Warren W. Wiersbe, Preaching & Teaching with Imagination: The Quest for Biblical Ministry (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1994), 389 pages.
Preaching has received some hefty shots in the arm in recent years. Stimulating discussions of nearly every aspect of the art have popped up in publishers’ catalogues like dandelions in spring. Here’s one of the best yet: 400 pages on the role of imagination, particularly as it bears upon preaching and teaching! It’s a welcome prescription for laying to rest the “ho-hum” sermons that still haunt many of our pulpits. The book itself is a delicious model of the skill it encourages.
The author, Warren Wiersbe, is a household name in evangelical circles here and abroad: esteemed preacher, who for some years pastored Chicago’s famous Moody Memorial Church; Bible conference speaker; and former Bible teacher on the Back to the Bible broadcast. Wiersbe has published more than a hundred books, many of them engaging expositions of biblical books and themes — useful sermonic resources as multitudes of preachers will testify.
Thoroughness is a mark of all of Wiersbe’s work. The present volume maintains the tradition. He has probed his subject deeply, surveyed a wide spectrum of relevant literature from many sources, mapped out his organization neatly, argued his case convincingly, and supplied a pleasing dose of discriminating quotations and references, together with a selected bibliography.
Many preachers who strive vigorously to safeguard and set forth the precise meaning of the biblical text twitch and squirm when the word imagination creeps into any discussion of preaching. They fear, not entirely without justification, that imagination is a slippery slope that may prove disastrous to truth. As a preacher firmly committed to faithfulness to Scripture in its strictest sense, Wiersbe is unexcelled. This is one of the chief merits of his book. For here is no sellout to subjectivism, distortion, exaggeration, embellishment, invention, or any other mishandling of the inspired text. Wiersbe’s plea, as well as his examples, is always harnessed to sound hermeneutical controls. The subtitle of the book, The Quest for Biblical Ministry, sets the tone of his whole argument.
The main body of the material is divided into three sections: I. Imagination and Life; II. Imagination and Scripture; and III. Imagination and Biblical Preaching.
Building on the premises that imagination is a gift of God and all creation is sacramental, in the first section Wiersbe reminds us that effective communication demands skillful use of imagination. We think in pictures, not abstractions — indeed, language itself began as a picture gallery. He quotes C. S. Lewis’ comment that “reason is the natural organ of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning.”
Only the imagination connects truths with one another and with life. By mastering metaphorical language, a preacher turns the hearers’ ears into eyes. By weaving concepts and images together preaching becomes charged with life-changing power. (This, of course, is no substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit in preaching.) It is no accident that no book is more rich in metaphors than the Bible.
The truth of Wiersbe’s argument came home to me with fresh impact when I was working on this review. Taking a few minutes’ break, I played a new cassette of hymns and choruses I recently acquired but had not listened to. Almost immediately I heard voices singing the lines:
“O the blood of Jesus,
O the blood of Jesus,
O the blood of Jesus,
It washes white as snow.”
I’ve heard and sung that chorus many times since I was a boy, but the imagery suddenly became electrifying and my heart thrilled to the message of those simple but powerful words.
Wiersbe warns us, however, that metaphors are not the subject of the sermon. Pictures are not substitutes for theological truths. We should treat the truth with imagination, but imagination is neither the source nor the substance of the truth.
The second section explores the rich pictorial and metaphorical cargo in each of the literary units of both the Old and New Testaments. Special attention is devoted to our Lord’s mastery of the imaginative art — especially in His parables — and its effect on His hearers.
The third section relates the principles of imagination to sermon preparation. It includes chapters on exegesis, outlining, biographical preaching, funeral sermons, special day sermons, evangelistic preaching, and others. Wiersbe wisely admonishes the reader not to jump to the third section before taking the pains to study the previous two.
Three appendices deal with “Questions Preachers and Teachers Ask,” “A Short History of the Imagination,” and “Imagination and Myth.”
This book would make an excellent choice for a required text in either an introductory or advanced course in homiletics. If you are already a preacher — novice or veteran — get a copy of this book. Then put aside everything else, sit down, and “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” it from cover to cover. You’ll be glad you did. So will the people who listen to your sermons.
Book Notes
Michael Duduit
D. Stuart Briscoe, Fresh Air in the Pulpit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), paper, 189 pp.
One of the most helpful things a young preacher can have is a mentor — an older preacher who can offer wisdom and counsel gleaned through years of experience in the pulpit. Preachers of any age will gain such benefit from this latest work by one of America’s finest preachers.
Of particular value is the first section of the book, which deals with many of the personal and spiritual issues facing today’s preacher. Briscoe has several excellent chapters on the pressures preachers face which threaten to diminish their proclamation.
One of the most valuable pieces of advice is found on page 72: “A preacher’s motives matter more than a preacher’s methods. If what is going on in a preacher’s heart is not right, what is coming out of his mouth will be all wrong.”
Briscoe provides plenty of advice on methods as well as motives. Preachers will find this book filled with practical advice and an abundance of quality preaching material as well.
A Contributing Editor of Preaching, Briscoe is pastor of Elmbrook Church in Waukesha, WI.
W. Hulitt Gloer, ed., Following Jesus: Sermons on Discipleship (Macon, GA: Smith & Helwys, 1994), paper, 167 pp., $11.95.
Books of sermons are so rare these days that we should congratulate any publisher willing to invest in such titles, which were once a staple of the religious publishing marketplace. Smith & Helwys is a relatively young publisher, created by moderate Southern Baptists to produce books and curriculum as an alternative to the denominational publishing house.
This title, edited by a New Testament professor at Midwestern Baptist Seminary in Kansas City, contains twenty sermons on discipleship, all based primarily on New Testament texts. As with any such collection, some of the sermons are quite good while others demonstrate less value as models. The contributors are drawn from Southern Baptist pulpits and classrooms.
One surprise from the volume, given the emphasis by moderate Southern Baptists on openness to women in ministry, is the presence of only one woman among the twenty contributors.
Wayne McDill, The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), cloth, 278 pp.
McDill’s premise is that “Preachers can significantly improve their preaching by strengthening twelve specific skills used in the preparation of sermons.” Those skills involve elements of both textual study and sermon preparation. Several checksheets and models/examples are included to assist the reader. The book is well written; many preachers will find the illustrations alone worth the price of the book.
McDill is professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.
Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women & Wives (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992), paper, 350 pp.
Although the role of women in ministry is widely accepted in mainline denominations, the issue is still a source of controversy and division among evangelicals. This book by Craig Keener will be a source of interest and encouragement to those looking for biblical support for an increasing place for women in leadership roles in the church.
Keener’s treatment is not limited to issues of women in ministry, however; he also spends extensive time discussing Paul’s approach to the issue of submission.
Craig Keener is associate professor of New Testament at Hood Seminary in Salisbury, NC.
Lewis Drummond, Eight Keys to Biblical Revival (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1994), paper, 222 pp, $8.99.
In this interesting volume, Drummond traces characteristics common to spiritual awakenings, and discusses the necessary response of the people of God. The book is replete with biblical and historical examples of God’s amazing work among His people.
Drummond — one of the original Contributing Editors of Preaching — is professor of evangelism and church growth at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL.
Kenn Filkins, Comfort Those Who Mourn (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1992), paper, 195 pp.
One of the basic responsibilities of most pastors is leading funerals. In some congregations, aging congregations make the preparation and presentation of funeral sermons a frequent duty. In this unique and helpful book, Filkins has provided an outstanding service to preachers who are called on for such sermons.
Of particular value is Filkins’ counsel on gathering and using information about the deceased in order to “personalize” the funeral sermon in a way that will more effectively minister to family and other mourners.
Filkins currently serves the Gilmore Church of Christ in Farwell, MI.
Bucky Dann, More Children’s Sermons (Louisville: Westminster Press, 1993), paper, 96 pp., $7.99.
For pastors who regularly preach children’s sermons in worship or other settings, this book provides additional resources and ideas to replenish the well. Dann covers themes such as nature, sexuality, death, self-esteem, God’s gifts, and the environment. He provides object lessons and suggested dialogues. Dann is an ordained Methodist minister; this is his fourth book of children’s sermons.
George Barna, Today’s Pastors (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993), cloth, 169 pp., $15.99.
The latest volume from the Barna publishing industry is based on a nationwide survey of more than 1,000 senior pastors who discussed their lives and ministries, their attitudes and concerns. The result is a sobering appraisal of the present state of ministry in America. As in most of Barna’s books, his strength is in diagnosis rather than prescription, but it contains data important for church leaders to understand.
Barna is president of Barna Research Group.
David P. Polk, If Only I Had Known (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1994), paper, 96 pp, $8.99.
Pastors who utilize dramatic monologue in their preaching ministries will find several outstanding models in this small volume. Monologues offer the perspectives of persons — both actual and fictional — who encountered Jesus.
Polk is a minister who now serves as an editor with Chalice Press.

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