Saturday, April 04, 2009

Two recent books on preaching

Fairly recently I received two book recommendations: Why Johnny Can't Preach and The Power of Speaking God's Word. The two make for an interesting comparison.

Why Johnny is written by a professor of religion at Grove City College and The Power is written by a seasoned pastor. Professor T. David Gordon bemoans the bad preaching that he has heard in "conservative evangelical and conservative Reformed churches" (p. 12). He hasn't heard really bad preaching, I mean really bad preaching, until he's heard liberal mainline (or sideline, if you prefer) preaching. Gordon's antidote comes from the "cardinal requisites" of Robert Lewis Dabney in his Lectures on Sacred Rhetoric (first published in 1870). Gordon's approach is highly literary, whereas The Power is written to advocate a more oral approach to preaching.

The author of The Power is Wilbur Ellsworth, a baptist pastor with thirty years experience. While I enjoyed this book, I think preachers would be better off getting a copy of Clyde Fant's Preaching for Today. Fant's book was published in 1987; I was first exposed to Fant at the College of Preachers in the 90s. Ellsworth draws highly from Fant as he lays out a model for a more oral approach to preaching, utilizing Fant's "sermon brief."

While the two books come from two different directions I do find that a fruitful synthesis is possible. Gordon's use of Dabney's principles is helpful, particularly on organization of the sermon. Ellsworth also argues for strong organization although his concern for orality means that the finished sermon will be much less a literary project and more an oral event. Both are worth reading, but as I said, I would opt for Fant's book over Ellsworth's work.


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