Reading, Literature, and Preaching

I recently finished T. D. Gordon’s fine little booklet, Why Johnny Can’t Preach (which I’ll blog on as soon as I’m out of my deep homiletic depression!) and found myself reading Leland Ryken’s chapter in Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching In Honor of R. Kent Hughes ed. Ryken & Wilson (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007).  Ryken’s chapter is on – as you may have guessed – the literary aspect of the Bible.  The title of the chapter is “The Bible as Literature and Expository Preaching;” it opened with this awesome Luther quote.

“I am persuaded that without knowledge of literature pure theology cannot at all endure, just as heretofore, when letters [literature] have declined and lain prostrate, theology too, has wretchedly fallen and lain prostrate; nay, I see that there has never been a great revelation of the Word of God unless he has first prepared the way by the rise and prosperity of languages and letters, as though they were John the Baptists….  Certainly it is my desire that  there shall be as many poets and rhetoricians as possible, because I see that by these studies, as by no other means, people are wonderfully fitted for the grasping of sacred truth and for handling it skillfully and happily” (p. 38).

Certainly T. D. Gordon would say a strong Yes! Amen! to that quote (as Gordon well laments that so many preachers are “literarily” illiterate, so to speak – but again, more on that later).  Ryken goes on in this chapter to explain the literary basics of the Bible and how they relate to preaching Scripture.  He exhorts the preacher not to skip over the narrative (characters, tension, foils, story-line, climax, etc) to get to the doctrine, for the Bible is not simply divinely deposited propositional dogma.  Even the “literary forms of the Bible have been inspired by God and need to be granted an importance congruent with that inspiration” (p. 53).  Of course there are doctrinal truths in Scripture, but sometimes they are conveyed in story form, so the stories can’t be shucked to find the “kernel” of doctrine.  Both are inspired and should be preached!

I’ll say more on this some other day, but first, a note on the book, Preach the Word.  I’m only half way through it, but so far so good.  Other contributors include Paul House, J. I. Packer, Philip Ryken, Don Carson, along with other pastors and scholars.  The topics range from interpretation, homiletical methods, biblical/historical paradigms, contemporary challenges, and homiletical training.  This would be a good gift for a graduating seminarian – or, of course, your pastor.  We pastors need ongoing training in homiletics!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

5 thoughts on “Reading, Literature, and Preaching”

  1. Hmmm…yes, I’ve read Gordon’s book too. Sigh…if only I had known I was going to be a preacher from an early age. Perhaps it informs me how to raise my kids more than anything. So that one day, if they become preachers, they’ll be good at it. Or just be very successful public speakers.

    It’s funny if you think about it. The kind of upbringing you’d need to really be a good preacher by Gordon’s standards would also serve you well in the common realm. Ah, classical education.


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