I Met N.T. Wright Once, and You’ll Never Guess What He Told Me

I’ve been seeing too much Upworthy in my Facebook news feed lately! Apologies for the sensational blog post headline.

NT WrightBut I really did meet N.T. Wright once. And you might actually guess what he told me, when I tell you what I asked him. I introduced myself to him briefly after a message he delivered a Calvin College worship symposium, and asked him how to improve my Greek. He said, “Read the text, read the text, read the text.”

He told me to really get the feel of the language. I shouldn’t think of Greek just as a one-to-one code for English; I should get into the Greek itself. I asked him what he thought about reading with a diglot, but he encouraged me to check the English translation only after reading an entire Greek paragraph, and then, only as necessary.

It’s challenging, but I’ve benefited from that advice multiple times.

The For Everyone Series

Wright for EveryoneOver the years I’ve made occasional use of his For Everyone Bible commentary series. Written under the name Tom Wright, the series brings Wright’s extensive knowledge of the biblical text and history to a general audience. Anyone wanting to know more about a passage–whether they are preaching from it or reading it in their personal devotions–would benefit from the series. It’s decidedly non-scholarly, but even scholars will find useful information here (if a bit simplified at times). Here is how Wright introduces the series:

But the point of it all is that the message can get out to everyone, especially to people who wouldn’t normally read a book with footnotes and Greek words in it. That’s the sort of person for whom these books are written.

Though Wright is a prolific writer of scholarly works, he writes well for a general audience–a rare combination. Throughout the series Wright puts key terms in bold, which the reader can then look up in a corresponding glossary (e.g., Gehenna/Hell, Covenant, Age to Come, Law, Faith, Son of Man, and more).

Between this package and this upgrade, Logos Bible Software offers the entire 18 vol. set. In a future post I will review Logos’s presentation of the series. Here I post about its content.

A Refreshing (One-Man) Translation

The Kingdom NTWright splits each biblical book up into manageable passages. His original translation does a good job of striking the balance he seeks of faithfulness to the original and readability. Here is a passage in Wright’s translation:

Romans 4:18-25

Abraham’s Faith—and Ours

18 Against all hope, but still in hope, Abraham believed that he would become the father of many nations, in line with what had been said to him, ‘That’s what your family will be like.’ 19 He didn’t become weak in faith as he considered his own body (which was already as good as dead, since he was about a hundred years old), and the lifelessness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He didn’t waver in unbelief when faced with God’s promise. Instead, he grew strong in faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God had the power to accomplish what he had promised. 22 That is why ‘it was calculated to him in terms of covenant justice’.

23 But it wasn’t written for him alone that ‘it was calculated to him’.24 It was written for us as well! It will be calculated to us, too, when we believe in the one who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead, 25 the one who was handed over because of our trespasses and raised because of our justification.

Wright explains, “The older language, ‘it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, gives off so many different messages now that it’s hard for us, hearing it, to think the thoughts Paul had in his head.” His translation is fresh, yet is not a paraphrase (like Eugene Peterson’s Message, for example).

“Come to Him, by Whatever Route You Can”

The For Everyone series, though divided into discrete passages, shows a literary sensitivity so that the reader can see how a given section connects to the larger flow of the book. For example, of the above passage, Wright writes:

The last verse of the chapter anticipates something Paul is going to do throughout chapters 5-8. He rounds off every stage of the argument in this long section with a reference to Jesus. This isn’t a mere pious gesture, smuggling in a mention of Jesus in case we thought he’d forgotten about him. It shows, rather, what the whole argument is all about. It brings us back home to the source and power of Paul’s thought.

Though preachers are not the target audience, the series is a good one for preachers to have on their shelves. There is not the same sort of explicit homiletical guidance that Feasting on the Word offers on every passage under consideration, but Wright is not short on practical application. For the Romans passage above, he concludes:

Do we share Abraham’s faith? Do we look in love, gratitude and trust to the creator God who promises impossible things and brings them to pass? Have we learned to celebrate this God, and to live as one family with all those who share this faith and hope?

Similarly, in Matthew’s account of the Magi’s visit to Jesus, Wright notes that the inclusion of the Gentile Magi already in chapter 2 shows one of Matthew’s themes–that Jesus is king of the Jews, and of all people. He concludes:

Listen to the whole story, Matthew is saying. Think about what it meant for Jesus to be the true king of the Jews. And then—come to him, by whatever route you can, and with the best gifts you can find.

This application comes after Wright succinctly answers who the Magi were, what the “star” they saw might have been, and what Old Testament passages are at play in the Epiphany narrative.

In Conclusion (So Far): One of the Best Reading Guides

Luke for EveryoneWright’s style is conversational, engaging, highly readable, and stimulating on both an intellectual and devotional level. As I make my way through more of the series, I’ll post more about it (with screenshots of how it looks in Logos for computer and iOS). But so far I’m a big fan of what I’ve seen. The Luke volume was a frequent reference as I preached through parts of Luke this fall.

If you’re reading through the Bible, and want to have a substantive yet concise reading guide for the journey, Wright’s For Everyone series is hard to top.

Thanks to Logos Bible Software for the review copy of New Testament for Everyone (16 vols. here; 2 vols. upgrade here). You can find my other Logos reviews here.

Feasting on the Word (concluding thoughts)

Feasting on the Word

Among preachers, there are books known as “Monday books” because they need to be read thoughtfully at least a week ahead of time. There are also “Saturday books,” so called because they supply sermon ideas on short notice. The books in this series are not Saturday books. Our aim is to help preachers go deeper, not faster, in a world that is in need of saving words.

–Feasting on the Word

I continue to utilize the 12-volume Feasting on the Word commentary series most weeks in my sermon preparation. As I described at greater length here, the 12 volumes cover the three-year lectionary cycle (A, B, and C), split into four volumes per year. Each week offers four different “perspectives” (theological, pastoral, exegetical, and homiletical) for each lectionary passage in the Revised Common Lectionary.

As far as its layout and usability in Logos, I covered that here. My favorite part about having Feasting on the Word in Logos is that I find Logos to be the most robust e-reader currently on the market. It syncs seamlessly across devices and platforms, and easily allows for highlights and notes to be made directly within the text.

In this final post, I want to interact a bit more with some of the content of the series.

The diversity of the contributors is a strong point. They come from different vocations (preachers, professors, Bishops), and reflect diversity in race, sex, and denominational affiliation, as well. I’ve found this refreshing.

There is a general evenness in style, tone, and substance across the volumes I’ve used. As one might expect with a commentary series with this many contributors, some entries end up being more helpful than others.

Rembrandt Holy FamilyWhile I have found the “Exegetical Perspective” and “Homiletical Perspective” sections to be of some value, the “Homiletical Perspective” and “Preaching Perspective” are the ones I use most often. Each of these help the preacher imagine how she or he might orient herself/himself and the congregation to a given text. For example, the “Homiletical Perspective” on John 1 begins with a description of Rembrandt’s “Holy Family” painting, then goes on:

I can imagine a sermon that would begin with a description of Rembrandt’s painting and that would develop the idea of the necessary dialogue between Mary’s studying the Bible and studying the child, the Word made flesh. Like Mary, we come to understand the Word more and more fully as we oscillate between the book and the child, between the Word through words and the Word made flesh.

Few commentaries offer homiletical suggestions this practical. The “Pastoral Perspective” for the same passage is worth quoting at length. After quoting Eugene Peterson’s rendering of John 1:14, preacher Frank Thomas writes:

I love this rendering of this text because of the choice of the word “neighborhood.” The Word was made flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. Neighborhood reminds me of the place where I grew up and the people with whom I grew up. I remember the street corner where we played baseball that had four sewer covers; one sewer cover was first base, another second, another third, and the final one home. I ran around those bases thousands of times, dreaming that I was a professional baseball player. I remember the playground, where what seemed like millions of kids played basketball, Ping-Pong, pool, volleyball, dodgeball, and tons of games. I remember block parties, where all the neighbors would sit out on the front lawns with the streets blocked off, and all day we would just have food, games, and fun together. I remember the girl across the street. That’s what I think of when I hear, “The Word was made flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” The Word was made flesh and moved into my south-side neighborhood.

He concludes, “When Peterson says that the Word was made flesh and moved into the neighborhood, I hear that the Word moved into my neighborhood.”

There is much for the preacher to mine and adapt and re-contextualize in the above, in a way that fits one’s own setting. Reading Pastor Thomas’s writing above makes it easy to think about Jesus moving into our neighborhoods, too. (Which immediately raises interesting questions for congregations–would we be a good neighbor to him? Would we need to change anything about our community life? Would we recognize him?) I find that Feasting on the Word is constantly suggesting good questions for reflection and stimulating even more.

There is a claim in the series introduction that, “Wherever they begin, preachers will find what they need in a single volume….” While the exegesis and theological analysis in these volumes is substantive, I still find myself turning to more in-depth commentaries for exegesis, before using Feasting on the Word to think through how to move from passage to sermon. That has been how I’ve most benefitted from the commentary.

I’ll continue to use the commentary series on a regular basis. While I love print books, there are advantages to the electronic version, and Logos integrates Feasting on the Word with any other Logos resources you may have. For those who preach regularly, this set is well worth checking out.

Thanks to Logos Bible Software for the review copy of Feasting on the Word (12 vols.). Find it here. The publisher’s page for the series is here. You can find my other Logos reviews here.

Feasting on the Word Commentary for Preachers (more thoughts)

Feasting on the Word

Whether the sermon is five minutes long or forty-five, it is the congregation’s one opportunity to hear directly from their pastor about what life in Christ means and why it matters.

–Feasting on the Word

Since getting it in Logos, I’ve been reading Feasting on the Word as a regular part of my sermon preparation each week. I describe the commentary series here.

Feasting on the Word is a lectionary-based commentary series in 12-volumes, four volumes for each of three years of the lectionary. Each Sunday has theological, pastoral, exegetical, and homiletical “perspectives” from which a variety of contributors assesses the texts. Feasting on the Word covers the OT, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel readings each week.

As to the contributors, the publisher’s product page notes:

The editors of these resources are from a wide variety of disciplines and religious traditions. These authors teach in colleges and seminaries. They lead congregations by preaching or teaching. They write scholarly books as well as columns for newspapers and journals. They oversee denominations. In all of these capacities and more, they serve God’s Word, joining in the ongoing challenge of bringing that Word to life.

Noting a few contributors will give a sense of the diversity of perspective in the commentary:

  • Paul J. Achtemeier, Jackson Professor of Biblical Interpretation Emeritus, Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia
  • Michael B. Curry, Bishop, Diocese of North Carolina, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Paul Simpson Duke, Co-Pastor, First Baptist Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Stacey Simpson Duke, Co-Pastor, First Baptist Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Edith M.Humphrey, William F. Orr Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Barbara Brown Taylor, Butman Professor of Religion, Piedmont College, Demorest, Georgia
  • Frank A. Thomas, Senior Servant, Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, Memphis, Tennessee
  • David Toole, Associate Dean, Duke Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina

Here’s what a Feasting on the Word volume looks like in Logos on a laptop or desktop, next to a couple of other (not included) resources. Click to expand or open the image in new tab, and see my corresponding notes below.

Feasting on the Word in Logos with notes

(1) User annotations: Highlighting and making notes is easy–you can mark up the texts with various styles. Like Amazon’s Kindle app, the annotations made on one machine or device sync with other machines or devices. The note and highlights made above were done on an iPad and popped up automatically when I opened Logos on a computer. Logos is probably the most robust e-reader on the market in this sense.

(2) Hyperlinks: You can hover over a hyperlink for a pop-up with more info, or click on it to be taken to the biblical text (or footnote) that it references.

(3) Expandable/collapsable Table of Contents: Logos is not unique in offering this, but it does make it easy to quickly navigate between passages or “perspectives” on a given Sunday.

(4) Sync with other resources in Logos library: This is simple to set up. I can have Feasting on the Word open next to the full biblical text and other commentaries and resources.

(5) A single Sunday: on the left navigation sidebar you can see what a single Sunday looks like.

(6) Paused indexing: one challenge in using Logos is its frequent need to index. This optimizes searches, and it varies due to a user’s library size, but especially on a Mac, where Logos can already be sluggish compared to other apps, it slows the rest of the computer down. If I’m working on a sermon and using Logos, Accordance, Kindle, and Google Drive or Pages, for example, I almost always have to pause indexing to be able to keep working efficiently. I tend to resume indexing when I don’t need to use Logos.

I continue to find the “Homiletical Perspective” and “Preaching Perspective” the most useful parts of the commentary. The sections I’ve read offer a variety of vantage points and are creative and imaginative on a fairly consistent basis. In my third and final part of this review series, I’ll interact more in-depth with the content of the series.

Thanks to Logos Bible Software for the review copy of Feasting on the Word (12 vols.). Find it here. The publisher’s page for the series is here. You can find my other Logos reviews here.

Feasting on the Word Commentary for Preachers

Feasting on the Word

Alas, the burden and the glory of preaching consist in proclaiming things that are not yet fully realized, but the hope for them holds a powerful grip upon the faithful imagination.

–Feasting on the Word

Here is a 12-volume commentary set that covers all the lectionary readings from multiple angles. Feasting on the Word offers four different “perspectives” (theological, pastoral, exegetical, and homiletical) for each lectionary passage in the weekly Revised Common Lectionary.

The 12 volumes cover the three-year lectionary cycle (A, B, and C), split into four volumes per year:

  • Advent through Transfiguration
  • Lent through Eastertide
  • Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16)
  • Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17—Reign of Christ)

The Scripture index makes it accessible to preachers who are not following the lectionary, too. From the Logos product page:

The editors and contributors to this series are world-class scholars, pastors, and writers representing a variety of denominations and traditions. And while the twelve volumes of the series will follow the pattern of the Revised Common Lectionary, each volume will contain an index of biblical passages so that non-lectionary preachers, as well as teachers and students, may make use of its contents.

Logos Bible Software has the full set in a format that is hyperlinked, laid out well, and easy to navigate by date or Scripture reference. Here’s the Table of Contents in the Logos iOS app for the current volume:

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Here’s how a given Sunday looks:

FotW Proper 25
Four lectionary readings of Proper 25

And then each of the passages splits into the four “perspective” sections.

Four perspectives on Luke 18:9-14
Four perspectives on Luke 18:9-14

Since being able to access Feasting on the Word, it’s actually jumped toward the beginning of my pile (or bytes) of resources that I consult when preaching. I try to pray through my preaching ideas from the text and in conversation with others before consulting commentaries, but the “Homiletical Perspective” (and the other sections, for that matter) do a good job of helping the preacher think about how to preach a text.

The Theological Perspective and Exegetical Perspective might be the best starting points in this commentary. Perhaps by design and due to the constraints of this resource, they are not as in-depth as you would find with a commentary on a given book of the Bible. But those two sections do show a general awareness of the major interpretive issues a preacher needs to be aware of.

The Pastoral Perspective differs from the Homiletical Perspective in that the former helps the preacher be aware of pitfalls and opportunities in preaching a text. For example, Stacey Simpson Duke offers the following pastoral suggestion on Isaiah 11:1-10 (which is the OT text for the 2nd Sunday of Advent in a couple of weeks):

Our fear for children’s safety and future is especially acute. Some in our congregations may have had the tragic experience of a child’s death; they may be particularly fragile when it comes to Isaiah’s images of vulnerable children living and playing in safety. That grief may not be confined to those who have suffered the loss of near ones. We are intimately acquainted with suffering children through heartbreaking images broadcast via the electronic media. This produces its own brand of grief. Isaiah’s word is for all, but the pastor must be sensitive to the grief in the room. Isaiah promises future security; how might this be a word of hope for those from whom security has already been stolen? Answers are not easy, but the pastor who wants to care for congregants in grief will want to wrestle with the question.

This has been the section of the commentary that I most consult.

I appreciate the overall depth and thoughtfulness of the series. This portion from the series introduction is apropos:

We also recognize that this new series appears in a post-9/11, post-Katrina world. For this reason, we provide no shortcuts for those committed to the proclamation of God’s Word. Among preachers, there are books known as “Monday books” because they need to be read thoughtfully at least a week ahead of time. There are also “Saturday books,” so called because they supply sermon ideas on short notice. The books in this series are not Saturday books. Our aim is to help preachers go deeper, not faster, in a world that is in need of saving words.

So far, I not only can recommend Feasting on the Word, but have begun drawing on it as a regular part of my preaching preparation each week. I’ll write more about the series in a future post.

Thanks to Logos Bible Software for the review copy of Feasting on the Word (12 vols.). Find it here. You can find my other Logos reviews here.

Psalms of Lament (for “Scalding Tears”)

Psalms of Lament

Psalms of Lament is a heartbreakingly beautiful collection of poetry. Weems alarmingly yet assuringly gets right down to business in her Preface:

This book is not for everyone. It is for those who weep and for those who weep with those who weep. It is for those whose souls struggle with the dailiness of faithkeeping in the midst of life’s assaults and obscenities. This book is for those who are living with scalding tears running down their cheeks.

Her Psalms are for those whose experiences are “painful, too painful for any of us to try fitting our souls into ten correct steps of grieving.” They come from experience: Weems unexpectedly lost her son (“the stars fell from my sky”) just after his 21st birthday.

Drawing on the great biblical lament tradition, Weems writes lament psalms of her own. David’s familiar structure of

“How can you leave me like this, God?”–>”Yet I will trust you”

is on display throughout the collection. As personal as Weems’s psalms are, like David’s and Jeremiah’s laments, they are universal and could be prayed by anyone who is lamenting.

If you read with an open heart, Weems’s laments can evoke tears at nearly every line. And it’s a profound Godward lament in which she engages: “Anger and alleluias careen around within me, sometimes colliding.” There’s no bitterness here, but neither is there a naïve attempt to placate reality (as if we could!) with boring pseudo-truths like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or, “God took her away because he needed her for his heavenly choir.” Here is Lament Psalm Twelve, one of the starker and more personal psalms, in its entirety:

O God, what am I going to do?
He’s gone–and I’m left
with an empty pit in my life.
I can’t think.
I can’t work.
I can’t eat.
I can’t talk.
I can’t see anyone.
I can’t leave my house.
Nothing makes any sense.
Nothing seems worth doing.

How could you have allowed this to happen?
I thought you protected your own!
You are the power:
Why didn’t you use it?
You are the glory,
but there was no glory in his death.
You are justice and mercy,
yet there was no justice, no mercy for him.
In his death there is no justice for me.

O God, what am I going to do?
I’m begging you to help me.
At least you could be merciful.
O God, I don’t remember a time
when you were not my God.
Turn back to me;
you promised.
Be merciful to me;
you promised.
Heal me;
you promised.
My heart is broken.
My mind is broken.
My body is broken.
Nothing works anymore.
Unless you help me
nothing will ever work again.

O Holy One, I am confident
that you will save me.
You are the one
who heals the brokenhearted
and binds their wounds.
You are the power
and the glory;
you are the justice
and mercy.
You are my God forever.

The six “I can’t” statements (“I can’t think. I can’t work. I can’t eat. I can’t talk. I can’t see anyone. I can’t leave my house.) evoke the monotony and hopelessness that the grieving one feels. Yet three times: you promised… you promised… you promised. Given the way the poem begins, the last stanza seems almost out of place. But it’s a move David made (forced himself to make) in his Psalms.

I only wonder if those who grieve will be ready to pray along to the end of each psalm with Weems, as her laments so often end with an affirmation of God’s promises. For those whose grief is acute, fresh, and numbing, such prayers may at the moment be impossible.

Yet Weems gives us language for when we need it most, for when words of any kind are impossible. A person in the throes of grief not yet be able to say, “Alleluias spin in my heart!” But she or he may want to be able to make such affirmations, if not now, then eventually. Weems offers wording for the griever to attempt that journey. In so doing she provides a pattern for lament that is true to the biblical tradition, true to life.

Psalms of Lament 2Psalms of Lament is a gift to the Church and to those who grieve. Pastors, campus ministers, youth ministers, and worship leaders would all do well to have copies on hand. While Weems seems to have composed her laments with the individual in view, I’m intrigued by the possibility of reading and praying these psalms in corporate worship settings. A funeral or a Sunday after a tragedy would be particularly appropriate times. Yet if we consider, as Weems notes, the possibility of weeping with those who weep, those who pray would do well not to wait until a tragedy to employ these psalms.

Weems’s prayers floored me. I had turned to her before. As I read her again I never made it very far without choking back tears. (In my better moments, I gave up on trying to choke them back.) The tears Weems evokes, though, are not just tears of sadness, but tears of hope in the God who “will put the stars back in the sky.”

Thanks to Westminster John Knox Press for the review copy. I am confident I’ll want to pick up additional copies of Psalms of Lament for others. You can preview a good deal of the book at Google Books here.

One of my reviews to be published in Bible Study Magazine

I have written a book review that is slated to be published in an upcoming issue of Bible Study Magazine.

You can see what Bible Study Magazine looks like by flipping through this past issue.

The book I review is Lamentations and the Song of Songs, by Harvey Cox and Stephanie Paulsell. It’s the newest edition of Westminster John Knox Press’s Belief theological commentary series. (More about the book is here.)

Both authors suggest reading their respective biblical books in a “participatory mood.” Cox and Paulsell each highlight the timelessness of Lamentations and Song of Songs, surveying well their history of interpretation to help readers today apply them and enter in to the texts. A good commentary to have at hand, especially when preaching through either Lamentations or Song of Songs–something that probably doesn’t happen as often as it should.

The “Preacher’s Trash Bin” (A Review of What Not to Say)

Here is some great preaching advice from my mother-in-law, a pastor: Never say from the pulpit that a certain idea came you to while you were in the shower.  Because who wants to think about their pastor in the shower?

Or as John C. Holbert and Alyce M. McKenzie put it, “Don’t tell stories that involve listeners picturing you naked. …So you received an insight into the cleansing power of God’s love in the shower on the mission trip as the cleansing and healing water cascaded over your body. Find another setting to tell about your epiphany.”

I set out to read What Not to Say: Avoiding the Common Mistakes That Can Sink Your Sermon, thinking that the book would be full of practical ideas like not sharing shower epiphanies as having taken place in the shower. Yet Holbert and McKenzie also write with theological depth and care as they coach preachers on what not to say and do in the pulpit.

Their chapters cover what not to say (and what to say): about God, about the Bible, at the sermon’s beginning, about the congregation, in the middle of the sermon, about yourself, in stories, and at the end of the sermon.

The goal of the book is “to give very direct advice out of the store of [the authors’] combined sixty years of preaching and over forty years of teaching others how to preach.”  They write, “It’s important in preaching to be as clear about what we are not saying as we are about what we are saying.” Here is where the theological depth of the authors comes to the fore, right in the first chapter: “First, affirming the sovereignty of God is not the same as insisting that everything that happens in my life and the world is directly the result of God’s actions.” The authors have a high view of God’s sovereignty, yet caution preachers against saying or implying, “Everything happens for a reason… and that reason is God.” Especially in a funeral sermon, for example, they say it’s theologically misguided for the preacher to say that God just “needed” the deceased’s voice to join the heavenly choir, or wanted “another flower for his heavenly bouquet.” God is sovereign, yes, preachers should affirm, but did he really cause a drunk driver to kill your daughter? No, the authors would say; free choice gone awry (i.e., stupidity) caused that. But preachers have to be careful that their words don’t somehow affirm that God’s sovereignty means He somehow took away that life. He may have allowed it; he didn’t ordain it.

Though the reader may not always find herself or himself in lock-step with the authors’ theology (I think the Bible is more of an “answer book” than they seem to indicate, and I respectfuly disagree with their interpretation of Romans 1, that Paul didn’t really understand the nuances of homosexuality), the reader will certainly appreciate their theological, Biblical, and homiletical care that grounds the eminently practical advice they give. The authors’ love of the Gospel, of the Church, and of preaching is on full display in these pages… and it inspired me as I read.

A few more highlights ought to convince anyone with an interest in preaching or public speaking to read this book:

  • The authors say the preacher should ask herself or himself this question honestly: “Do I habitually base my sermons on my favorite passages and avoid others I know little about or that may prove difficult?”
  • “Preachers throughout history have known that it is as important to exegete the congregation as it is to exegete the text. Jesus certainly did….”
  • “Sermons these days need to teach biblical and theological themes to often biblically illiterate listeners.”
  • “When we stir up people’s emotions without tying them to a biblical and theological message, what are they to do with their stirred-up emotions?”
  • Holbert and McKenzie want the preacher to ask: “Does the sermon tell the truth of the Gospel, not a domesticated version I assume the congregation would prefer to hear?”
  • On bad preaching habits (verbal filler, overused non-verbal gestures, etc.), they say: “Anything you do in the pulpit again and again will become over time the source of boredom and finally ridicule. When the youth sit in the balcony and count the number of times you say or do a certain thing, it is time to take stock of your preaching patterns.”
  • “Never make yourself the hero or heroine of your sermon” by using yourself as a positive example of how to apply a certain Scripture. “The sermon is not about us; it is about God.”
  • “Never use any of your children as sermon examples.” (Whether the reader finally agrees with this or not, the authors make a good case for it.)
  • Ask anyone for permission to talk about them in a story, even if that story shares something positive about them: “There are people in your church who would immediately transfer their membership if you thanked them publicly or singled them out in a positive way.”

It would be easy for me to go on about the helpful things I read in this book. I highly recommend it to all who preach or teach, in the Church or elsewhere.

The book is out now through Westminster John Knox Press.  (I am grateful to have received a digital galley of What Not to Say for review through Net Galley.)

I’ll give the authors the last word:

Preachers and teachers of preaching like to talk about the preacher’s toolbox. That is a positive metaphor. It signifies a repertoire of useful, effective sermonic strategies. There is also a preacher’s trash bin, a receptacle where we ought to put all the ineffective sermon strategies we don’t ever want to use again.