Preaching is one of those things that just about everyone has a strong opinion about. Outside of Christian circles, it’s a derogatory verb to describe what intolerant people do. Within Christian circles it has a more positive connotation, but still little consensus on what separates the good from the bad. If you’re contemporvant, good preaching is done with a coffee table and compelling storytelling. If you’re old school, you need a suit and tie with an imposing wooden pulpit. Verse-by-verse? Expositional? Topical? Depending on who you ask, one is right and the others are damnably wrong. Don’t get me wrong: I have an opinion too; everyone does. Including H.B. Charles, Jr.
In his recent book On Preaching, Charles writes his way through various different facets of the preaching task. In the introduction he explains that the book is largely the result of compiling various blog posts he has written over the years, and it shows in both good and bad ways. On the positive side, he is refreshingly concise and to-the-point. The book weighs in at just a little over 150 pages, and each chapter is at most only a few pages long. On the negative side, he recycles illustrations and even major points throughout the book. This is perfectly acceptable on a blog where a reader only consumes an article at a time, but in a book it feels a bit awkward (“Didn’t I already read this? Oh yes, I did”). All things considered, this is a very minor complaint for an otherwise helpful and wise book.
Charles divides the book into three parts. The first part is a discussion about preparing for preaching, which is probably most helpful for aspiring preachers. Here he stays fairly ideological, such as the benefits of theological training, having a sermon calendar, and the role of prayer in preaching. The second part is where he dives down into the nuts and bolts of actually crafting a sermon. He pulls back the curtain a bit on his own process of getting from exegesis to homiletics, which is helpful for an inexperienced preacher like myself to be able to see. He also spends some time lobbying for the value of consecutive exposition, but other than that he generally stays on the level of how and what here. Part three is an eclectic grab-bag of thoughts on tangentially related topics, such as style, plagiarism, guest preaching, being an associate pastor, and even ego.
He has been around the block, and he has something to say. I found myself responding at various times throughout the book with comments such as, “I need to adopt this!” or “Good Lord, forgive me. I have been doing this so wrong.” You can tell that Charles is passionate about preaching, and it makes his words all the richer. Even better, he’s passionate about the right thing: Jesus. “Jesus should be the hero of every sermon” (p. 94). That being said, I could not agree with everything he asserts; I am as opinionated as he, and you probably are too. He comes out strongly in favor of preaching without notes, which in my experience often results in directionless, meandering sermons that are big on heat and low on light. He names this problem and explains how he resolves it in his own preaching (via writing a word-for-word that he then leaves in his study on Sunday morning), but I still disagree that note-free preaching is a paradigm that preachers should strive for.
All in all, my quibbles are relatively negligible. If you’re a pastor passionate about preaching, consider picking up a copy. We all have read plenty of books on preaching, but this is one that just may inspire you to continue honing your craft by looking at it from a different angle.
DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.