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On Preaching - H.B. Charles | Book Review

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While I am by no means close to being omniscient, I can imagine one might say, “If I am not a preacher and I do not intend ever to preach, why would I read a book titled On Preaching?” Fair question. Here are a few reasons why I think you should consider reading On Preaching even if you never intend to preach. Firstly, while you might never preach, you most definitely listen to at least one sermon weekly. By reading this book, you will be able to better recognize if the sermons you are hearing are handling the Word of God well. Secondly, this book will help you better appreciate the time, effort, and care that goes into preaching. Thirdly, while this book is written to improve one’s preaching, the truths and advice provided in it pertain to the Christian life more broadly speaking as well.  

The number of preachers worldwide is too innumerable to count; however, we can boil them down into three distinct categories. First is the preacher that you cannot listen to. The second is the preacher you can listen to. The third is the preacher that you must listen to (10). In H. B. Charles’ book On Preaching, he seeks to provide the preacher with a handbook of best practices to improve their preaching, and ultimately fall under the last category of preacher, and the non-preacher with a book to help identify which type the preachers they listen to fall under. So, whether you are a seasoned veteran preacher, you just preached your first sermon last Sunday, or you have never preached and do not intend to, this book is written for you. 

Charles breaks down the book into three separate sections; preparation for preaching, the practice of preaching, and points of wisdom for preaching. While this structure provides a clear and precise outline for the book, it also, in some ways, serves as a ten-thousand-foot view of preaching itself. It starts with preparation, moves to execution, and ends with reflection. Charles writes with the whimsical wit that you would expect from any good preacher, as the book is full of illustrations, and he finds a way to make what could have been a very dull read into something that the reader will find not only instrumentally helpful but also exceedingly enjoyable.

In the first section, Charles dives headlong into how to prepare for preaching properly. He begins by emphasizing that one must know what they are preaching, that is, the word, and that pastors should be equipped with theological training to the extent they can. After all, “when you go into the pastorate, you become the resident theologian of your local church” (21). In chapter 4, Charles heavily emphasizes developing a sermon calendar. I can already hear one objecting that being too planned and methodical could risk diminishing the role of the Holy Spirit. Charles anticipated the same objection, and he argues that because he believes in the work of the Holy Spirit, he plans his work ahead. For, “the Holy Spirit can lead just as effectively a year in advance as He can days in advance” (28). The same theme of preparation is continued into the next chapter. He ends the book’s first section with two chapters on the importance of prayer in tandem with preaching. He argues that one should pray to help them speak faithfully (41) and for the congregation to hear clearly (42). He then, in the next chapter, provides the prayer that he actually does pray before he preaches. “Father, please give me the physical strength and spiritual energy to speak your Word with faithfulness, clarity, authority, passion, wisdom, humility, and liberty” (44).

Section two of the book shifts the focus towards the practice of preaching. Chapters 8-11 focus primarily on the proper use of the word in preaching. He provides details on how to use it, select it, and become a better expositor of it. He then focuses on the more “practical” elements of preaching. Chapter 12 devotes its time to creating a good sermon outline, and chapter 13 choosing a good title. In 14, he argues that a solid introduction is key to a good sermon (79), and in 15, the disastrous effects that can come about from poor transitions. In 16, he articulates the importance of good sermon illustrations and their do’s and don’ts. He ends the section with one chapter arguing for the preacher to write out manuscripts (95) while then subverting the reader’s expectations by arguing one should try and learn to preach without notes.

Part three consists of points of wisdom for preaching, which is essentially just helpful, and practical advice for preachers. One key emphasis for every preacher is to be yourself in the pulpit (110). Another standout chapter in this section is chapter 23, which deals with indecent exposure in the pulpit. This chapter contains some of the best advice and wisdom in the book. He argues that the preacher should never embarrass their neighbor (120), not boast (120), ask permission (121), and more. While this chapter is directed explicitly at the pulpit, I think it is safe to say that these nuggets of wisdom should also apply to our day-to-day conversations. One particularly fascinating point that he makes flies in the face of our culture’s view that authenticity is inherently authoritative; he argues that one’s attempt to display their authentic self can actually undermine the authority with which one preaches (122). He continues the book’s last section by providing a plethora of more helpful advice for the preacher.

Overall, I found this book to be an incredibly helpful tool for stimulating my thoughts towards and practice of preaching and better identifying good and bad preaching when I see it. Charles writes clearly while also providing a bit of humor and wonderful illustrations to keep you engaged along the journey. If I could offer one central point of critique, it would be that there is a repetitive quality to the book. You’ll find him repeating things he had already said frequently and returning to previous points, sometimes too often. Nonetheless, the book is a must-read for any preacher or churchgoer, and I believe Charles accomplishes his purpose. This book provides you with the tools necessary to captivatingly handle the Word of God with care and purpose and recognize those who do.

 Reviewed by Benjamin J. Darge, 21 June 2022

Posted by Ben Darge with

3-Point Evangelism

A couple weeks ago, I was at our church’s evangelism training. The turnout was superb and the conversation even more fascinating. So  engulfed were we in Jesus’ famous encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4) that we barely had time to go further on some of the practical matters. That story in particular is instructive because of how a singled out woman meets our singled out Lord for the most life changing conversation ever. 

As we were discussing how to become better good news ambassadors, something dawned on me that I’d never really thought about before. All the issues that people have in the world or the needs that burden them really boil down to three. Allow me to take this for a spin. 

First, people (at least on the surface) have issues with what’s true or not. Postmodernity plus our modern technologies have given way to the new religion that’s here to stay called “expressive individualism.” This spiritually flammable product is really in the hands of every person. For as many people there are, there are truths.  And what could be more confusing?

Second, most everyone intensely wrestles with right and wrong— in their conscience. They want satisfaction of a meaningful kind and— like the Rolling Stones— can’t seem to get none. Regardless of where you get your news from or how you arrive at truth, one unshakeable part of what it means to be a person is your conscience. And while the conscience can be trained correctly or not, it is this part of us that we can’t shake and isn’t as apparent to others. 

The third burden concerns anything related to human flourishing. This is the domain of issues where we hear the word ‘systemic’. And who or what else can solve big issues than those who have the most money, influence and power? If only we could get them to spend, sway or muscle in more, we could change the world, and it would be a better place. 

Run a little thought experiment this week. Write down or mentally note as many meaningful conversations you had with people. Let’s say you had 5 or 6 of those this week. Maybe the conversation was just as terse and tactless as a voiced complaint. That can count. Now, run each of those conversations through one of the three categories above. 

We have three branches of government in America, thousands of non-profits, millions of field experts or books, 735 billionaires and a gross domestic product of $20 trillion. Can’t we make any progress in the most burdened areas pertinent to being human?

Think about it: for those desirous of truth, it’s a constant quest to find truth and then the burden becomes to tell it. Those who know something’s wrong inside may seek help from therapy, but it’s a constant quest to cleanse the troubled conscience no matter who you don’t tell. And the constant, elusive pursuit of human flourishing is to fix the problem with our resources. 

The Older Testament of our Bible had specialists for these areas: A true prophet always spoke truth. A noble priest came as close to the conscience as possible with his ministrations. Still the sacrificial system couldn’t handle the burdens of conscience. A capable king would know how fix broken things in his kingdom to allow for the flourishing of his subjects. At least in an ideal world, these all function cohesively. 

After you’ve run your thought experiment, know that you have 3 different entry points for the Gospel which present truth, cleansing and fixing; all in the one Person of Jesus Christ. In other words, evangelism isn’t as much about knowing this particular verse or mastering that argument; it’s about how to relate Jesus to these varied points of longing, dissonance and contradiction in people’s lives. If you present Jesus as Prophet/Priest and King, then, they will have the one-stop “shop” for all their biggest concerns (even if they don’t yet know they have them).

Posted by Will Pareja with

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