Pointers On Preaching

God Has a Communication Problem, by Chester Pennington (Hawthorn, 1976. 136 pp., $6.95). The Word and the Words, by Colin Morris (Abingdon, 1975, 174 pp., $3.95 pb), Preaching God’s Burning Word, by James Reese (Liturgical Press, 1975, 135 pp., $3.85 pb), Put a Door on It, by Louis Paul Lehman (Kregel, 1975, 102 pp., $3.50), The Art and Craft of Preaching, by Herbert Loekyer (Baker, 1975. 118 pp., $3.95 pb). Preaching For the People, by Lowell Erdahl (Abingdon, 1976, 127 pp., $5.95), and Preaching the Good News, by George Sweazey (Prentice-Hall, 1976, 339 pp., $9.95), are reviewed by Cecil B. Murphey, pastor, Riverdale Presbyterian Church, Riverdale, Georgia.

“Preaching is God’s problem, too,” states Chester Pennington in God Has a Communication Problem. “If what we believe about the church is true, God is concerned about how effectively the gospel is preached and celebrated by ministers and congregations. Apparently. He has difficulty in getting this done well.” Not a how-to-do-it book. Pennington’s sprightly text stresses the primacy of preaching for the preacher and quickly adds that it needs the help of the laity, too. He thinks that after several decades of deemphasis, preaching is now regaining attention. He sees evidence of a renewed interest among the laity.

The title alone would have gotten me to open the book; the second half alone would have convinced me to buy it. “Preaching as a Creative Event” presents not only exciting challenges of theory but also practical hints on being creative and effective in communicating the Gospel.

Want something with a heavier touch? A little more theologically oriented? When I picked up The Word and the Words I expected to find a dry volume that belonged at the bottom of the stacks—permanently. I tried to skim through it. Then I hit the chapter entitled “Word—Liturgical and Sacramental.” Morris had hooked me.

Morris writes with an eye on trends in the Church. He’s not pessimistic (nor is he overly optimistic or naïve) in defending proclamation. He writes zealously and warmly, aware of the perils but excited about the task. He shows little interest in the scaffolding. Many books on preaching devote a whole chapter to using a full manuscript, another to using notes. Morris dismisses the whole question with one cogent paragraph: the method used isn’t particularly significant. More important is what results.

Here’s a person who’s immersed in the writings of John (Honest-to-God) Robinson and many of the other major voices of the past and present generations, who knows the criticisms of preaching, and who still finds the task worthwhile. He states at the beginning that he has written a defense of classical preaching. Don’t let that throw you off. His freshness throughout the book is appealing.

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Change a few phrases into Protestant jargon and you have a remarkably able defense for all spiritual heirs of Martin Luther in James Reese’s Preaching God’s Burning Word. Reese heavily accents experiencing the Word. And we Protestants thought we had that cornered!

Regrettably, the book is written for the theologically literate and is not within the vocabulary range of the average reader. Reese shows an excellent understanding of current scholarship and the status of textual criticism. He discusses the new quest for the historical Jesus and the new hermeneutic with clarity. Yet he holds a conservative position. His final chapters, dealing with Jesus, parables, and the trinitarian experience, are handled well and were for me the best part of the book.

For help in telling stories from the pulpit. I recommend Louis Paul Lehman’s Put a Door on It. He thinks that great teachers and preachers have always been great storytellers. This is more than a book about illustrations, but Lehman does give all the how steps (collecting, classifying, and so on). He knows what’s happening in the field of communication. Although he doesn’t quote directly from the researchers, he clearly incorporates the principles. And he sprinkles helpful hints throughout this short, extremely practical book.

How refreshing to read that “personal experience is the simplest, most believable, and, therefore, the most effective illustration.” Preachers of a bygone day insisted on hiding themselves so that only Jesus showed. But Lehman realizes (as Brooks told us in the past century) that preaching is truth through personality.

Herbert Lockyer’s The Art and Craft of Preaching reads well and abounds in short quotes and pithy remarks. It also sounds like a book written around the mid-fifties.

There’s nothing very original or exciting here. Like Lehman. Loekyer takes a very conservative stance. But unlike Lehman, he concentrates on peripheral areas—pulpit dress, gestures, and the like. He seems unaware of current discussion in either communications or biblical scholarship.

Erdahl begins each chapter of Preaching For the People with a dialogue between the listener and the preacher. Good idea, but a little strained; I was sometimes wearied by the winding path the listener took to make his points.

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That’s the most damaging charge I can make. This book reads like a simple teaching/learning text for homiletics. Erdahl pulls it off nicely by his clarity. He shows the sermon process through easy steps. Following the formula of the older texts, he walks through a sermon from the point of selection of text to the full manuscript, and he handles that extremely well. He includes samples of how to conduct sessions on feedback and “feedforward” for congregational involvement.

If I were looking for a good text on preaching, Sweazey’s Preaching the Good News would demand serious consideration. Sweazey knows his field, and his writing flows smoothly.

Although his chapter on authority is helpful, he doesn’t really get to the pertinent questions of today on this subject. He presents the classical answers but ignores the contemporary questions.

However, on his chapters dealing with communication theory, words, and humor (which he encourages), grade this professor an A plus. He’s up with current thought in communication but maintains a solid, biblical stance. Don’t pass over his briefly annotated bibliography at the end. He has the good material catalogued. This is a very helpful volume for those who want to read about better preaching.

Good Reading For Election Year

Toward a Biblical View of Civil Government, by Robert Duncan Culver (Moody, 1974, 308 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by Robert G. Clouse, professor of history, Indiana State University, Terre Haute.

This volume is an attempt by an evangelical scholar to supply a “biblical-theological” basis for a Christian’s relationship to the state. Culver brings to his task a wide range of experience and training; in addition to his pastoral ministry, he has been a professor at such schools as Wheaton College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Grace Seminary. He presents a general doctrinal view, heavily informed by Calvinist theology, in the first section of the book, and then outlines scriptural teaching in the Old and New Testaments that relates to the state.

Culver’s explanations of Scripture are thorough, balanced, and extremely helpful. However, his last chapter contains a series of conclusions that are rather indefinite, given the trend of some of his glosses on the biblical text. As he states: “The Scriptures do not speak directly or distinctly to every human situation. The present search of the Scriptures has, for example, turned up no texts which tell believers exactly what to do if, as happened in Virginia about two hundred years ago, the authorities in the local area (Virginia House of Burgesses) declare the area out of the jurisdiction of the central authorities (king and parliament). Quite aside from the question of enlisting in the revolutionary armies, whom should they obey?… Again, what text speaks specifically on how much public welfare is sufficient to absolve the civil structure of its obligation to the honest poor, yet not so much as to degrade those poor to the point that they give up efforts at helping themselves?”

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The responses to these and other questions are really given in the textual comments in the earlier chapters in a more definite way. The author’s approach is basically conservative, and his answers to these questions would lead to a Tory position in the case of the Revolutionary War and a welfare payment system so small as to degrade the “honest poor” (whoever they are) even further. Culver’s conservatism leads him to argue for corporal punishment for criminals and to suggest that capitalism is taught in the Bible. In the course of the book he directs a number of remarks against “social scientists,” disparages liberal democracy, and airs some rather extreme opinions against public education.

Culver states several times that he does not wish to use a historical approach but relies solely on the Scriptures. Perhaps this is why he does not come to terms with the world in the last third of the twentieth century. His quietistic approach does not begin to comprehend the problems of the technological statism of our era.

Despite these weaknesses, it is encouraging to have this volume available in an election year. Anyone who values Holy Scripture would do well to read it. Evangelicals have been too eager to proceed, as does Culver, with statements that may seem noncommittal on politics (“Toward a Biblical View”) but in reality support a conservative approach that bolsters the status quo. This election year it will not be so easy to equate God, the new birth, and the Bible with political conservatism.


A new study Bible—the product of a cooperative venture by Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish scholars—has recently been published by Oxford University Press: The New English Bible with the Apocrypha: Oxford Study Edition (1,728 pp., $14.95, $8.95 pb), edited by Samuel Sandmel, M. Jack Suggs, and Arnold Tkacik. The format is that of standard study editions. Each book is introduced briefly, passages are succinctly annotated by exegetical comments, and there are extensive cross references. In addition, a number of special articles concerning how to study the Bible, the literary forms in Scripture, biblical history and geography, and chronology are appended to the text. However, there is no danger that this volume will be confused with Oxford’s long-established Scofield Reference Bible! Though claiming to represent biblical scholarship as a whole and a broad religious spectrum, the viewpoint is consistently “liberal” (both critically and theologically) and will probably be offensive to most conservative Jews, evangelical Protestants, and charismatic Catholics—in short, most of the people who seem to be studying the Bible these days. However, the OSE contains enough of value for mature students to use it along with other works.

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The Pentecostal-charismatic view of tongues and the Holy Spirit is so well represented that we need to remember there is an alternative approach to these crucial matters. Here are some: Be Filled With the Spirit by Lehman Strauss (Zondervan, 125 pp., $1.50 pb), Truth About Tongues by Hugh Pyle (Accent [Box 15337, Denver, Colo. 80215], 128 pp., $1.75 pb), and The Battle For Your Bible: A Study of Experience Versus Scripture by Raymond Saxe (Grace Bible Publications [1300 S. Maple Rd., Ann Arbor, Mich. 48103], 132 pp., n.p., pb).

More than 200 books and audio-visuals on dying, bereavement, funerals, and the like from nearly 100 publishers are classified and annotated in The Thanatology Library by Roberta Halporn (Highly Specialized Promotions [Box 989, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11202], 36 pp., $1 pb). A wide range of religious and secular approaches are represented.

Two new practical guides to group Bible study: Miracles Happen in Group Bible Study, by Albert Wollen (Regal, 127 pp., $2.95 pb) and Bible Study Can Be Exciting!, by Mary Garvin (Zondervan, 143 pp., $2.95). Creating an Intentional Ministry comprises a dozen essays aimed at ministers in these times of changing roles. The editor is John Biersdorf (Abingdon, 237 pp., $5.75 pb). Sample essays: “Getting a Job,” “Women in Ministry,” “Goal-Setting and Evaluation.”

Careers in the Christian Ministry (Consortium Books [Box 9001, Wilmington, N.C. 28401], 289 pp., $12) may be of a little help for those considering serving as (or curious about) pastors, missionaries, teachers, social workers, monks, and bishops in the Roman Catholic and certain ecumenically oriented Protestant denominations. Evangelicals will find much more value in When God Calls You, by Edward Deratany (Nelson, 206 pp., $3.95 pb). It is possible, of course, to be a minister and be engaged in secular work. Many ethnic and evangelistic groups have a long tradition of self-supporting ministers, but now about one-fifth of those ordained in “mainline” denominations are self-supporting. Two dozen examples, mostly Episcopal, are presented in Case Histories of Tentmakers, edited by James Lowery, Jr. (Morehouse-Barlow [78 Danbury Rd., Wilton, Conn 06897], 84 pp., $3.50 pb).

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Two “how-to-do-it” books on leading a congregation’s ministry of music: New Directions for a Musical Church by Peter Stapleton, a white Episcopalian (John Knox, 144 pp., $3.95 pb), and O Sing Unto the Lord a New Song by Willie Eva Smith, a black Baptist (Vantage, 73 pp., $4.95).

Both armchair travelers and ordinary Bible readers will warmly appreciate the vibrant recreation of life in the world of the apostle Paul by Ernle Bradford in Paul the Traveller (Macmillan. 246 pp., $9.95), written in the tradition of H. V. Morton. Rulers of New Testament Times and Cities in New Testament Times, both by Charles Ludwig (Accent [Box 15337, Denver, Colo. 80215], 128 pp., $2.25 each), fail to come up to the same standard of excellence but do provide interesting reading.

Popular testimonies of evangelical conversion and its aftereffects continually appear. Three are by men tormented by fiery accidents: The God Explosion in My Life, by Ted Anderson, an ex-criminal (Tyndale, 234 pp., $1.95 pb); Tested by Fire, by singer Merrill Womach and his wife Virginia (Revell, 128 pp., $4.95); and Burned to Life, by race-car driver Mel Kenyon (New Leaf, 128 pp., $4.95).

The poor who are with us always are not therefore to be ignored but rather present continual opportunities for service. Three books providing information on the poor in America and on ways to help are The Church and the Rural Poor, edited by James Cogsweli (John Knox, 107 pp., $1.95 pb). Poverty Profile USA by Mariellen Procopia and Frederick Perella, Jr. (Paulist, 88 pp., $1 pb), and The Catholic Church and the American Poor by George Kelly (Alba, 206 pp., $5.95).

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