Wednesday, July 4, 2007

What Preachers Can Learn From Ernest Hemingway

Steve Matthewson over at the PreachingToday blog had a great post on our use of words in preaching.

Steve says:
Ernest Hemingway has something to teach preachers. For years, Hemingway has fascinated me at two levels. First, I am haunted by his quest for love and deep healing. As D. Bruce Lockerbie points out in his book,
Dismissing God, Hemingway abandoned his Christian upbringing and turned to the worship of a rugged masculinity. Yet neither bull-fighting, big-game hunting, nor booze brought him the hope and healing for which he longed. Second, I am intrigued by the way Hemingway wrote his novels and short stories. The way he communicates in A Farewell to Arms (my favorite Hemingway novel) or Big Two-Hearted River (my favorite ‘Nick Adams’ short story) models something which I must master as a preacher of Scripture.

What Hemingway modeled is the ability to paint vivid pictures through strong words and striking analogies. He once remarked: “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” Hemingway never pursued elegance or cleverness. He captured the imaginations of readers even though his prose was lean simple. It boiled down to words and analogies.

Hemingway was a genius at enlisting concrete terms rather than depending on adverbs and adjectives to prop up bland words. For example, he used “climbed” instead of “went up,” and he described blood as “dripping” and “pattering.” Hemingway also created simple but pointed analogies. For example, he writes: “The drops fell very slowly as they fall from an icicle after the sun has gone.” That analogy is short yet thought-provoking. Yes, I noticed that Hemingway used a couple of adverbs in his sentence! But read a few paragraphs of his, and you’ll be struck by how few modifiers he used. He simply used words and analogies to press his point.

That’s my challenge as a preacher this Sunday! God has called you and me to work with words. The purpose is not for us to appear clever or literary. The purpose is for the message to reach its destination. Whether or not this happens depends, in part, on word choice.

If your manuscript or outline for this Sunday’s sermon is finished, take time to read through it with an eye for the language you use. Are the nouns bland? Are they specific enough? Do you punctuate your delivery with a couple analogies? Suddenly, you’ll see that “unpleasant smell” can become “stench.” “Good food” can become “corn bread” or “pizza.” “Terror” packs more punch than “great fear” or “very great fear.” To be sure, there are weightier issues – exegesis, theology, prayer, sermon form, etc. But I thank Ernest Hemingway for modeling how to use the right words and analogies. Like a personal check made out to your mortgage company, a biblical sermon must reach its destination in order to make any difference. The right words and analogies help your sermon reach that destination.

You can find the original at:

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