Like many of you, I’m an avid reader. I try to read across disciplines with a few novels thrown in each year. But I burrow down deeply in the disciplines I most enjoy—preaching and pastoral ministry. Blogs that list the writer’s favorite books get a read from me almost every time. I came of age as a pastor in an era when intentional mentoring wasn’t much of thing. Pastors tended to be more suspicious of each other, competitors with each other. Count me as one who is glad to see that era mostly gone. All that to say that most of my mentors in my formative years as a pastor were authors. So books mean a lot to me.
Could I tell you about my favorite books on preaching? If you know much about these books, you’ll notice that they tend to reflect a more right-brained approach to preaching—image driven, use of imagination, narrative style, word-precision—more a running train of thought than a sequencing of points. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not criticizing traditional three-point preaching. When the text calls for it, I preach that way too. I don’t know exactly how I would describe my “style.” Words like expository, text-driven, text-centered, theological, all describe preaching styles. Not everyone interprets those words the same way, however. I guess I would describe my preaching as “biblical”—a prayerful attempt to preach the meaning of the text in the genre and mood and tone that text. As most preachers desire, no matter their style of preaching, I want the church to learn something, feel something, and do something as they engage with the text and the sermon. Experience has taught me that when the head and the heart take hands, they can move the will in the right direction.
Every preacher is familiar with Phillips Brooks’ definition of preaching from his 1877 Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching at Yale: preaching is “truth through personality.” As we learn to preach, we tend to mimic those preachers we like the best. Over time, a preacher finds his/her voice. My preaching reflects my voice. That’s why people who know me would say I’m the same person in the pulpit and out. I preach the Scriptures out of the personality God has formed in me, shaped by my internal wiring and by my experiences. Most of my favorite books reflect preachers whose “voice” resonates with mine. They speak to mind and heart and will. But I suppose I need to say: I may not agree with everything in every book, but these are the preaching books that continue to visit me in my mind when I’m putting a sermon together. Here are those books …
- Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages by Haddon Robinson. If I could only own one book on preaching, this would probably be it. Published in 1980, it is now in its third edition. I’ve tried to read everything Robinson wrote on preaching.
- Preaching by Fred Craddock. This is his “textbook” for preaching. Craddock was unique among preachers. He was much criticized for his book As One Without Authority for his inductive approach to the text. But Fred could preach, and he could teach preaching with the best of them. I have also tried to read everything Craddock wrote on preaching.
- Homiletic: Moves and Structures by David Buttrick. Buttrick greatly influenced the way I understand sermon structure. This is a technical book not so well known as books by Robinson and Craddock, but it is worth wrestling with. At least it was for me.
- Preaching the Literary Forms of the Bible by Thomas Long. I try to read everything Long writes about preaching too. His “textbook” on preaching is The Witness of Preaching, but I chose Literary Forms because Long got on this approach before everyone else. Now it’s common for preaching profs to encourage a strong look at genre in structuring a sermon. It wasn’t so common when Long wrote this book in 1989. The concepts of this book are in my head every time I wrestle with a text for preaching.
- Celebration and Experience in Preaching by Henry Mitchell. African-American pastors know this book. We white pastors need to know this book. Mitchell helps us see how the sermon is not just a part of worship; it’s an act of worship. We white preachers won’t be able to pull off celebration in preaching like our black brothers and sisters, but we can learn from Mitchell and appropriate what we can.
- The Preaching Life by Barbara Brown Taylor. Even those of you who don’t believe a woman should preach would benefit from Taylor’s experience and learn a little something from her preaching style (saying a lot with few words) in the sermons she includes in the last part of the book.
- Preaching as Reminding: Stirring Memory in an Age of Forgetfulness by Jeffrey Arthurs. You may not know of this recent book, but Arthurs explains and demonstrates the importance of vivid language, story, delivery, and ceremony to preach sermons that stir believers to live their faith.
For my more left-brained pastor friends, two indispensable books are …
- John Stotts’ Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century
- And Tim Keller’s Preaching: Communicating the Faith in an Age of Skepticism.
I’m suspecting that John Piper’s new book Expository Exaltation will be another strong book on preaching in a more left-brained style. I plan to read that this year.
Finally, I would also recommend the following books to provide a wide range of preaching possibilities:
- Spirit, Word, and Story: A Philosophy of Preaching by Calvin Miller.
- Preaching as Reminding: Stirring Memory in an Age of Forgetfulness by Jeffrey Arthurs.
- Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon by Bryan Chapell.
- On Preaching: Personal & Pastoral Insights for the Preparation and Practice of Preaching by H. B. Charles, Jr.
- The Homiletical Plot by Eugene Lowry.
- Preaching for the Rest of Us by Robby Gallaty and Steven Smith.
- Peculiar Speech by Will Willimon.
So, what’s your next read as you seek to improve as a preacher? These books provide a wide range of preaching insight. Could I challenge you to read two books on preaching this year?
And because I’m always looking for good books on preaching, what would you add to this list? What are your favorite books on preaching? Feel free to comment below.