Review: Giving Blood

April 22nd, 2014

Never one to hold back from provocative statements, Leonard Sweet lays out a bold proposition in the subtitle of his latest book. With Giving Blood: A Fresh Paradigm for Preaching, Sweet aspires to “a fresh paradigm for preaching”—and mostly succeeds in offering one (Zondervan, 2014).

Sweet, an educator, best-selling author, and founder and president of SpiritVenture Ministries, uses the metaphor of blood to frame his philosophy of preaching. In the social media age of Twitter, Google, Instagram, and Facebook (TGIF, a la Sweet), a sermon is not a presentation, much less an argument. Rather, it is an interactive enterprise in which Christ lifeblood is transfused between preacher and participants, who become co-creators in a preaching event rooted in shared encounter with the divine.

Preaching in the TGIF context must be EPIC. That is, it must travel through an experiential medium (E), allow for participatory interaction (P), use biblical stories and images (I), and connect the congregation to Jesus (C). Toward that end, preachers need to pay careful attention to semiotics, the ability to point to one thing as a sign of another.

Central to Sweet’s notion of EPIC preaching is a juxtaposition of story and symbol, a mixture he refers to as “narra-phor.” While linear, point-by-point preaching may have been favored in the modern era, postmodern minds hunger for encounters with God that go beyond rationalistic thought. Narrative embraces the transformational power of story. Metaphor allows us to swerve in our journey to encounter God’s truth, taking us on a tangent in order that we may, paradoxically, arrive faster at our destination. When the two combine, narraphor is a powerful tool for reshaping our lives according to God’s activity among us.

As he plays out his narraphor of preaching as giving blood, Sweet tackles many of the same topics that any book on sermon preparation and delivery might address. He delves into ways of approaching scripture, keys to good preparation, left-brain/right-brain understanding, matters of presentation, and various miscellaneous considerations. Taking his own advice, however, he presents these at a slant, with chapter titles like “Blood Bank,” “Blood-Enriching Nutrients,” and Blood Donors.”

Sweet’s insistence on incorporating narraphor into his own extended homily on preaching makes for a fluid argument that circles back on itself, at times threatening to lose its shape. To keep readers on line with him, Sweet uses other unifying devices, notably acronyms (TGIF, EPIC, MRI, fMRI, etc) and participatory “lab” exercises (personal reflections, YouTube links, visual images, and so forth).

Not surprisingly for a book of this length (368 pages), some glitches appear in the writing. The passion with which Sweet relates his thoughts on preaching is evident, although it occasionally devolves into sanctimony. His typologies of preaching appear as caricatures, from which his preferred “transductive” approach swoops in to save the TGIF day. The blood metaphor stretches at times, such as “blood thinners” to describe the use of humor.

Still, Sweet succeeds far more than he fails. His language is usually entertaining and almost always thought-provoking. Giving Blood does indeed offer many new insights into preaching and will prove a worthwhile read for preachers looking to infuse new life into their vocation.

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