Preaching: The Art o Narrative Exposition.
Baker Books, 2006. Hardcover, 284 pages.
Author: Calvin Miller
Calvin Miller’s newest book is one of those textbooks that is too good by students. By that I don’t mean to imply that those preparing for ministry won’tr benefit from it; they will. What I mean is that this is a book that will mean even more to the pastor who has been toiling in the fields of ministry for awhile — who has a few scars and bumps and bruises to show for his homiletical handiwork.
Although he has spent the last 14 years in the classroom, Miller draws readily on his previous 35 years as a pastor. As a Baptist pastor in Omaha — not exactly a hotbed of Southern Baptist activity — he lead a congregation which grew from ten to more than 3,000 during his tenure. So his counsel to preachers grows out of a reservoir of experience.
The text grows out of Miller’s view that “Preaching has a calling far greater than just making sermons interesting. Preaching exists to create the kingdom. Merely getting and keeping attention is too small a job description for this critical, redeeming art. Preaching has work to do — a lot of work to do — and honest sermons are in league with God’s ultimate plan of conforming souls to the image of his Son.”
The first section of the book deals with “The Exegesis of All Things,” in which he talks about the preacher’s task of analyzing himself, the audience, the sermon, and the call of the sermon (or the application). Miller then proceeds to offer guidance in the task of writing the sermon — from exegeting the text to developing the art of writing the story. The final major section deals with delivery of he sermon, along with an intriguing final chapter on “The Sermon Journey,” as Miller reminds us “Every sermon is a trip — a movement from where we are to where we ought to be.”
Throughout this excellent book, Miller offers valuable and practical counsel that will be useful to novice and veteran alike; indeed, at points he says out loud what most preachers think but are reluctant to acknowledge. An example:
“We evangelicals suffer from alternate Jekyll and Hyde syndromes. Jekyll is a kindly, committed soldier of God who (secretly) wants God to have the credit for his pulpit successes but longs to agree with all those who tell him at the back door that he was like Whitefield, like Spurgeon, like Elijah. Of course, he ducks his head at their applause, saying, ‘I owe it all to Jesus.’ He feels great! He secretly wonders if he will be nominated as homiletician of the year. But when he fails he is prone to say, ‘God, where were you!?’ It is hard not to celebrate our successes while we give God the credit for our failures.’
In an age when image and story are increasingly important to communication, a master storyteller like Calvin Miller has much to teach us as preachers. As he reminds us, “Only a few preachers see themselves as artists and view the work they do as image making..Too bad, too, for all listeners her with words but store what we hear in pictures. So sermons are remembered only if they contain enough pictures to be stored.”
Miller helps us to understand that sermons can be solidly biblical and, at the same time, creative and image-laden. His work on narrative exposition is an important contribution that will help any preacher explore new approaches to proclaiming biblical truth.