Best Advice for Preaching
Author: Edited by John S. McClure
Publisher: Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998
170 pages, ISBN 0-8006-2997-3, Paperback
Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
For starters, a confession: I’ve been rather tardy in reading this work and reviewing it, even though it has sat on my bookshelf for several years now.
This volume, edited by Professor John S. McClure, is a compendium on the art and craft of preaching in the late twentieth century North American context, from an ecumenical perspective. The contributors are clergy and professors from most of the mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations. Altogether, there are twenty-seven contributors.
The book has a well-organized structure, consisting of a preface, and ten chapters. The chapter titles are as follows: 1. The Calling of the Preacher; 2. Getting a Message; 3. Patterns in Sermons; 4. Collecting Supportive Material; 5. Organizing Material; 6. Polishing the Sermon; 7. What to Do while Preaching; 8. Coordinating with the Rest of the Service; 9. Feedback; 10. Essential Resources for Preaching. Each chapter was organized by a homiletician, begins with a brief introduction, followed by the following sections: Goals, Instructions, Things Encouraged And Discouraged, Best Answers to Questions, Conclusion, and Bibliography. Some of these chapter sections may also have sub-sections.
Even though one contributor organized the chapters, there are an abundance of quotations from other professors and clergy in each chapter. Readers will find themselves inspired and most likely even provoked by these quotations; which may well lead preachers to further dialogue, debate, study and practice.
Here are three examples of quotations cited: In chapter three, Patterns in Sermons, organized by Professor Thomas G. Long, he cites the following quotation from William Sloane Coffin: “It is a good idea to keep making fresh what is familiar. For example, preach a series on the Lord’s Prayer, the Sunday liturgy, or the Twenty-Third Psalm.” (p. 49)
Chapter five, Organizing Material, organized by Professor John S. McClure cites the following quotation from Barbara Lundblad: “I encourage preachers to be guided by the form of the Scripture itself. Scripture offers at least the following shapes: visual images, narratives, parables, letters, prayers, songs, conversations, laments, teachings, oracles, visions, and more.” (p. 70)
The catchy title of chapter seven, What to Do while Preaching, organized by Professor Mitties McDonald de Champlain, cites the following quotation from Fred Craddock: “Once the sermon begins, the total self becomes servant of that message—the voice, the face, the hands, the mind, the emotions, the imagination. All one is and has is burned as fuel in the preaching. One is aware of everything and of nothing. The message is delivered by re-experiencing it in public, and when it is finished, one is both exhausted and exhilarated.” (p. 115)
After reading the final chapter, Essential Resources for Preaching, organized by Professor Thomas E. Ridenhour—I realized how dated this volume is. Although Professor Ridenhour offers some excellent resources for preaching, nonetheless since 1998, when this work was published, there has come into the forefront a wealth of resource material for preaching on the Internet—none of which the author cites in this chapter.
In conclusion, I do recommend this volume, with the qualifier that it needs to be remembered there are limitations for contemporary preachers insofar as the work omits significant resources widely available online.