How ironic is this...
With 200+ books on preaching on my shelves and with 20 years of teaching preaching in the classroom and with a multitude of moans about 'why can't just one of those books serve as a textbook in just one of those years in the classroom' - well, in the year that I finish as a classroom teacher, the textbook shows up.
Darrell W. Johnson, The Glory of Preaching: Participating in God's Transformation of the World (IVP, 2009). Yep - it is that good. It may not be the best book I've ever read on preaching, but as far as basic, comprehensive textbooks go, it enters the charts at Number One.
1. I am Stottian in my convictions. That means theology is more important than methodology. That means holding your techniques lightly, but being held by your convictions tightly. I love the way Johnson opens with 4 chapters on convictions ("theoretical foundations for participating") and then it is 5 chapters on techniques ("human mechanics on participating") - before concluding with 1 chapter on convictions again ("theoretical foundations again"). I like the symmetry. I like what the symmetry is saying. Students need this in their foundations.
2. There is something in his basic metaphor of 'participating': "expository preaching is not about getting a message out of the text; it is about inviting people into the text so that the text can do what only the text can do" - 58).
3. I confess - as I have done before in this blog - that I am somewhat dubious about the North American academic homiletic tradition. With their books they tend to talk among themselves and create this massive industry - and it just feels a bit ivory-tower-ish and club-ish to me. Not sure. What I am sure of is that Johnson is so refreshingly different. It drips out of his book. Not a lot of polish. It is almost chatty. His career has bounced between church and academy and between East and West. He has been a pastor (I think he has just left Regent College in a return to the pastorate) and he has been a missionary in the Philippines. It shows. I like it.
4. Let's face it! Johnson has written a whole heap of stuff I'd dream about putting in a 'book' on preaching. So there is a depressing side to reading this book!
(a) his definition of preaching emphasizes the need to be "causing a shift in worldview" - YES!;
(b) he makes space for the significance of the parable of the sower/seed/soils - YES!;
(c) he has such a high view of the Bible - informing, transforming and performing - YES! ("our task as preachers is to open the text in such a way that the text itself does what only the text can do" - 165);
(d) he includes an entire chapter on "the many-verbed wonder (which is) the preaching moment" (98) - YES! (even classifying them into four quadrants - "hold me back lest I swoon");
(e) he lingers with the importance of mere observation of what the text is in saying and with a genre-sensitivity - YES!;
(f) he includes his manuscript of a sermon and he does it just like I do - so unlike an essay - YES!
5. Then there are other topics on which Johnson is so fresh and so clear, even prophetic.
(a) 'truth through personality' becomes "personhood" as he takes us through Temperament, Woundedness, and Gifting ("burnout in ministry does not result from overworking; burnout results from not honouring who we are and instead trying to be who we think we ought to be" - 190);
(b) betraying his experience in Asia, he puts postmodernity (and the new atheism, I might add) in its place - pleading with the reader to open their eyes and realise that in the future inter-faith issues are going to be of far more consequence than lack-of-faith issues;
(c) keeping the sociologists and the marketers at arm's length a bit, he questions aspects of the pursuit or relevance and the place of seeker-sensitivity. In effect - 'if you are going to let those guys define the problem you may find yourself checking them out for the total solution as well ... and the drift from the gospel has begun'.
(d) affirming the need for the Spirit at work at both ends, saved appropriately for his concluding chapter;
(e) having a little word for those who tend to be intimidated by the visual as preachers - "the power of a film does not lie in its sights alone but also in its sounds" (145).
6. Some of the stuff he says is just downright intriguing. It makes you want to respond - "really?! - please explain yourself".
(a) the case he makes for continuing to handwrite his notes, rather than using a word-processor (135);
(b) the case he makes for application not being the preacher's responsibility - rather it is "implication" - "to expect preachers to apply the text for their listeners is to ask them to play God ... the pressure to apply is a modernist pressure, not a biblical pressure" - 159);
(c) the way he plans for the next year's special service immediately after this year's version - "why wait for a few weeks or months? Late Christmas Eve is the best time to prepare (for next year) because, one, all the sounds and smells and sights of the celebration are fresh in my senses and, two, I know what I did not preach for lack of time and wished I could have" - 210).
7. Finally, I have met Darrell. He took me out to lunch one day in Vancouver. I liked him a lot. No airs. Just a natural authentic person. I actually invited him to NZ and he had to cancel on me in the end. I might try again.