Review: A Sermon Workbook

April 25th, 2014

If Thomas H. Troeger and Leonora Tubbs Tisdale’s love for preaching comes through in their latest collaboration, then their love for teaching about preaching shines even brighter.

In A Sermon Workbook: Exercises in the Art and Craft of Preaching (Abingdon Press 2014), these two Yale Divinity School professors lay out the essentials of preaching. True to its title, their book is not a treatise on homiletics, but a practical guide to developing good preachers who produce good sermons.

The authors divide their work into two broad sections. The first, “Thinking Like a Preacher,” invites the reader to consider key points in sermon shape and preparation. They begin with how to approach the biblical text, offering guides to exegesis and creative bible study. They continue with chapters on multiple intelligences, sermon form, and other basic building blocks of communication. They also deal with internal and external roadblocks that are common barriers to preaching.

Each chapter in Part I ends with an exercise for individual or group use. These are the practical pieces of sermon preparation that allow readers to apply the authors’ methods to their own work.

Part II delves into a subject many preaching books treat with only cursory interest: writing and language. Troeger and Tisdale lay out the differences in written and oral/aural communication, both in how the message is prepared and how it is received. Drawing from preaching luminaries such as Fred Craddock and Eugene Lowry, the authors examine point of view, emotion, human experience, and several other components of a shared sermon experience.

Rather than suggest exercises to go along with each chapter in the second section, the authors offer sample writing from their preaching students. The most intriguing feature of these segments is the format in which they are written. Troeger and Tisdale teach their students to write their sermons as they might be heard, with attention to the cadences of speech and the auditory breaks between clauses. This more poetic form lends itself to a kind of mental reading aloud, enabling the reader to “hear” the sermon snippets in a way that would not be possible in simple paragraph form.

Preaching books that claim to serve every audience from novice to expert never live up to that promise, but A Sermon Workbook comes much closer than most. By breaking the preaching task down into small segments, they are able to present complex ideas without overwhelming new preachers. Most of the exercises they provide can be approached from a wide range of experience and skill levels. It should prove a helpful resource for both class and individual study.

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