Monday, April 30, 2007

Biblical Preaching

Readers of the Continuum are aware that I take the subject of preaching very seriously, and that I consider this to be perfectly consistent with Anglican Catholicism. I want to recommend an article in the March/ April 2007 edition of The Mandate, which is editied by Dr. Peter Toon. It is called The Great Charge, and is written by Rev. William Klock, a vicar in the Reformed Episcopal Church. To view it, you need to click the link, you need to have PDF on your computer, and you must scroll down to page 11.

It seems likely that Rev. Klock would have some differences with us, with our High Church understanding of the centrality of the Eucharist in the regular worship of the Church, and with our sacramental theology. In one point he even takes us to task:

The later fruits of the 19th Century Anglo-Catholic movement have led to an unbalanced emphasis on the Eucharist, which has resulted in a deemphasis on the importance of strong Biblical preaching. The end result has been the well-known ten-minute homily Even those of us distant from either the Liberal or Anglo-Catholic tradition can find it exceptionally easy to become lazy in our preaching.

I disagree with the charge of "an unbalanced emphasis on the Eucharist." But, I think he is not really too far wrong in general. Whereas I reject that specific charge, I agree with the gist of his remarks. But, I believe that we are unbalanced, all too often, not by placing the importance that we do on the Eucharist, but rather that we can be unbalanced by placing too little importance on preaching the Word of God. The "deemphasis on the importance of strong Biblical preaching" is, therefore, from this other angle, a valid criticism.

The problem comes from being reactive instead of proactive, and thereby losing our freedom to set a course based on honest convictions. This problem afflicts too many of us just as it does quite a large number of Roman Catholic priests. Because the Protestant emphasis gives priority to preaching over the sacraments, we feel the need to take the opposite position. In Six Little Books on the Priesthood by Saint John Chrysostom, the golden tongued Father warns us that if we teach strongly against one error we must avoid appearing to endorse the opposite error. For this reason, I think of him as the true father of a useful and practical via media philosophy. Just because the Protestant emphasis devalues the Blessed Sacrament is no reason for us to devalue the ministry of God's word. We do not have to let others set our agenda, even if it is by means of error that provokes a reaction.

Every man who has been ordained to the priesthood has been given both the gift and the charge to be "a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments (Ordinal)." We do not live in a tension between these things, but rather with their complementarity. The idea that a powerful and meaningful sermon would, as one man told me, "distract the people from the sacrament," is an excuse for laziness. We are supposed to labor in the word and doctrine, to save both ourselves and those who hear us. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen (I Peter 4:11)."

C.S. Lewis commented (in Surprised by Joy) on the Anglo-Catholic preachers he heard when he was a boy in school, that they made a lasting impression on him because they preached the great truths of the Christian Faith as men who believed it deeply. This is our authentic tradition, and one that we must endeavor to keep alive. It does not distract from the sacrament to preach a powerful sermon. Indeed, it may so convict hearts and minds to "hearty repentance and true faith" that people, who were otherwise minded, might receive the sacrament in a worthy manner.


Albion Land said...

Simeon's requirements that a sermon humbles the sinner, exalts the Saviour and promotes holiness, with Klock's reference to Paul's call for repoving, rebuking and exhorting, reminds me of something I read many years ago in an introduction to one of The Times' best sermons of the year:

"Good sermons should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

I always strive both to comfort and to afflict in my sermons, having always unconsciously followed Simeon's three guidelines.

poetreader said...

Actually, Mr. Klock's comments on an unbalanced emphasis are extremely appropos. Heresy, it has been said, is not so much the statement of untruth as the overemphasis of a truth to the point that the assertion of that truth obscures and seems to deny other truth. For example, when one overemphasizes the divinity of Christ, one tends to minimize His humanity and becomes a Monophysite. When one overemphasizes His humanity, one tends toward Nestorianism or even Arianism. It is thus possible to overemphasize Sacraments at the expense of preaching, and I cannot count the number of times I've heard AngloCatholics express a distaste for the latter. If our preaching today has tended to be weaker than that of the earlier AngloCatholics, it is likely a sign of exactly what he was talking about. Mr. Klock, on the other hand, (as a member of REC)probably tends to overemphasize the preaching at the exprense of sacraments. As with Chalcedonian Christology, the truth lies in the proper balance and in full attention to both truths, together.


ACC Member said...

Good preaching is necessary and desirable. But who says that "good" preaching has to be long-winded and last 30 minutes or an hour. That long is "good" is one of the failures of Puritanical Protestantism. There is an old saying among those of us in the educational field: "The mind can only absorb what the butt can stand." In education, we were taught to change activites with children every 10 to 15 minutes. To me, a clergyman who preaches longer than that is kidding himself if he actually thinks people are still listening after 10 to 15 minutes. The most-talented, and memorable, preachers I have ever heard can give a wonderful sermon in 5 to 10 minutes. Better to do a well-done brief sermon that people can remember during the week. than some long-winded, boring diatribe that they won't remember 10 minutes after it is over. The answer is preaching better, not preaching longer.

Albion Land said...

I suppose you've all heard the joke about the young curate who asks his vicar: "What should I preach about?"

The vicar's answer: "Preach about God and preach about 10 minutes."

I don't think the Revd Mr Klock is necessarily taking issue with 10-minute homilies, per se, but with the very real prejudice on the part of some people that sermons are an unavoidable nuisance and should be got out of the way as quickly as possible.

I think the timing of a sermon depends on the occasion. A long one is certainly not appropriate during a Mass that is already going to be long because of special circumstances on the day. While I am inclined to agree that anything beyond 12 minutes, or so, is likely to start losing the attention of the congregation, a particularly compelling preacher with a particularly compelling message might disappoint his listeners if he stopped after twice that long.

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

P.S. Father Klock doesn't mind being called Father Klock. No need to Rev'd Mister.

The over generalizations about the REC ("Mr. Klock, on the other hand--as a member of REC--probably tends to overemphasize the preaching at the exprense of sacraments") in this thread don't really reflect the theology of the body, nor the practice of the diocese of which Fr. Klock is a priest. Every parish of the Diocese of Mid-America that I know of celebrates the Holy Eucharist every Sunday, using either the 1928 BCP or the 1662.

poetreader said...

Thank you, Anglican Cleric.
I'm glad to know Fr. Klock's preference. What to use for a title can often be an awkwardness.

I'm also glad to hear about the current practice in REC. I know it hasn't always been that way. I do feel, however, that one will find a tendency to skew the emphasis toward the liturgy on one side and toward the preaching on the other to the extent that ongoing conversation between ACs and REC would likely bring greater health to both groupings. I have expressed my hesitations toward REC before, but always from the viewpoint of seeking ways to grow together in real integrity. May it be so.


Warwickensis said...

Speaking personally, I think that a sermon should be as short as necessary and deep enough to carry a person up to the altar rail.

Just my opinion

Anonymous said...

My God bless Fr. Klock and his church on a fruitful ministry.

Anonymous said...

I think if we looked at St. Chyrsostom's messages we would find them to likely be more than 10 minutes on average. I frequently hear sermons in excess of 30 minutes ordinarily without the least distraction. If the Homily is a powerful exposition of the Words of the Living God (as Sermons should be) then 30 minutes should not be a trial to sit through.

As for the Homilies relation to the Eucharist--the richness of the Gift set before us (that is, Christ Himself), as well as the sincere repentance and reverence which such a Gift demands of the worthy receiver, is only truly seen by the eyes of faith—and the preaching of the Word of God is one of the primary means by which our faith is quickened and strengthened (as St. Paul says in Rom 10:14, 17, “…faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” and “…how shall they hear without a preacher?”).

God Bless,


Gal 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

But who says that "good" preaching has to be long-winded and last 30 minutes or an hour.

In addition to the sermon, opportunities for the teaching ministry of the Church can take place in several ways. I have given lectures between services in what is generally a 45 minute time slot. I have led informal studies in which we realized that we had been sitting around a table talking about scripture for 90 minutes without getting tired.

Ten minutes is good for a sermon during a Mass. But, these ten minutes should be filled with content and meaning. I took the remark about "the ten minute homily" without offense, however. I believe that some people are more concerned about the length of a sermon than they are about hearing. From the pulpit side of the sermon, it helps to read the faces of the people and make eye contact. When you see a church full of wide open eyes staring back at you, then you are probably communicating well. If you don't see that, you need to pray very hard,and do a lot of soul searching and thinking.

Albion Land said...

"When you see a church full of wide open eyes staring back at you, then you are probably communicating well. If you don't see that, you need to pray very hard,and do a lot of soul searching and thinking."

Ay-men to that, Brother Bob, Ay-men!

J. Gordon Anderson said...

That was a good article. The latest issue of New Oxford Review, interestingly enough, had an article about preaching in it as well.

I think that ten minutes is a good length for a homily in our tradition. The homily is not a self-contained unit, but a part of the liturgy, and so it must be viewed in the context of the entire liturgy, and must not be allowed to overshadow or dominate it. I find it much harder to perpare short, ten-minute homilies, than rambling on and on forever. Many preachers who go on and on, if you listen to them, end up repeating themselves, or using too many illustrations, and so on. And while those things can be powerful rhetorical tools, one must be careful of how much time they add to the sermon. And even worse, they can say a lot of words, but not really say anything important or edifying. It is more about quality rather quantity, I think.

All of this reminds me of the second verse of the Talking Heads song, 'Psycho Killer': "You start a conversation you can't even finish; your lips move, but you're not saying anything; when I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed; say something once, why say it again?"

Alice C. Linsley said...

I read that article in The Mandate and I had the same reaction. It isn't that catholicism places too much emphasis on the Eucharist, and even were that the case, this doesn't necessarily lead to neglect of preaching.

On May 7, I'll post one of the best sermons I've heard and it was preached by an 11 year old. You can read it at

Anonymous said...

This is really off-topic, I'm sorry, but I just got through reading Bishop Paul Hewett's manifesto calling for Anglican unity. Do you fellows work with him? I was deeply impressed by his words and ideas, and the powerful way in which they are presented.

Michael Edwards-Ronning

Albion Land said...


You point reminds me of another anecdote.

A veteran preacher is asked how long it takes him to prepare a 10-minute homily.

"Usually about four hours," is his reply.

"Gosh," says his questioner, "then it must take you a couple of days to prepare an hour-long sermon!"

"Oh no," he replies, "I can do an hour without any preparation at all."

poetreader said...

Alice, I don't like to sound contrary, but, human beings being what they are, it sounds like special pleading to say, "I don't put too much emphasis on xxx." if it is a major emphasis of mine, it's a given that I do overemphasize it at the expense of other things. It is precisely because of the high value that I place upon the Eucharist and upon liturgy, that I need to ask myself constantly, "In what way am I overemphasizing these glorious things at the expense of other goods, such as preaching." If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that I am doing so. By asking myself 'how?' I help myself to achieve that balance we must constantly be striving for. By assuring myself that I am not overemphasizing anything, I assure that I will do just that.

True, Catholicism doesn't place too much emphasis on the Eucharist, but, all too frequently, Catholics do. The Faith is always balanced. The faithful seldom are.


poetreader said...

William ("Anonymous"),

First, not to make a big thing of it, but I find myself wondering who you are. We don't ordinarily post anonymously on this board.

I do agree with your point. I've heard 10 minute homilies that seemed to drag on forever, leading to the involuntary thought, "Won't he ever shut up.", and I've heard hour-long sermons that seemed all too short. It is important for a preacher to have something to say. If he doesn't, it would be better for him not to try and to let the Liturgy do all the speaking. If he does, let him say it, simply and well, in whatever time is appropriate to what needs to be said, and then let him stop.

That being said, it does become necessary to consider the attention span of people in this wretched television era which is much shorter than in past generations. Even an excellent sermon, if it should exceed the preacher's ability to overcome the barrier of attention span, is too long. In my days as a Protestant preacher, I can recall an occasion when I had been going on less than 10 minutes, but did not have the attention of the congregation (largely because I had little to say) and decided to quit. I recall another occasion when I went on for 75 minutes (usually far too much!) and was told what an excellent sermon it was.

The clock is a notably unuseful tool in evaluating sermons.


Veronica Klock said...

This isn't a blog I'm familiar with and I don't usually comment in these places, but as a colleague directed me to this discussion, I thought I'd interject a few thoughts that may perhaps clarify the point of my article in Mandate.

First, I'm glad that the comments about Anglo-Catholics in the article seem to have been understood in context. With space as limited as it is in Mandate, it's not always possible to provide a full explanation. I'd point out that most of the Tractarians, e.g., Pusey, Keble, Newman, were all fine expositors. Clearly part of the success of the Oxford Movement was a result of their exposition of the Word.

The point of my article wasn't so much to address sermon length as it was about sermon content. If one can truly expound upon a passage, giving it's meaning, illustrating it properly, and providing clear and practical application in ten minutes that's fine. The issue is that this is virtually impossible most of the time.

The greatest issue I see here is a need for serious preparation and sermon composition. Sermons must be expository -- this is the only sure-fire method to ensure that what's being preached is the Word and not the preacher's personal thoughts, ideas, or convictions. An overview of Church history bears this out. The times of greatest decline in the Church are always accompanied by a decline in biblical, expository preaching. The times of success in the Church are characterised by serious biblical preachinig. The few condensed examples of Apostolic preaching in the New Testament bear this out, as do the preaching of men like Chrysostom, Augustine, St. Francis, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Hugh Latimer, Charles Simeon, George Whitfield, Charles Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, etc. The list goes on and is not confined to any one Christian tradition. Note that these men didn't preach anything like our modern "Ten-minute Homilies."

There must be a balance between Word and Sacrament, for without the Word preached, what lies behind the Sacrament is never understood. There have been times when a hunger for the Word has tipped the scales toward the sermon, but consider what provoked that. In our own tradition and in the Puritan tradition in the 16th and 17th centuries there was great emphasis on preaching. People today gasp at a two hour slot being given for two or three sermons, but forget that those who earnestly sat through those sermons, hanging on every word, probably could still remember the smell of the burning flesh of men who had been martyred for the privilege of preaching God's Word. Would that we had such a passion today, rather than complaints should a sermon exceed ten minutes!

The key is in preparation and methodology. If a preacher is well prepared and can speak even reasonably well, the congregation should be able to remain attentive for as long as it takes. Boring sermons are usually the result of poor preparation, or worse, no preparation, thus a preacher enters the pulpit and rambles on, "preaching" whatever comes to mind. A good preacher will present the biblical text, explain what it means at a level and depth that is compatible with his hearer's undestanding, will adequatley illustrate what he's saying, and will then apply the meaning of the text in a way that is clear, direct, and gives a course of action that his hearers can follow. One of the best contemporary examples of this that I listen to regularly is Ravi Zacharias. Listen to one of his sermons sometime. He can preach for 40-45 minutes and thanks to his fervour, illustration, and directness that 45 minutes feels like 15. One of my homiletics professors gave what I consider to be good advice: one ought normally to preach for about 30 minutes, but for the listener it should feel like 15 or 20. I regularly listen to recordings of my sermons to make sure that I'm doing this.

I write out a manuscript every week. It helps me stay on task in the pulpit by keeping me organised and on point. I know that without a manuscript or very clear notes I'll forget and leave something out or I'll tend to ramble or repeat myself. There are some, I think relative few of us, who can preach extemporarily and stay on task, but those that do are able to do so because they spend many hours during the week exegeting their passage, studying, and thinking on it.

If the preacher is well prepared, organised, staying on topic, and most of all preaching the Word, not his own ideas, the congregation should never be bored. The Word needs to be preached to bring the unrepentant to faith and to educate and edify the converted. Sunday morning worship's primary goal should be to glorify God and edify the saints and so we shouldn't be shy about serious exposition, however long it takes, during that time. We certainly need to provide for other times of Bible teaching during the week, but the fact is that there are many, perhaps most, who will only come to the church on Sunday, and so this needs to be our primary focus. Our people should be hungry for the Word of God. If they aren't there's something seriously wrong.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


I hope you will drop in on us again. I welcome your comments just as I was quick to recommend your article in the Mandate. Most of us here are Anglo-Catholics, and I don't want us to lose sight of a point that you have made in your comment, and which I quote:

"I'd point out that most of the Tractarians, e.g., Pusey, Keble, Newman, were all fine expositors. Clearly part of the success of the Oxford Movement was a result of their exposition of the Word."

In the Six LittleBooks on the Priesthood by Saint John Chrysostom, we see that a high place of importance given to sound preaching is the Catholic Tradition. In modern times, the Roman Catholic Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen made a point of restoring
this priority in his book The Priest is not his own (which I reviewed for Touchstone in May 2005). He addressed the need to study the scripture and seek for the fire of the Holy Spirit. He sounded very much like an Evangelical in that section.

The point being, good biblical preaching is the Catholic Tradition.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Ed, I see your point and really don't disagree... humans being what we are. The tendency to swing from extreme to extreme seems more prominent in the West. Westerners have a dialectical approach to theology and philosophy, a tug of war between either this or that. I'm working on trying to be less that way and instead to view the many good things: Preaching as spiritual food, and Body and Blood of Christ as spiritual medicine, and Baptism to cleanse and regenerate, and Confession to bring about godliness and reconciliation. They are like pearls strung on a thread, yet we persist in setting up oppositions.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Alice Linsley:

I admire your scholarship. I hope that this remark about the West is not an indication that you think that this tendency is any less observable among the Orthodox. I see quite a bit of the same human failings in both "lungs" of the Church, and am very troubled by a modern trend among the Orthodox to make the "East-West" comparison in a way that is, itself, a reactionary movement. Don't fall into that trap. You're too smart.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic article by Fr. Klock! Thanks to Fr. Hart for bringing it to our attention. As Anglicans we have a marvelous heritage of Biblical preaching ranging from Lancelot Andrewes, John Donne, and Richard Hooker in the 16th and 17th centuries to John Wesley in the 18th century to a multitude of Anglican preachers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But Biblical preaching—and more specifically expository preaching, which is what Fr. Klock is really advocating—has fallen on hard times in the last 100 or so years in many of the Christian traditions, not just Anglicanism.

“What is Biblical preaching?” Fr. Klock asks. “Biblical preaching seeks to convey the Word of God rather than the words of men. To be truly Biblical preaching must be driven by the text. This means that our preachers need to avoid using Scripture as a pretext. All too often preachers determine what it is that they want to say in advance and then bring Scripture into the sermon to support their topic. Topical preaching isn’t always a bad thing, in fact the lectionary is arranged thematically, but the preacher needs to address topical or thematic preaching with great caution to ensure that Scripture is the focus of the sermon.”

Fr. Klock is clearly advocating expository preaching, but this has probably not been the norm in mainstream Anglicanism for at least the last 150 years. I also believe, however, that traditional Anglicans desperately need to recover this kind of preaching if we are to convey the Gospel to our post-Christian world.

Fr. Klock writes: “To recover from our current homiletic slump will require that all take action. Our priests and deacons must commit themselves to a Biblical model for preaching, our bishops must ensure that our clergy are properly trained and then commit to ordaining men who are ready and fully able to fulfill this greatest of all pastoral duties, and the laity must demand solid spiritual food and hold local parish clergy as well as bishops accountable.”

Ah, there’s the rub. Biblical, expository preaching requires a lot of work as well as training in the inductive method of reading and interpreting the Bible and a reading knowledge of the original Biblical languages (certainly Greek but also Hebrew). Since many of our clergy today have never had this kind of training, it’s doubtful whether they would understand, let alone actually follow, “a Biblical model for preaching.”

I would also strongly urge weekly Bible study in our churches, led by competent priests and other teachers. Today’s Sunday sermon—all 10, 15, or even 20 minutes of it—is simply not enough to ground any of us in the Biblical word of God.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The phrase "greatest of all pastoral duties" would, for most of us, speak of celebrating the Mass. I would place hearing confessions very high too. So too, the priest who neglects to labor in the word of God is failing in his responsibility, and will have to account for dereliction of duty. I am tired of clergy who use the priority we give to the Eucharist as an excuse for laziness in his role as a dispenser of God's word.