One of the trends in homiletics in the past generation has been the rediscovery of the importance of biblical genre. Working hand-in-hand with our colleagues in Biblical studies, we have been reawakened to the reality that God is revealed His truth to us in not just but many different literary styles, and that the form of that revelation ought to have significant influence in how that biblical text is preached.
In Preaching with Variety, Jeffrey Arthurs helps us as preachers better understand the “rhetorical dynamics” of the various literary genres found in scripture, and he helps us think strategically about how to effectively preach such texts in a way that honors the form in which God inspired them.
In the book’s introduction, Arthurs explains: “I believe that a sermon’s content should explain and apply the Word of God as it is found in a biblical text, and a sermon’s form should unleash the impact of that text. The second part of that declaration is the special province of this book. We should be biblical in how we preach, not just what we preach.”
After two excellent chapters dealing with the reason for and necessity of variety in our preaching, Arthurs begins to deal with the major literary forms he identifies in scripture: poetry, narrative, parables, proverbs, epistles, and apocalyptic. Taking each category, he discusses the nature of the genre and how it communicates truth within that literary form. He then offers practical communication insights for preaching in a way that is faithful to that genre and takes advantages of its natural assets.
Many preachers will find one of the most useful chapters to be the one on poetry, specifically preaching the Psalms. This is an area where many preachers struggle, recognizing that turning a poem into a three-point sermon is rarely faithful to the biblical text, yet not sure how to craft an alternative.
As Arthurs points out, “The goal is not to mimic the exact form of the text but to reproduce the impact of the text. If the text is meditative, we would do well to prompt meditation. That is the author’s intent. If the text prompts emotion, we should too. If the text rebukes, we should rebuke.” He then offers a variety of practical guidelines for preaching Psalms, including the use of concrete language, metaphor, and the development of an “emotional outline” (drawing on the insights of David Larsen).
One of the great needs of preaching in our day is to let the biblical text speak with its own voice, rather than trying to stuff it into a predictable, pre-digested package. Jeffrey Arthurs offers valuable and practical insights that will help any preacher better communicate biblical truth with freshness and faithfulness.
Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Preaching with Variety.
Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007.
Paper, 238 pages. ISBN 978-0-8254-2019-1