Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) famously defined preaching as ‘the bringing of truth through personality’.
I have long considered this definition to be pregnant with meaning, for it seems to suggest a number of important corollaries. It suggests that in addition to the non-negotiable truth content that is fundamental to the preacher’s message:-
the preacher is not ‘anonymous’, but is a real person, speaking to real persons
each preacher should have something distinctive (unique, perhaps) to offer by way of style and emphasis that arises from the distinctive (unique, perhaps) aspects of his own personality
it is proper (desirable, perhaps) for the preacher to draw on his person characteristics and life experiences while shaping his message
Christian truth which has not been, and cannot be, ‘lived’, is mere theorising
this seems to confirm John Owen’s dictum that, ‘no man preaches that sermon well to others that doth not first preach it to his own heart.’
But how did Brooks himself view preaching, and what did he mean by his celebrated definition?…
Picture a sumo wrestler…an aging rock star…a mad professor…a spiritual person. What did you see? Mother Teresa? A Buddhist monk? The Archbishop of Canterbury? Yourself?
Here is a description of a Christian disciple.
It all begins, not with a set of instructions, but with a pronouncement of blessing. There are people who might be considered unfortunate, pitiable even. But they live under God’s favour. They are the luckiest people in the world.
In his book Teaching Acts David Cook writes about three kinds, or levels, of preaching application:-
1. The necessary application. This comes directly from the meaning of the text, and demonstrates how the text applies to all hearers at all times. For example, some beliefs and attitudes are always wrong and are therefore to be repented of, while others are always right and are therefore to be adopted and nurtured.
2. The impossible application. It can be helpful, says Cook to show what sorts of application do not flow from the text. …
Matthew 21:1-16 (Mk 11:1-10; Lk 19:29-38; Jn 12:12-15)
Grand entrances. Wedding. Royalty.
Verse 10 – “Who is this?” Note:-
(a) the deliberate ‘staging’ of the entrance. He is in sovereign control, (and yet uses human means).
(b) the nature of the entrance. Similar to ancient ‘victory parades’. Solomon, 1 King 1:33. 2 Kings 9:13 – ‘They took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”
Everybody has an outside and an inside; a public exterior and a private interior. On the outside are all the things that other people can see and hear: the actions you perform and the words you say. On the inside is that collection of thoughts, feelings, motives, and attitudes that we call ‘the heart’. Yes: each person has an outward appearance, and an inner reality. But to what extent is that outer self that we present to others a true representation what we really are, deep inside? …
I’ve written previously about the dangers and pitfalls of preaching from a full manuscript. I recognise, too, the problems associated with preaching from no written notes at all.
I won’t go into either of these polarities again just at the moment. But it leaves the question, how long should a preaching manuscript be? I have found myself, in recent times, using either of two approaches:-
(a) preparing a Powerpoint presentation is precise and detailed enough to give me the prompts that I need, without recourse to any further notes.…