Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Preaching – Calvin Miller

© 2006, Baker Books, Grand Rapids

It’s no secret that I like Calvin Miller. The couple of times that I have had opportunity to meet him in person, I have found him to be a personable person. Consequently, I also like to read Miller’s writing. Being who I am, I prefer his fiction to his poetry (but like both). I also prefer the fiction to the allegory since the allegory makes me look too closely at my short-comings. So when I finally got a chance to read Miller’s “textbook” on narrative sermonizing (creatively titled Preaching), I knew I was in for an interesting journey.

As a preacher, I don’t read much on preaching. I like to excuse myself with the thought that I have too much on my plate to spend much time on reading about preaching (and yes, I know that it’s an excuse). As a student, I didn’t much like my preaching classes. Not that they weren’t helpful, nor did it have much to do with the personality of the instructor and other students. No, the reason I don’t like to read on preaching or study the art is that whenever I do so I begin to feel utterly inadequate. (This, by the way, can be a good thing.)

I was not disappointed in reading Miller’s book. He challenged my study habits, my sermon-construction rituals, and my delivery style. Time after time as I chewed on a passage here and there I found myself muttering, “How does anyone have time to do this for three sermons a week (well, a main sermon—Sunday morning, a runner-up—Sunday evening, and a mid-week ‘Bible study’) AND be out being the pastor?” Even so, Miller builds an excellent case for the preacher to do all the required study—know yourself, know your audience, know your passage, know your message—and to craft a sermon that your audience will actually listen and respond to.

Included are three major sections: (1) Preparing for the sermon (“Exegesis of All Things"); (2) Writing the sermon; and (3) Preaching the sermon. Section after section, chapter after chapter, page after page, the preacher will find helpful information if not challenging. Along with the challenge comes a gentle chastisement for not handling the task of preaching as carefully as we ought. Finally, in all of this is the reminder that there is something otherworldly about the sermon. Keeping this in mind, the preacher can realize that the only way to adequately and rightly completing the task at hand is to rely on the Spirit of God (not as a cop-out for doing a bad job, but as a handle to hold onto as we lay our pale sacrifice on the altar of sermon).

For me the most useful section of this useful book is the appendix (how do we get along without appendixes?). Here Miller presents a list of ten mentors whose writing can help the preacher to better develop a sound preaching routine (even though there is nothing routine about the task of preaching). What this means for me is that I’ve more reading about preaching to do (ugh!). I already have one of the books recommended—thought I had another, but can’t find it on the shelf. So, I’m off to my task. If you stand week in and week out in a pulpit where preaching is your activity, I suggest you start your task by reading this book.

5 out of 5 reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, November 30, 2011

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