This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series: Preachers and their preaching
- Preachers and their preaching – John Calvin
- Preachers and their preaching – the Puritans
- Preachers and their preaching – Charles Simeon
- Preachers and their preaching – Phillips Brooks
- Preachers and their preaching – C.H. Spurgeon
- Preachers and their preaching – D.M. Lloyd-Jones
- Preachers and their preaching – J. Sidlow Baxter
- Preachers and their preaching – John Stott
- Preachers and their preaching – Fred Craddock
- Preachers and their preaching – Simon Ponsonby
Fred Craddock (1928-2015) was was pastor, preacher, and teacher of homiletics. He wrote influential books, including As One Without Authority (1971) and Preaching (1985). I have recently been working my way through this latter book, and also listening to some online discussion with, and sermons by, Craddock.
Michael Jeffress has written a paper entitled, ‘Fred B. Craddock’s Contribution to Preaching: The Revolution of the Inductive Method’, in which he helpfully summaries the key themes of Craddock preaching method.
Here’s a precis.
- Including listeners. Preaching, for Craddock, had suffered from an authoritarian approach in which hearers were ‘preached at’. Better, it was thought, to see it as a partnership; a two-way communication event. Hearers were to be helped to think and feel for themselves, and to actively respond to the message in ways that the preacher could not fully anticipate or control. Craddock understood this as modelled in the teaching method of Jesus, especially in his parables.
- Deemphasizing Proofs, Facts, & Assertions. Logical inference, appeal to evidence, background information, historical explanation, verificational analysis, are all de-emphasised as regards their place in a sermon. Preaching, writes Craddock, ‘addresses the community of faith and is not a collection of theological and ethical arguments to persuade atheists or adherents of other religions.’
- Uniting Form and Function. Following Marshall McLuhan, Craddock believed that ‘the medium is the message’, or at least, that the two are inextricably related to one another. The ‘how’ and the ‘what’ cannot be separated. Craddock writes: ‘preaching that treats beatitudes as exhortations or paradoxes as syllogisms violates not only form but content.’
- Addressing Specifics. Craddock focuses on the concrete experiences of the listeners. Words that do not address the ‘here and now’ are powerless to affect people. The farmer is concerned with the calf, not ‘calfhood’. The woman in the kitchen busies herself with a particular roast or cake, not with the culinary arts. The carpenter is interested in a chair, not the quality of ‘chairness’. The church becomes church, not when the minister says, ‘all men are mortal’, but when he says, ‘Mrs Brown’s son is dying.’
- Engaging Memory. Preaching, for Craddock, is about awakening memories in the hearer, so that a ‘nod of recognition’ is achieved before the ‘shock of recognition.’ Orientation must precede disorientation, if the message is not to be rejected at the very outset. The bulk of the message, accordingly, must be recognisable to the listeners. Most of it should present nothing new. Preachers should not be ashamed ‘to include a high percentage of ideas the people have heard before, but to say them in a different way.’
- Sacrificing Pride. Narrative form is not suitable only for children and old people. The inductive form is no less biblical or academic than its deductive counterpart, although it may seem so at first. But it is more interesting. We can take, as exemplars, not only Socrates and Kierkegaard, but also Jesus himself, whose communication did not simply inform, or even prove, but were ‘servants to awaken, to arouse, to provoke, to assure.’
- Developing Disciplined Discipleship. Lest it be thought that inductive preaching required less work on the part of the preacher, Craddock writes that ‘The fact of the matter is that inductive preaching, because it has in it the possibility of easy detours and is so susceptible to prostitution, actually requires more discipline of thought and study.’ Again: ‘nothing is reflected more obviously in the content, mood, and dimensions of a preacher’s sermons than the variety of his own reading.’ Discipline applies not only to the preacher’s life of study, but also to the construction of the sermon itself. Discipled preparation will lead the preacher to be able to formulate and state the one leading theme of the sermon. Stories, illustrations and language will then be recruited to serve this one unifying aim by evoking suitable images; by arousing the hearers’ imagination.
I think that there is quite a lot that preachers of all colours can learn from Craddock. He is quite correct to say that Jesus often taught inductively, suggestively, provocatively, and that we should follow the great Teacher in this, as well as other, respects.
Nevertheless, I find, from other things that I have read and heard from Craddock, that his approach is excessively this-worldly. His God is more immanent than transcendent, his Christ more human than divine, his Bible more a collection of witnesses to the gospel than a revelation of the gospel itself.
Moreover, Craddock’s approach is too restricted, in that it is modelled on one (or a few) teaching models, rather than the wider range that it found within the pages of Scripture itself. True, Craddock can appeal to the Master-Teacher himself for support, but, even then, he privileges Jesus’ the out-of-doors preaching to the crowds, over the more discursive teaching offered in private to his disciples. Then again, these teaching methods of Jesus are favoured over those of Paul. When texts from that apostle are taken, they are misused by using them as slogans, rather than as a part of a longer argument. As a case in point, see (and hear) this sermon, based on Romans 15:13, entitled, ‘The God of Hope.’
Can we separate the medium from the message? Can we distinguish between Craddock’s method and his message? Perhaps not, completely. But I would like to think that we can do justice to the full sweep of the biblical revelation while taking on board at least some of the insights offered above.