Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Festival of Homiletics: Craddock

"The Gospel as Hyperbole"
Fred Craddock

Fred Craddock is the dean of all contemporary American preachers. He is a Johnson Bible College graduate (a school in the stream of churches to which I belong) and/but served as a Disciple of Christ minister all of his preaching days. He taught at the DIsciples' seminary at Enid, OK (Phillips Univ) and then later taught at Emory University.

Much sought after as a lecturer, he has delivered the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale, the Scott Lectures at Claremont School of Theology, the Adams Lectures at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, the Schaff Lectures at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the Cole Lectures at Vanderbilt, the Westervelt Lectures at Austin Presbyterian Seminary, the Mullins Lectures at Southern Seminary, and Earl Lectures a Pacific School of Religion. He is from Tennessee and his folksy style is part of what makes him effective.

He used as his text two passages from the end of John's gospel:

John 21:24-25 "This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written."

Craddock had fun with this text--do we LITERALLY think that if everything Jesus did were written down, the entire world would not hold them. He wryly surmised that the Library of Congress with its hundreds of MILES of bookshelf space could certainly hold them, not to mention the entire world. But John was using hyperbole.

John 20:39-31 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Craddock pointed out that John reveals both his method (selectivity) and his purpose (that you may believe). Heh did not record everything, but chose those events/narratives that would best produce belief in the reader/hearer.

He called hyperbole "the language of sacred excess." He then gave example after example of hyperbole being used in the church: in hymns as well as scripture.

Hymn-O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing-could we literally think of having a thousand tongues? No. It is hyperbole.

Abraham and Sara -children as many as stars of heaven & sands of the sea
Jesus-faith of a mustard seed & say to this mountain jump into the sea
Jesus-forgive 70x7 (should we literally keep count until we reach 490 times?)
Jesus-strain a gnat & swallow a camel
Servant who owes his master the equivalent of 150,000 years wages.
Trees clapping, rocks crying out.

Aristotle was very disparaging of hyperbole, saying it was for the immature and uncultured. (I have tried to find this quote on the net, but have not had any luck)

Craddock ended with a very (purposefully) ironic series of examples to show the effectiveness of hyperbole. Biblical hyperbole is incredibly effective in reaching people's hearts. He used example after example of people who took Jesus' words literally (sell all you have, take up your cross, etc.) and the world was changed by their actions. Imagine if some preacher had convinced them that it was just hyperbole and not to be taken seriously. It WAS hyperbole, but that did not mean it was not to be taken seriously.

He ended with an example of the preacher William Sloane Coffin preaching on “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Craddock teased, "If you start saying whoever, whoever will show up!

**"You can't preach without hyperbole"**

Fabulous teaching and incredible teaching style. I ended up buying his 6 (8?) CD set on storytelling in preaching. Am excited to listen to it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Power in the Pulpit link

Matt Waymeyer said the following on the Expository Thoughts blog:

On January 11, 1989, President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation from the Oval Office for the thirty-fourth and final time. As he reflected back on the eight years of his presidency, Reagan said something profound:

In all of that time I won the nickname “The Great Communicator.” But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference. It was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things.

A common temptation for preachers is to focus on style and delivery, or even the kind of rhetorical skills that will impress the listener. But preaching isn’t about style, and the power of preaching isn’t about our ability to communicate. Power in the pulpit comes from the content of the message. (End of quote)

I think this relates to my previous post about William Willamon's quote:
"Technique is the attempt we make to work without God." It might be worth my time to spend the time that I spend on PPT prep in further exegesis? I don't know. But just thinking....

Read the entire post at:

Monday, May 28, 2007

How to Preach Like Jesus; Parables

Last week I was at the Festival of Homiletics in Nashville. The first night’s lecture was by Barbara Brown Taylor on Parables. BBT has been an Episcopal priest since 1984, Taylor now teaches religion at Piedmont College in rural northeast Georgia, where she holds the Harry R. Butman Chair in Religion and Philosophy. She also serves as adjunct professor of Christian spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.

I found her lecture and sermon the following morning to be one of the hightlights of the week.

My notes. (I have supplemented my notes with notes by Gavin Richardson, the youth minister at First United Methodist Church in Hendersonville, TN. I found his blog & he had put down some things that I had forgotten. You can find his blog at: I have marked his contributions with “GR”.

“A whole lot of preachers committed to Jesus end up preaching like Paul”

  • GR: Who was the church builder, not the savior. He was the left brain guy. The guy who gave answers. Left brain language is the language of clarity, factual. The right brain is the language of power. Impressionistic. Sets in space, not in time.

A parable is not an informational delivery system. It does much more than inform us.

1. Parables are stories.

  • They did not happen. We should not pretend that they DID happen, or force the point to make it like they did. They could have happened, but they did not. Don’t get caught up in the details of the story…”Relax! It’s a story!”
  • They knit our lives to divine life.
  • They could be called Christian Midrash. Midrash tells us “the back story” behind many of the biblical stories. (Ex: why Sara died. It is recorded that she died right after the story of Abraham offering Isaac. The Midrash tells us that a servant had told her what Abraham was up to after the two had left for the mountain. When she saw Abraham return alone, she dropped dead. That is not in the Bible.) It may or may not be true. But it shows the ways Jewish people tried to resolve biblical questions and it fills out the story & makes the story more interesting.
  • Jesus probably told the stories different times in different ways with different flourishes, maybe different emphases.
2. Parables are wisdom literature.

  • Wisdom Literature began with Job.
  • Wisdom Literature asks & answers the questions “How does the world work?” “How does the human heart work?”
  • GR: Wisdom is not all cheery. It asks the questions of hard human experience. Wisdom is interested in real life, not piety. Sin is not the problem in wisdom literature, foolishness is.

3. Parables are Paradoxical.


    • the story of the wicked judge & the widow. Is Jesus saying that God is like the wicked judge in his motivation?
    • · The story of the sly servant (knowing he was going to get fired, he “fixed the accounts” of those owing his master so that he could get in good with them). Jesus commends this sly servant. But we would consider this immoral. Why is Jesus commending him?

Jesus didn’t explain the parables…so who are you to do so?

GR: parables rightly told do not aid religious certainty. They more aid religious uncertainty. It's often a good mistake to try and tell the good and bad guys in a Jesus parable. Parables are to stretch the mind and beyond. Jesus didn't explain his stories, so should you. He left some stories unfinished. He trusted his listeners and his words. Trust god's word to do God's work even if you don't have the slightest idea how

4. Parables transcend themselves

GR: Parables offer themselves, their subject is life lived, but it does not necessarily dictate behavior. Parables do not tell the listener what they want. But they want to live in life. Jesus did not spend so much of his time on parables so that people would know good farming, party throwing, etc. But he was pointing to the moon. (Zen story of reference when one points to the moon it's not to look at the finger pointing)

How to Preach Like Jesus did:

  1. Tell more stories & invest the time to learn to tell them well. Find storytellers conventions & attend them
  2. Preach a sermon “without footnotes” in it.
  • Trust God to be clear in everyday life.
  • GR: Preach from the life that you and your listeners know best; eat locally.
3. Decline to chew your listeners food for them.
  • Introduce some problems that are not necessarily light or easily resolved.
  • GR: leave something for them to cut or chew. introduce some problems that you cannot solve. make trouble instead of moderating it for once. depending on what you feed your congregation it may not go over well at first.
  1. GR: Try sitting down three paragraphs before you are done. Or before they are done listening.
Note: I am still trying to figure out the formatting on this thing. If it is screwy, please excuse it. I am still working on it.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


This week William Willimon made the statement, "Technique is the attempt we make to work without God." That is one of those statements that at first I just nodded approvingly, wrote down and moved on. But upon reflection I still need to chew on it. Today after church Loretta and I were talking. I accidentally saved the Powerpoint presentation of my sermon to my laptop c: drive instead of to the thumbdrive. When I got to PPT! I called her and asked her to bring my laptop to church, but she wouldn't be there until second service. And so I had Ron (the terrific video guy) just raise the screen first service and I went "naked." (sans PPT) Second service, I used the powerpoint. In both services, I had a chalice of grape juice and a broken loaf of bread with me on the platform as a visual illustration of my sermon on communion (my text was I Cor 10:16)

So...Loretta and I were talking after service about the difference between the two...there seemed to be none in terms of effectiveness. (If I can realistically guage that on Sunday afternon) Very little reaction to today's sermon (more later on that!) But I mentioned that at the Festival of Homiletics this week no one had used PPT or any props or any kind of visual aid. (The one exception was Brian McLaren.)

I had already raved to my wife about how powerful the preaching was this past week at the FOH. When she asked about the lack of PPT I said that there was nothing to distract your attention from the spoken word. In fact, the speakers had kind of poo-pooed the use of PPT. She was obviously uncomfortable with that. And I commented on Will Willimon's statement. "Technique is the attempt we make to work without God." Is that true? Is the use of some visual aid a step away from allowing the Holy Spirit to work? Or is it recognizing learning styles & the visual culture in which we live and using that to "aid the HS." (Oops...there is a clue. The HS doesn't need assisting!!)

That being said, I don't think I am ready to go solo anytime soon. I think that the PPT and the presence of the bread & the wine were still good aids. The all or nothing statement by Willimon is maybe a clue to it's lack of accuracy. It presumes that technique ALWAYS has as its motivation to take all the responsibility for communicating the message onto ourselves. I think that technique can be that human part of preaching. Preaching is NOT only a divine exercise. It is also a human exercise. That is the nature of incarnation. And preaching is a VERY incarnational activity. There is the divine aspect to it. But there is also the human aspect to it that involves paying attention to how culture affects our ability to understand and our learning styles, etc. Although they were verbal, I think that is what Jesus did when he told parables. That is what he did when he used the example of the boy & his lunch at the feeding of teh 5,000.

Any thoughts on this?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The What of Our Preaching

This afternoon I heard Calvin Miller speak on preaching at the Festival of Homiletics (more on that at a later post). He quoted Ian Watson to say "The what of our preaching is more important than the how." That seems like Preaching 101, but its application also seems to be in short supply. I am not dissing style and method. Lord knows, we need to do better in that area. But the biggest condemnation I can imagine coming from our Lord on judgment day is "You preached well, but…why didn't you tell the whole truth?"

In their blog on Preaching a couple of guys known only as Peter & Mike [] (Mike is from Portland!) quote Howard Hendricks in his book The Seven Laws of the Teacher, where he refers to an English bishop who said, “You know, wherever the apostle Paul went, they had a riot or a revival. Wherever I go, they serve tea.” (p165.)

One of my struggles is that people want to be “fed” and by that they usually mean they want to be reinforced in their prejudices. They want to be told what to think. They want to gain a heedful of knowledge without having to put it into application. Maybe I am getting off topic here a bit, although I don’t think so. The terror for me is when I (because of fear) reinforce those wrongheaded concepts.

The above three paragraphs have opened enough can of worms for me to blog on preaching for a long time!

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