The Five Most-Used Homiletics Texts

To learn which books professors of homiletics are currently recommending and using, I made inquiries at 177 seminaries—including all U. S. members and associate members of the American Association of Theological Schools. Professors of homiletics were asked which available texts in homiletics they would currently recommend and which they were actually using in their courses. An exceptional 63 per cent of the seminaries responded. The five books discussed below were those most often mentioned by the respondents.

One book emerged as by far the most significant work in homiletics today: Design For Preaching by H. Grady Davis (Fortress, 1958). It was listed by more than half of the respondents; no other book even came close to this. Design For Preaching belongs in a class of its own. Davis begins with a particularly good chapter on the relation of substance to form, or, in effect, a rationale for the need to study homiletics at all (for doubters, this chapter alone is worth the price of the book). He then proceeds to develop a theory of preaching that Toohey and Thompson describe as “biblical, relevant, and contemporary.” It is also highly practical; yet Design For Preaching is not simply a cookbook for sermon-making. Rather, Davis lays heavy emphasis upon the nature of the sermon, that is, upon what the sermon is, or should be. He presents the sermon as the embodiment of an idea, an organic whole that must be “designed” as an architect designs a building, rather than “constructed” as a carpenter constructs a garage. He has chapters on the nature of a preaching idea, how and where to find it, how to develop it into a sermon, and the various forms sermons can take. This emphasis, the author’s lively style, and his excellent treatment of such practical issues as introductions, conclusions, and illustrations combine to make Design For Preaching the best homiletical theory text currently available.

Two other frequently mentioned homiletical theory texts were On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons by John A. Broadus and Jesse B. Weatherspoon (Harper & Row, 1944) and Principles and Practice of Preaching by Ilion T. Jones (Abingdon, 1956). Both are designed for preachers at all levels of experience, and both espouse a more traditional approach than Davis. Broadus’s work, originally published in 1870 and subsequently revised twice, is heavily oriented toward classical rhetorical theory. Nevertheless, its usefulness is evidenced by the fact that it is still in print over a century later. Jones’s book, which was second only to Davis in the number of times it was listed by respondents, could almost be viewed as a modern version of Broadus. Its debt to classical rhetoric is almost as strong, if more implicit, and it covers much the same material. But it does have several features that set it apart from, and in some ways above, the Broadus text: for example, a helpful chapter on the neglected subject of the preacher’s speech mechanism, his voice.

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Another popular text was Reuel Howe’s Partners in Preaching (Seabury, 1967). It deals more with a basic “philosophy of preaching” than with homiletical theory as such. Howe calls for a dialogue approach, not so much in method—in fact, he intimates that the usefulness of the dialogue technique is limited—as in one’s fundamental attitude toward what preaching is all about. He strongly emphasizes the role of the congregation in the preaching event. His views are based primarily upon a synthesis of Martin Buber’s I-Thou concept with modern principles of communication theory. While Howe may leave evangelicals with a few unanswered questions, this book is nevertheless an important one.

Finally, the respondents also listed Herbert H. Farmer’s The Servant of the Word (Scribner, 1942). Originally presented as the 1941 Warrack Lectures and then published in 1942, this small book has become something of a classic and was reprinted in 1964 (Fortress). While its emphasis is similar to Howe’s, it has numerous distinctive features that mark it as worth reading. For example, Farmer’s discussion of the uniqueness of the spoken word was well ahead of its time and should be required reading for all preachers.

PREACHING AND INTERPRETATION An able and comprehensive book on basic hermeneutical principles and their operative role in the making of the sermon has yet to be written. Background reading on interpreting the Scriptures through preaching includes such volumes as: Preaching From the Bible (Abingdon, 1941) by A. W. Blackwood; The Way to Biblical Preaching (Abingdon, 1957) by Donald Miller; The Essential Nature of New Testament Preaching (Eerdmans, 1960) by R. H. Mounce; Biblical Authority For Modern Preaching (Westminster, 1960) by C. W. F. Smith; Preaching and Biblical Theology (Eerdmans, 1961) by Edmund P. Clowney; An Introduction to Barth’s Dogmatics for Preachers (Westminster, 1963) by Arnold B. Come; Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Baker, 1970) by Bernard Ramm; Interpreting God’s Word Today (Baker, 1970) edited by Simon Kistemaker; and The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Church (Westminster, 1970) by James D. Smart. Other scholars have written with a closer orientation to method in exposition: An Expository Preacher’s Notebook (Harper, 1960) by D. W. Cleverley Ford; A Guide to Expository Preaching (pamphlet) by D. E. Stevenson (as well as his other books, including Preaching on Books of the New Testament (Harper, 1956); Art of Biblical Preaching (Zondervan, 1950) and Power in Expository Preaching (Revell, 1963) by F. D. Whitesell; Preaching From the Prophets (Broadman, 1942) and Preaching From the Psalms (Harper, 1948) by Kyle M. Yates.

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Teachers and students in this important area of homiletical discipline should have at least a passing acquaintance with essays and monographs on contemporary biblical hermeneutics by G. Ebeling, James M. Robinson, John B. Cobb, Ernst Fuchs, Robert W. Funk, R. Bultmann, C. E. Braaten, Regin Prenter, G. Bornkamm et alia. Excellent articles are to be found throughout Volumes I–XXVI of Interpretation, a quarterly journal of Bible and theology (3401 Brook Road, Richmond, Virginia 23227), and in Dictionary of Practical Theology (Baker, 1967) edited by Ralph G. Turnbull.

BIOGRAPHY AND DIALOGUE IN PREACHING The sermons of all effective preachers are and have been dialogical in principle; hence it is only the dialogue format that is really new. The only volume of real substance on this craft is Dialogue Preaching (Judson, 1969) by W. D. Thompson and G. C. Bennett. Other cousins of this art are the dramatic monologue (in the first person) and the imaginary dialogue (recreating an exchange between two characters within a single scriptural incident). This is one of the most difficult of sermonic arts because no book of rules is useful or really effective. Dr. Blackwood once said, “Homiletics is the science of which preaching is the art and the sermon is the product.” The few preachers who combined successfully this art and product are: J. W. G. Ward, The Master and the Twelve (Doran, 1924); L. D. Weatherhead, Personalities of the Passion (Hodder and Stoughton, 1943); and F. B. Speakman, The Salty Tang (Revell, 1954).

PREACHING AND WORSHIP The Reformers, particularly Calvin, could never think of preaching apart from its context in worship. Indeed, the theological affirmations, confessions, and liturgical directories of the Reformed family were composed and written with such an assumption in mind. Nevertheless, few scholars have ever taken up this theme as a single research project;the tendency is to deal with it as a subdivision of a larger discussion. Moreover—and curiously enough—the only worthwhile books in this area have been written in the twentieth century. P. T. Forsyth, Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind (Independent, 1907; Eerdmans, 1964) is still the most comprehensive; others, narrower in range but sharper in focus, are Wilhelm Hahn, Worship and Congregation (John Knox, 1963); J.-J. von Allmen, Preaching and Congregation (John Knox, 1962); R. H. Fuller, What Is Liturgical Preaching? (SCM, 1957); Worship and Preaching (Epworth, 1956) by Thomas M. Morrow; and Preaching, Confession, the Lord’s Supper (John Knox, 1957) by W. Lüthi and E. Thurneysen. Thomas H. Keir in The Word in Worship (Oxford, 1962) provides perhaps the best recent treatise in which “the theme is the Word of God, read and preached, set within the context of the Church’s regular worship.” Other source books worth consulting are: Ways of Worship, Part II (Harper, 1951) edited by P. Edwall, E. Hayman, and W. D. Maxwell; Word and Sacrament, Part III (Prentice-Hall, 1960) by Donald Macleod; relevant articles in Baker’s Dictionary of Practical Theology (Baker, 1967) edited by Ralph Turnbull; and Dynamics of Worship (Fortress, 1965) by Richard Paquier (a translation by Donald Macleod of Traité de Liturgique).

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PREACHING THE CHRISTIAN YEAR The renaissance of interest in the heritage of Protestant worship in the 1950s created an interest both in the proper planning of one’s program of preaching and in a greater recognition and understanding of the festivals of the Christian Year. This brought a new dimension to the substance of Christian sermons and an appreciation of the value and strength of liturgical preaching. Probably the two most basic books for grasping the historical development of the Christian Year are The Evolution of the Christian Year (SCM, 1953) and The Christian Year and Lectionary Reform (SCM, 1958) by A. Allan McArthur. Monographs with more of a focus upon planning a year’s schedule of preaching were Planning a Year’s Pulpit Work (Abingdon, 1942) by A. W. Blackwood and Planned Preaching (Westminster, 1954) by George M. Gibson. Others with a clearer denotation and closer espousal of the main festivals of the Christian Year and preaching are: Preaching From the Propers (Lutheran Publications, 1949) by Harry F. Baughman; Preaching the Christian Year (Scribner, 1957) edited by Howard A. Johnson, who writes that “the traditional Christian Year is the church’s safeguard against idiosyncrasies of its ministers”; Through the Christian Year (National Sunday School Union, 1962) by John Bishop; and Resources For Sermon Preparation (Westminster, 1955) by David A. MacLennan. Two other helpful volumes are A Symphony of the Christian Year (Seabury, 1954) by Randolph C. Miller, a Christian-education professor, and The Shape of the Gospel: The Bible Through the Christian Year (Abingdon, 1970) by Merrill R. Abbey, a professor of preaching.

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PREACHING AND COMMUNICATION The art of effective communication antedates the beginnings of Christian preaching. Although oratory and rhetoric are now either unpopular concepts or merely labels for the bad habits of the communication discipline, yet the classic treatises by Aristotle, Isocrates, Cicero, Plato, and Quintilian have much to teach us and provide the key to the stronger presentations from pulpit and platform today. The McLuhan probes have been largely descriptive, and although his Understanding Media (McGraw-Hill, 1964) and The Medium Is the Message (Random House, 1967) have made us reflect seriously upon the probable effect of technical and cultural changes now going on and about to come, yet no critical upset has disturbed the integrity of traditional communication processes, nor has any more workable apparatus appeared. Preachers can always learn from basic texts by such authors as L. Thonssen, A. I. Richardson, R. C. Borden, W. N. Brigance, and D. K. Berlo. Also, monographs such as The Communication of the Christian Faith (Westminster, 1956) by Henrik Kraemer, The Presence of the Word (Yale, 1967) by Walter J. Ong, and Language Is Sermonic (Louisiana State University, 1970) edited by R. L. Johannesen, R. Strickland, and R. T. Eubanks provide basic reading in preparation for the more practical textbooks as The Creative Delivery of Sermons (Macmillan, 1944) by Robert W. Kirkpatrick; A Listener’s Guide to Preaching (Abingdon, 1966) by William D. Thompson; Preparing For Pulpit and Platform (Abingdon, 1968) by John E. Baird; and Dialogue Preaching (Judson, 1969) by W. D. Thompson and G. C. Bennett. Few writers whose major discipline lies somewhat outside the preaching field have challenged the modern pulpit more than has Reuel Howe in The Miracle of Dialogue (Seabury, 1963) and Partners in Preaching (Seabury, 1967).

ANTHOLOGIES OF SERMONS In the English-speaking world alone, the number of preachers whose sermons have been published would run into many thousands. For this reason and for the sake of fairness to the living and the dead, this bibliography lists no books of sermons by individual preachers. Periodically through the centuries, multi-volume series of the collected sermons of the “masters” have appeared, and all theological libraries are able to feature the works of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Parker, McLaren, Brooks, Morgan, and Fosdick. Moreover, researchers of the preaching of the past one hundred years have access to bound volumes of Homiletical Review, the Expository Times, Christian World Pulpit, and more recently, the Pulpit, Pulpit Preaching, and the Pulpit Digest. Also, a tremendous wealth of sermonic material on tape recordings is available in the Reigner Recording Library of Union Seminary (Richmond) and at Princeton Seminary and Union Seminary (New York).

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Among the anthologies of sermons by preachers of a particular era, the following have been widely used: History and Repository of Pulpit Eloquence (Dodd, Mead, 1877) edited by H. C. Fish; The World’s Great Sermons, ten volumes (Funk and Wagnalls, 1908) edited by G. Kleiser; Master Sermons of the Nineteenth Century (Willett, Clark, 1940) edited by G. G. Atkins; The World’s Great Sermons (Halcyon, 1943) edited by S. E. Frost; and Twenty Centuries of Great Preaching (Word, 1971) edited by C. E. Fant, Jr., and W. M. Pinson, Jr.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Those who wish to know more of the literature may use William Toohey and William D. Thompson’s excellent guide, Recent Homiletical Thought (Abingdon, 1967). This is an extensive bibliography covering the various areas of homiletics. It lists 446 books, 1,081 articles, and 610 theses and dissertations that pertain to preaching. Almost all the book and article entries are annotated, most descriptively but some evaluatively. However, Toohey and Thompson’s book was published in 1967 and, like all bibliographies (including this article), it is aging steadily.

George M. Marsden is associate professor of history at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has the Ph.D. (Yale University) and has written “The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience.”

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