergy inquired, “can you come and give us a paper?” It was Coggan’s horror at the thought of the Sacrament of the Word as “giving a paper” that haunted him throughout the writing of this volume. “What in fact is the difference between reading a paper to an audience and preaching to a congregation? One has heard sermons which were precisely that — the giving of a paper, probably prepared with meticulous care, but that and nothing more.” Coggan went on to consider: “Is that preaching? If not, wherein lies the difference?”
Spoken words, Coggan asserts, are inadequate to hold the meaning of the Christian revelation. “Before it we can only kneel in awe and adoration.” But out of our silence before the Word must come the word of the preacher; “just because he is a preacher, [he] must seek to convey something of what he has seen, something of the awesome strength, the tender beauty, the compelling glory of the ‘many-splendoured thing’ which is the Gospel.”
In a most enriching section the author draws from the charges given to ministers in the Anglican communion, who are commissioned as “stewards of the Word,” charged by the congregation to “be among us … as one who proclaims the Word.” In the majestic words of the 1662 Prayer Book, the Bishop is charged as he accepts the Bible: “Give heed unto reading, exhortation, and doctrine. Think upon the things contained in this Book. Be diligent in them, that the increase coming thereby may be manifest unto all men.”
Coggan includes two foundational chapters on the Old Testament and New Testament background for the preacher’s role. This is essential, he affirms, for only from a healthy theology will an adequate understanding of preaching emerge. “Begin with an inadequate or feeble doctrine of God’s Word and the pulpit utterance will be feeble.” The preacher will become a mere “merchant of words,” a “reader of papers.”
Coggan’s writing style provides some clear indicators of his preaching style. He self-consciously avoids polysyllabic words when a shorter word will do. In the chapter on the Old Testament background he tells of the “God Who Speaks.” In later passages Coggan writes also of this God who sends and feeds. Looking briefly at Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, Coggan finds a prophetic model for how God’s Word comes to His people wth a self-authenticating authority.
From the New Testament the author draws deeply from the ministry of John the Baptist, the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and the preaching of the early church. He notes the authoritative directness of the preaching of Jesus and the several different models of preaching in the New Testament.
In subsequent chapters Coggan considers the place of the Holy Spirit in preaching — the “main actor” when true preaching takes place, and the role of dialogue in preaching. Dialogue, Coggan suggests, is “an opportunity for conversation between the preacher and members of the congregation who have heard his sermon.” This is no superficial conversation, however. The Archbishop points to the use of dialegomai in the New Testament as a model for this contemporary preacher/congregation dialogue. Dialogue is no substitute for declaration, he insists. The preacher must declare the “thus saith the Lord” and not reduce this to mere conversation. Dialogue is no substitute for proclamation, but Coggan commends some form of organized dialogue as a means of engendering better preaching, and of enlarging the sense of participation in the preaching event.
Interestingly, Coggan holds a consideration of the definition of preaching until the sixth chapter, well into the book. Coggan considers definitions from sources as diverse as Phillips Brooks, P. T. Forsyth, John Wesley, and George Herbert. He considers with some care the definition of Bernard L. Manning of preaching as “a manifestation of the Incarnate Word, from the Written Word, through the spoken word,” a model, we might note, very similar to the understanding of Karl Barth in his three-fold model of the Word of God.
Evangelists will find in Coggan’s volume a cogent essay from a leader in world Christianity. Americans will find his language at times somewhat quaint, and many preachers from the free church traditions will find the frequent references to Anglican ecclesiology and sacramental theology at times quite foreign. Preachers from communions closer to the Anglican tradition will feel at home in his discussions of the Sacrament of the Word and the bi-focal model he affirms. All preachers will be enriched by reading this powerful essay on the primacy of preaching.
Of particular note is his consistent emphasis on the biblical basis of the sermon. In many cases, Coggan indicates, the sermon is based on a newspaper article or current events. “If there is any scriptural content to the sermon, it is more by way of a side reference or a passing glance.” What should have been used as an illustration, Coggan suggests, can become the theme.
All ages of the church require uncompromisingly biblical preaching, but Coggan notes: “We who preach at the end of the twentieth century have the realities of our world’s life and grief more vividly prsented to us, and their claims more urgently pressed on us, than any preachers before us.” Coggan calls for a preaching marked by charity and clarity — both in full measure. He purposefully misquotes Paul to say “though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not clarity … I am nothing.” Preachers will hear in this volume a clear call to preaching more faithful, more forceful, and more effective.
Richard Lischer, Theories of Preaching: Selected Readings in the Homiletical Tradition (Durham, North Carolina: The Labyrinth Press, 1987), 363 pp., $15.95, paper.
Collections of essays on preaching emerge with some regularity. Few hold the promise of Theories of Preaching, however. Richard Lischer, Associate Professor of Homiletics at the Divinity School of Duke University, has brought together a unique collection from among the finest essays and excerpts on preaching.
Our age may well be described as impoverished in theology. A cursory glance at recent books on preaching and the curriculum of preaching in many theological seminaries demonstrates the decline of theology as a concern within the homiletical task. Happily, there are notable exceptions to this trend. Theories of Preaching is an “exceptional exception” to this trend. It is rich in theological material and brings together the best from several theological traditions.
Indeed, the author suggests that the book could well be titled Theologies of Preaching, “for the main criterion for a selection’s inclusion is its contribution to a clearer theological understanding of preaching.” Lischer notes the ample number of books on preaching, but finds that “too many are satisfied with inspirational advice and make no critical connections with the church’s theological tradition.” This, Lischer, suggests, is a fatal error for the preacher.
In his introduction, “The Promise of Renewal,” Lischer presents preaching as “an eternal triangle of message, speaker, and audience.” Together, these factors shape the preaching task. To consider these elements Lischer organized the readings around the categories: What is Preaching?; The Preacher; The Event; Biblical Interpretation; Rhetoric; The Hearer; The Holy Spirit; and Theology, Word, and Sacrament. Though some selections defy easy categorization, they generally fall quite naturally into Lischer’s chosen categories.
Readers will find authors and selections both familiar and new. The selections span the history of the church; from Chrysostum to Fred Craddock. In between are figures ranging from Alan of Lille and Gregory the Great to Harry Emerson Fosdick and Charles Haddon Spurgeon. All major theological and confessional traditions of the church find a place, including Reformed, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Orthodox, and even Pentecostal traditions. Likewise, geographical representation is diverse, and, though most represent either American or European regions, South American and African traditions find their way into the volume.
For many readers, this volume will be the first contact with the richness of the homiletic tradition. The selections are generally well-chosen and carefully edited, and reflect a serious attempt to bring together the best material from some of the most gifted preachers and thoughtful theologians in the history of the church.
In many cases, the volume is the only readily available source for the selections presented. Few preachers or students will have a copy of Gregory the Great’s “Catalogue of Hearers” close at hand. By the inclusion of these rather obscure documents, Lischer accomplishes the purpose of making these available to the thoughtful preacher. Likewise, though in several cases he includes edited selections from available works, the selections in Theories of Preaching will whet the reader’s appetite for a reading of the complete work. Preachers reading P. T. Forsyth’s “The Authority of the Preacher,” excerpted from his Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind [1907], will soon look for the larger volume.
Theories of Preaching represents a considerable task of editing. Lischer has chosen well, and he provides a brief editorial introduction to each selection. In similar manner, complete bibliographic information with attention to standard sources is provided where possible.
The volume absolutely defies summary. The forty-eight selections will include many of interest to all readers, and several which the preacher should read just for the exposure to a different tradition or an alternative paradigm for preaching.
Lischer clearly hopes for a renewal of preaching. It is this very purpose which brought forth this volume. “If the church is to achieve that renewal of preaching, it will find it where it has always found it, in the reappropriation of the gospel.”
Gardner C. Taylor, Chariots Aflame, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1988), 208 pp., n.p., cloth.
In an article a few years ago Time magazine named Gardner C. Taylor one of the top seven preachers in the nation, acknowledging him as “the Dean of the nation’s black preachers.” Without a doubt, Gardner Taylor is one of the finest preachers in the United States, a former president of his own denomination, and a Lyman Beecher Lecturer at Yale Divinity School.
The sermons included in Chariots Aflame were preached in the pulpit of Concord Baptist Church of Christ, the Brooklyn, New York congregation where Taylor has served as pastor for over forty years. Twenty of Taylor’s most memorable messages are included in this volume. Sermons include “God’s Great About-to-Be,” “From Glory to Glory,” “Beauty Which Fadeth Not Away,” and “The Promise in the Manager.”
No collection of printed sermons can capture the full power of Gardner C. Taylor’s preaching. Nevertheless, Chariots Aflame will provide a glimpse into one of America’s most powerful pulpit ministries.
Book Notes
R. C. Sproul, One Holy Passion: the Consuming Thirst to Know God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Co., 1987), 185 pp., $13.95, cloth.
R. C. Sproul has established a reputation as one of the most popular figures in American evangelicalism. A widely-known preacher, teacher, and lecturer, Sproul is president of Ligonier Ministries, based in Florida.
One Holy Passion is really Sproul’s second volume on the attributes of God. It is not a dry theological treatise, however. Indeed, it is a doxological discussion of the nature and character of God — and of the consuming passionate worship which must be our response. As the author notes: “The goal of this book is not to communicate the kind of knowledge that puffs up, but the kind of knowledge that edifies the soul.” This kind of biblical preaching cannot but edify.
David Heller, Dear God: Children’s Letters to God (New York: Doubleday, 1987), 130 pp., $9.95, cloth.
“Kids say the darnedest things” — to God. If you have any doubts, or even if you do not, you must read Dear God by David Heller. Heller, a doctoral graduate of Harvard University who did his research in childen and religion, has collected these letters from children to God during the course of his doctoral research, the results of which were published as The Children’s God by the University of Chicago Press.
The letters are priceless and illuminating. They express the range of childhood feelings about God, from fear and trembling to intimate familiarity. Only a child would ask: “Did you know that Christmas would turn out like this when you started it?” Readers will chuckle, grimace, and reflect on the letters. Some hold tremendous poignancy.
Kenneth S. Hemphill, Spiritual Gifts: Empowering the New Testament Church (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1988), 212 pp., n.p., paper.
The issue of spiritual gifts in the contemporary church has become a divisive issue. Some preachers, seeking to avoid the controversy, simply avoid the New Testament teachings on spiritual gifts. Kenneth Hemphill, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Norfolk, Virginia, has written a most helpful consideration of the nature and meaning of spiritual gifts in the New Testament. The work grew out of his own considerable interest in these issues, an interest which led to his doctoral work in New Testament at Cambridge University under the venerable C. F. D. Moule.
Readers will find in this volume an honest and open consideration of the biblical texts, especially 1 Corinthians 12-14. Hemphill’s arguments are often compelling, but his style is open and reflective. We must all, Hemphill says, “agree that God has given to the church both a great challenge and an abundant empowering for service.”
Arnold A. Dallimore, A Heart Set Free: the Life of Charles Wesley (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1988), 251 pp., n.p., cloth.
The life of Charles Wesley is one of the most compelling biographies in the history of the Christian church. Though he is a special figure to the Methodist heritage, he was a gift to the church universal. Arnold Dallimore, a capable researcher and writer, is the author of biographies on Charles Haddon Spurgeon and George Whitefield.
Readers will find Dallimore’s life of Wesley edifying, interesting, and enriching. Intertwined with the text of Wesley’s life are the words of Wesley’s hymns. Dallimore provides insights into the man and his ministry. Though not a scholarly biography, the work is well-researched and capably presented.
Stuart Briscoe, David: A Heart for God (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1988), 170 pp., $6.95, paper.
Stuart Briscoe has become widely-known as one of the most popular evangelical preacher/writers of our day. That reputation won’t be tarnished with the republication (the 1984 original was in hardback) of this superb study of David’s life.
Then again, as Briscoe observes in his study of David’s life, “God is far more concerned about character than He is about reputation.” The book offers an excellent study of the life of this heroic yet human Old Testament figure.
If you’re considering preaching one sermon or a series on David, you’ll find Briscoe’s volume well worth the price (and far more helpful than many popular studies on bookstore shelves). In addition to its value in sermon study, the book could also be used in leading a Bible study (a 13-session Leader’s Guide is available for $4.50).
John McArthur, Calatians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), 212 pp., $12.95, cloth.
John McArthur, The Way to Heaven: Matthew 7:13-29 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 112 pp., $3.95, paper.
John MacArthur continues to be one of the most prolific authors among contemporary evangelicals. And for ministers committed to expository preaching, his work offers a valuable source for resources and models.
The Galatians volume is the sixth in the MacArthur New Testament Commentary series. Pastors will appreciate the verse-by-verse exposition, plus the helpful bibliography and indexes that are included.
The second work is part of a series which consists of compilations of sermon notes drawn from MacArthur’s preaching ministry (and heard on his radio program). Preachers will find the notes helpful as they prepare their own messages from the Scripture passages featured in this series of paperback books from Moody. Other books in the series include notes on texts in Matthew, Romans, I Corinthians, Colossians, I Timothy, Hebrews, James and II Peter.
Frederick Houk Borsch, Many Things in Parables (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 146 pp., n.p., paper.
You will not want to preach on the parables without this valuable reference at your side. Providing helpful background and interesting interpretation, Borsch holds each parable up for analysis like a jeweler holding a diamond up to the light and exploring its facets. Dean of the Chapel and Professor of Religion at Princeton University, Borsch offers practical insights for new ways to look at and proclaim these biblical texts.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Gospel in Dostoyevsky (Ulster Park, NY: Plough Publishing House, 1988), 258 pp., $9.50, paper.
With the stimulating events now taking place in the Soviet Union and new interest in American-Soviet relations, this is a timely collection of excerpts from Dostoyevsky’s greatest novels. Even in the Stalinist period when Christian literature was banned, Dostoyevsky’s works — with their themes of sin, grace and redemption–were widely read.
The introduction states: “The present revival of religion in the Soviet Union owes much to Dostoyevsky and his early admirers. He has made an enormous contribution to the Christian thinkers who have been, and are, leaders in this spiritual reformation.”
Published by the Hutterian Brethren, this rich collection will both inspire and challenge preachers.
John D. Woodbridge (General Editor), Great Leaders of the Christian Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 371 pp., n.p., cloth.
If USA Today was to produce a book on church history, this would be it. Replete with color photography, charts, timelines and other graphic elements, this book will be of interest as an introductory survey of many important figures in Christian history.
The theological viewpoint is clearly reflected in the individuals selected and the space given to them (Francis Schaeffer receives a six-page section, compared to three pages for Soren Kierkegaard, four pages for Karl Barth, three for John Hus and so on). Every church historian is bound to object to some who are omitted; with only 64 individuals highlighted, the volume makes no claims to being comprehensive.
Nevertheless, preachers will find it an interesting and easy-to-read introduction to many whom God has used through the centuries.

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