Good Preaching, Good Prose

What can be said from a layman’s viewpoint on the topic “the sermon as art form”? There are, obviously, certain things that would be patently inappropriate—such things as how to construct a sermon, or what the particular task of the preacher is. Nor is it entirely fitting for laymen to inform the clergy what we wish to hear. That question is, in a sense, already settled for us all, clergy and laity alike: it is the Word of God (as distinguished from mere high thoughts, noble sentiments, or worthy maxims) that is the subject of preaching.

This last observation may open onto the path by which the layman may reflect on the topic. The Word of God is the subject of preaching, and its proclamation is the task of preaching. There is nothing else to be done. That’s simple enough. But of course that is the threshold to the edifice. How do preachers proclaim it? How do they go about their task? Where shall they find their cues? From St. Peter? Augustine? Dominic? Decolampadius? Simeon? Wesley? Spurgeon? Phillips Brooks? Fosdick? Where?

The tradition of preaching in the Church is, to say the least, an ancient and noble one. It has been no random, off-the-cuff activity—no question of one Christian’s merely “sharing” spontaneously some thoughts that the Lord has been speaking to him about lately. Sharing is, of course, a legitimate sort of thing in its place, as a snack of potato chips is in its place; but we do not want the chef in the palace serving up potato chips when we come for roast lamb. Similarly, the tradition has been that preaching, like the administration of the sacraments, is an activity distinct from other worthy activities in the Church, and is one to which sober attention and preparation are to ...

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