Monday, September 08, 2008

Fred Craddock on the What of Preaching

In 1971, the great preacher and professor Fred Craddock published his landmark book As One Without Authority.

In it, Craddock explained the how and why of his inductive style of preaching, laced with story and word picture. This was very different from the traditional, deductive style, intent on advancing truth as a set of propositions. At a time when many churches in the United States (especially their preachers?) seemed sick of the old top-down method, the book was a big dose of strong medicine.

A sermon, said Craddock, shouldn't be a biblical text re-packaged as a series of points. Instead, a sermon should take into account the shape and style of the biblical text one is preaching from. The preacher should be careful to use language that is imaginative, suited to the ear, and consistent with the every-day experiences of the listeners. Basically, Craddock was arguing for a more user-friendly sermon, one that said "Come and see" as opposed to "Hear the Word of the Lord." Of course, the success of the book had something to do with the strong, anti-authority feeling of that day.

Over a third of a century has passed since then. In a recent interview, Craddock was asked this provocative question: How have things changed since the publication of that book? And what might that suggest about the ways that we shape our sermons today? Here is a part of his reply:

That book . . . was primarily devoted to the how of preaching. How do you do it? And I was trying to work off of "Everybody wants to quit [preaching], so how do we get new interest in it?" The church was still interested; the ministers had lost interest.

If I were doing it again, I would devote more attention to the what of preaching. Because there are people, going in droves, sitting before pulpits and screens and other media. But they don't know what they believe. They have a sort of flavor of "I think I believe, but maybe I just believe in belief." There's the fear also that, if I believe something strongly, I've become exclusive, as though others didn't have anything. I would spend a lot of time with the what.

But you can't talk about everything in the same book. You try to put the grease where the squeak is, and in nineteen seventy-one, it was on the how. I think the time has come when preachers need to give more attention to what they're saying.

I thought this was a really fine statement, one that I wish more of today's preachers would take to heart.

What do you think?


Arlene Kasselman said...

This is interesting, Frank. One thing about Fred Craddock is that even though he may have placed emphasis on the how and not the what at that time, in his own preaching he always has been so theologically responsible and rich. I have heard him speak a few times and one time I will never forget. While addressing a bunch of ministry students, he encouraged us to be creative with our preaching language and rich with our life stories for relatability, but always held up the caution about being true to the text, and never cheesy. He went on to tell how he gathers the stories that make his own preaching so rich. What I discovered is that he is one who pays attention to life. Simply that. He "sees" in every experience and situation. I really feel like he helped me try to live intentionally and really "see" what was going on around me.

Thanks for sharing this.

Jim Martin said...

A very good post! I have read Craddock's books through the years and heard him speak on a number of occasions. I have gained so much from his work.

I do agree with him in terms of his assesment of hearers today. I recall hearing Tom Long, a great admirer of Craddock's say much the same thing as Craddock states in this interview.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that. I am going to look for that book.