Saturday 24 June 2006

On help-books for preachers

“The more sermons arise from sermons [in help books], the more estranged they are from the immediacy of religious life, and therefore the more dead they are; and the best auto da fé would be to submit all these help books to the fire.”

—Friedrich Schleiermacher, Friedrich Schleiermachers sämmtliche Werke (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1834-64), I/13, pp. 279-80.


Chris Tilling said...

Oh well, I love my Jüngel sermon books! - written to be 'sermon helps'.

Ben Myers said...

Yeah, I'm sure even Schleiermacher would have made an exception for someone like Jüngel....

Anonymous said...

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer went to Barcelona, Spain (1928) to fulfill his year of internship in preparation for ordination, he was required to submit sample sermons to the committee. Their reort was sent to his Father back ini Berlin. Bonhoeffer's father then wrote to him to convey the church examiners' low estimation of the model sermons he had prepared as part of his ordination examination. Their suggestion was that he read exemplary sermons and instructions to learn how such things are done. To the contrary, Karl Bonhoeffer shared the advice his own mentor had given him as a young psychiatrist: "Just don't read any psychiatric literature! It only makes one dumb!" In prison, Dietrich read everything but theological literature! (Thomas Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Christian Community and Common Sense, p. 183)

Guy Davies said...

I agree with Schleiermacher. Sermon help books with their nicely aliterated headings and pre-packaged illustrations are just wrong!

byron smith said...

Do you think there is ever a place for taking a great sermon from the past that you as preacher believe to be particularly apt for your congregation today and preaching it verbatim? (with acknowledgements, of course)

Guy Davies said...


No. Preaching is meant to be Truth mediated via personality your personality! I wouldn't be against giving a historical talk on a great sermon, but it would be just that, an historical talk, not preaching the Word of God.

Guy D

Anonymous said...

The old preaching-through-personality dictum has been over-done. Indeed Augustine, trained as he was in the traditions of classical rhetoric, advised preachers not to be themselves.

There is nothing wrong with a preacher adopting another persona (mask) than his own. The preacher is more an actor, or dramatist (P.T. Forsyth) than an orator; the sermon is more a performance than a speech.

Guy Davies said...


I can understand Augustine advising preachers trained in classical rhetoric not to be themselves, in the sense that they were to put away the enticing words of man's wisdom to preach the cross. It may have been natural for such preachers to speak with the eloquence of the trained rhetoritician, but a crucified Christ must be preached with a crucified style. Didn't Paul say something like that in 1 Corinthians 2:1-4?

I certainly don't think of preaching as "a speech". There should be an element of drama to preaching. Think of Whitefield & Daniel Rowland. But I'm not sure about preaching as "performance". To me, that suggests an element of artificiality. I prefer the emphasis of Bunyan "I preached what I smartingly did feel" and Baxter, "I preached as never sure to preach again, as a dying man to dying men." That is the spirit of authentic preaching, Truth mediated though a personality on fire for the Truth.

Ben Myers said...

I'll have to disagree with Augustine on this one: his advice that preachers can be "not themselves" would have made sense in his own context (which was shaped through-and-through by Ciceronian rhetoric), but I doubt that it makes much sense today.

In the same work quoted above, Schleiermacher raises the question of whether preachers are like actors, and he says that they differ radically, since an actor "must deny himself and be another" whereas a preacher "must always be himself."

Discussing Scheiermacher's view, Dawn DeVries thus sums it up like this: "It is not the grandiosity and pathos of the stage, but the quiet conversation before the fire, to which the [preacher] should aspire" (DeVries, Jesus Christ in the Preaching of Calvin and Schleiermacher, p. 58).

While Ciceronian rhetoric may have been entirely appropriate in the fourth century, I think Schleiermacher's rhetoric of earnest everyday dialogue is a lot more appropriate for preachers today.

Anonymous said...

Getting back to the "preaching is truth mediated through personality" statement, do any of you agree that "personality" here also includes one's own life experiences and stories shared as illustrations during the sermon?

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