Haddon W. Robinson, ed. Biblical Sermons: How Twelve Preachers Apply the Principles of Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 262 pp., $11.95, cloth.
Most teachers look with pride upon the professional lives of their students. Few have the opportunity enjoyed by Haddon Robinson in this creative volume. Robinson, currently president of Denver Seminary and a Contributing Editor of Preaching, taught homiletics at Dallas Theological Seminary for over nineteen years — and serves as a mentor to thousands of evangelical preachers. Several of the many students who sat in his classroom now serve in strategic pulpits throughout the nation.
Robinson’s homiletical method, hammered out through years in the pulpit as well as the classroom, is explicated in his popular textbook, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages (Baker Book House, 1980). Almost ten years after the publication of that volume, Robinson has now asked eleven of his former students — all of whom identify Robinson as a mentor — to contribute a model sermon as an example of expository preaching based on Robinson’s method. Their teacher is quick to disavow any credit for his students’ success or prowess, but he does accept the teacher’s mantle and offers these representatives as models of effective biblical preaching.
The format of the book presents twelve sermons, including one from Robinson, with each followed by comments from Robinson and an interview with the preacher. The eleven former students included in the volume are Erwin W. Lutzer, senior pastor of the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago; James O. Rose, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New York City; Donald Sunukjian, pastor of Westlake Bible Church in Austin, Texas;
Duane Litfin, senior pastor of the First Evangelical Church in Memphis; Bo Matthews, pastor of Hinson Memorial Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon; George Kenworthy, senior pastor of Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Indianapolis; Joseph M. Stowell, president of Moody Bible Institute; Nancy Hardin, a popular Bible conference speaker; Larry Moyer, a vocational evangelist; Michael Cocoris, senior pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Glendora, California; and Joel Eidsness, pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Phoenix.
Each contributor represents a unique appropriation of Robinson’s homiletical method and a personalized model of biblical preaching. The sermons, each preached in the midst of a demanding preaching schedule, are the representative submissions of working preachers. As Robinson comments: “While the sermons may have received a bit more polish than usual, each smacks of the ordinary rather than the extraordinary and represents what preaching done on a regular basis looks like.” Each sermon is a worthy example of biblical preaching and, though each is unique, each bears the recognizable marks of the teacher in Biblical Preaching.
While most of the sermons follow a typical expository form based upon the biblical text, innovative models such as a narrative sermon and a biblical monologue are also included. These models — more popular now than in 1980 — receive the imprimatur of the teacher.
Robinson’s comments on each sermon are a valuable source of homiletical insight and reveal the strengths and weaknesses of each example. His comments reveal his consistent concern for the explication of the sermon’s central idea.
The interviews with each contributor demonstrate the diversity of preparation methods and styles of study. In addition, the reader will read comments concerning sermon notes, study resources, and sermon duration of interest. One critical issue is lacking in these interviews, however. The contributors do not address the influence of Robinson’s homiletical method upon their own style and content. This issue, addressed from the perspective of the student, would add much to the impact of the volume. Nevertheless, the volume is a creative and useful consideration of biblical preaching as it is worked out in the ministries of these twelve preachers.
The concept and format of the volume can create a false impression. Though each of the contributors studied under Robinson, all are now preachers of reputation and considerable skill. As Robinson notes: “None of these preachers is a clone of mine.” The volume would be a worthy collection of sermons even without the comments and interviews. Yet, these supplementary sections add a dimension found in no other sermon collection, and stand as a unique testimony to the power of preaching — and the power of a committed professor of homiletics.
Ernest Edward Hunt III, Sermon Struggles: Four Methods of Sermon Preparation (New York: Seabury Press), 129 pp., $8.95, paper.
Any preacher knows the sense of struggle which is evoked by the title of this volume. A joyous and eager struggle, the task of preaching calls forth the most introspective analysis on the part of the preaching minister. Few have shared this struggle as effectively as Ernest Edward Hunt III.
Hunt, rector of The Church of the Epiphany in New York, writes out of the context of a preaching ministry in the Episcopal Church. This communion, he notes, is not uniformly known for preaching: “In the late 1970’s Episcopalians were embroiled in a heated internal conflict over the revision of The Book of Common Prayer, but we rarely fight over reform of a preacher’s way of ‘sermonizing’ or ask for a renewal of a commitment to effective preaching.” Good preaching is to be found among Episcopalian churches, he hastened to add, but preaching has not been the central hallmark of the Episcopal churches — nor of the larger Anglican communion.
The author wisely notes that preaching was not the central issue in the development of the Anglican tradition, as it was central to the origins of the Lutheran and Reformed churches, and the heirs of revivalism and the Wesleyan movements. The liturgy has eclipsed the preaching event in many Anglican churches throughout the world. On the other hand, Episcopalians have demonstrated a renewed interest in the preaching task, as evidenced by the publication of this volume by an Episcopalian minister of stature.
Many preachers look first to the issues of homiletics and communication as the primary challenges faced by the modern preacher. Hunt looks far deeper, and finds the essential issues at the foundational level of theology. As he notes: “It is important for one who is responsible for presenting the Word of God to share with his readers a theology which undergirds a personal struggle to be creative in his sermon preparation.”
The notions of theology and creativity are perhaps only loosely connected in many minds, but a serious engagement with theological issues and the content of the Christian faith will produce the most genuine and effective creativity. In interesting and illuminating sections Hunt shares with the reader his own theological pilgrimage.
The heart of the volume consists of four chapters dealing with four methods of sermon construction developed by Hunt in the course of his preaching ministry at The Church of the Epiphany. Eight of Hunt’s own sermons are included in the volume, along with his notes concerning the issues of sermon development. In addition, Hunt includes the comments of a hearing response group drawn from the membership of his church, a group convened by church member Nathan Pusey, the retired president of Harvard University.
Hunt’s four methods are identified as the text method, the cultural sources method, the pastoral situation method, and the conflict method. Each attempts to bridge the gap between the kerygmatic message and the human situation. Thus, the sermons range from messages based first in the biblical text, to others which move from the human need to the biblical text.
The text method is perhaps the most recognizable to evangelical preachers. Hunt suggests he is first caught by a sense of curiosity about the text, then forced to grapple with the content of the text, and then moves “to unite the meaning of its contents with what is happening in the world today.” The text method, he suggests, keeps the Bible from becoming just another piece of literature or an answer to an individual human need.
Messages based in the cultural sources method arise out of the suggestive power of the culture, whether found in a dramatic play, a piece of literature, a current event, or a pressing social issue. If the text method emphasized divine transcendence, the cultural sources method points to divine imminence in human discourse and existence, while affirming transcendence.
Hunt roots the pastoral situation in the example of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s “life situation preaching.” This impulse comes naturally to most preachers as they find themselves grappling with the most sensitive and difficult issues of human suffering and need. Nevertheless, many preachers, like Hunt, struggle with the difficult task of bridging the human situation and the biblical message in a concrete situation. Hunt offers helpful suggestions concerning the possibilities for pastoral preaching.
A more dialectical approach characterizes the fourth model, the conflict method. Of the four, this is the most difficult method to articulate, as it includes so many dimensions of the other three methods. The conflict may arise out of a sense of distance between the text and contemporary life, between two texts, or between competing ideals.
In the course of his self-study, Hunt discovered two “alliances” among these four methods. The first was between the text method and the cultural source method. The second united the conflict and pastoral situation methods. Nevertheless, he also discovered that all four methods were present in some manner in each of the eight sermons included in the volume. This should come as no surprise, for the elements of good preaching must take all four components into consideration, whatever the intention of the model.
In fact, Hunt may not have identified four methods of sermon construction, but four components of any good sermon. These components will, of course, be combined in varying formats and will receive varying degrees of attention from sermon to sermon.
Hunt also found that his basic theological assumptions were unified in his preaching, regardless of the method applied. Again, this should not come as a surprise, for the kerygmatic content of the Christian message is not at odds with itself, but presents a consistent message of judgment and ultimate grace. Preachers will read Sermon Struggles with profit — and may be prompted to undertake the degree of personal introspection evidenced and shared by Hunt.
Al Fasol, Essentials for Biblical Preaching: An Introduction to Basic Sermon Preparation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 166 pp., $12.95, cloth.
Every discipline needs primers, and this is the contribution of Al Fasol in Essentials for Biblical Preaching. Fasol, associate professor of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, has produced an accessible introduction to the preaching task.
Fasol approaches the subject with a firm grasp of the challenge faced by the preacher. “Consider, for example, that a best-selling author is expected by publishers and readership to turn out one quality volume every three to five years. But a preacher (who usually prepares and delivers two sermons per week, forty to fifty times per annum) speaks the equivalent of several medium-sized volumes every year.”
Nevertheless, the author addresses this book to all who would seek to preach the Word, whether as a preacher in worship, or as a Bible teacher. The work is intended as a first text in the art of preaching, and does not require any previous experience or background in the discipline.
Fasol takes the reader through essays on the roots and history of preaching as a ministry of the church. Preaching, he suggests, is “orally communicating truth as found in the Bible in a way that applies God’s Word to life today.” As such, its purpose “is to elicit a positive response to the biblical message.”
Fasol’s survey of the history of preaching is brief, and ends with a curious statement concerning the current state of the calling: “No doubt, some great preaching prevails today and those notable exceptions will be adequately recognized in the future.” Little context is provided for that rather dour analysis.
In the end, however, Fasol affirms the continuity of preaching as a central event in the life of the church and “an integral part of Christian worship.” This sense of continuity provides confidence, for preaching “has never had to rely solely upon the oratory skills of the practitioner for its success and survival.”
Preaching rests on two foundational assumptions, according to Fasol. These are that the Bible is the authoritative source for preaching and that biblical truth should be proclaimed by a “spiritually prepared person.” In addition, the preacher must be a disciplined and sober student of the Word.
In nine chapters Fasol takes the reader through the basics of sermon design and construction, as well as issues concerning delivery and pulpit demeanor. The book is informed by Fasol’s years as pastor and professor of preaching.
Richard Allen Bodey, Good News for All Seasons: 26 Sermons for Special Days (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), 206 pp., $10.95, paper.
Most church members assume that preaching on special days must be easier than the regular Sunday-to-Sunday rhythm. Any preacher will testify to the enormous challenge of speaking the right words on those special days in the church year.
Richard Allen Bodey, professor of homiletics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has collected twenty-six sermons, each addressed to a particular day in the church year. These sermons, preached by familiar names such as J. I. Packer and James Earl Massey, provide solid examples of the power of preaching on the festival days and other special days of the church year.
Bodey’s collection ranges from Advent to Thanksgiving Sunday, with special messages included for stewardship, missions, and the Bible, not tied to any specific date on the church calendar. Each sermon is a worthy inclusion in the collection.
C. W. Burger, B. A. Muller, and D. J. Smit, eds. Sermon Guides for Preaching in Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 284 pp., n.p., paper.
Preachers who follow the lectionary are familiar with the exegetical and homiletical materials published as guides for preaching. These materials vary widely in format and in quality. Sermon Guides for Preaching in Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost is a worthy contribution to the exposition of the biblical texts for those eight Sundays from Easter to Pentecost.
The editors, all ordained ministers in South Africa, have assembled articles covering three cycles of texts for each of the eight Sundays. These cycles cover, respectively, pericopes from the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, from the Old Testament and the Pauline Lettes, and from the Writings of John and Paul. All are competent and suggestive articles dealing with the biblical texts in the context of worship and preaching for those eight Sundays.
The book is commendable for its concentration on sound exegesis and careful interpretation. The text cycles are not tied to any specific year, and thus will serve the reader from year to year. Furthermore, the volume will be of interest to those who do not follow the lectionary at all, for all preachers are likely to find themselves looking to these texts during these significant Sundays.
Book Notes
Michael Green, ed. Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 435 pp., cloth.
Most preachers look with ravenous eyes upon any good source of illustrations, but find most published collections unsatisfying. This is for good reason — most illustration collections are outdated by the time of publication, and many are time-worn stories devoid of freshness.
Illustrations for Biblical Preaching is a pleasant surprise in this regard, for the volume contains a wealth of solid illustrative material, carefully arranged for the preacher’s use. Those unaccustomed to using illustration volumes may find this a pleasant exception. The largest section of the book contains illustrations arranged by topic. A smaller section includes illustrations arranged by biblical texts.
Robert E. Reccord, When Life is in the Pits: A Bible Study on the Life of Joseph (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1987), 252 pp., paper.
The life of Joseph holds a particular grip upon the Christian, for it provides a clear example of the power of God in the vicissitudes of everyday life — though we may never find ourselves in the household of either Potiphar or Pharoah. Robert E. Reccord, senior pastor of the Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Florida, provides a study of the life of Joseph with direct application to life at the end of the twentieth century.
Reccord identifies with Joseph, and suggests that Joseph’s life provides a model for “life in the pits,” as well as in the palace. “Only for a rare minority does life progress on a continuous comfortable plateau.” The volume is relevant and faithful, and represents a helpful application of the life of Joseph for contemporary American society. As such, it will be of service to the preacher both in its content, and in its example of creative biblical application.

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