Learning to Preach Today

The authors of this book are both United Methodist Church pastors serving on the staff of the Reutlingen Theological Seminary in Germany. The original German version has been translated into English by Konrad Schäfer.

The book is split into three parts. In the first part (chapter 1) some basic homiletical topics are dealt with, such as the reason for preaching, the characteristics of preaching, types of sermons, and the importance of relating the work of preaching to the cultural context in which it takes place. The second and longest part (chapters 2-6) comprises a practical guide to sermon preparation: how to work on texts or topics, gather material, form a structure, and deliver the finished product. This part is quite detailed and well illustrated. Unusually for books on homiletics, it also includes sections on how hearers can help preachers, both in the preachers’ preparations and in the evaluation of their sermons following delivery.

In the final part (chapters 7-8) the art of preaching is approached from the perspective of recent communication theory, with particular attention being given to the work of Hamburg psychologist Friedmann Schulz von Thun, whose theory concerning the four aspects of communication (as expressing content, self-disclosure, relationship, and appeal) is applied at length to the work of preaching and listening.

The book is helpfully divided up into small sections and contains plenty of diagrams, exercises, questions for reflection and marginal summaries to help the reader understand the material and make the best use of it.

For all this, the book is not without its faults. There are typographical errors. Clarity of expression is not always achieved. The order of material does not always appear to be logical. Although the authority of scripture is implicitly acknowledged, the actual examples of preaching given are strangely lacking in exegetical content. There are some highly questionable statements, for example, that the call to preach must 'always remain an uncertain conviction' (p.21) and that a preacher should influence a person’s ‘inner attitude’ only ‘to a very limited extent’ (p.194). The footnotes refer almost exclusively to continental European literature. And the bibliography, although broader in range, inexplicably omits what I still regard to be the best English introduction to the subject, John Stott’s I Believe in Preaching (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1982).

Despite these minor criticisms, however, I would still regard this book to be a worthy addition to a preacher's library, and a help to someone who is learning to preach. In many areas it will be found to be a source of enlightenment, guidance and stimulation, and could well be useful in providing discussion material for local preachers' meetings.