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A Primer on the Legacy of Preaching: Volume One (Apostles to the Revivalists)

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9780310538226What do Augustine and Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther and Matthew Henry, John Bunyan and Johnathan Edwards all have in common?

They embody the rich legacy of preaching through the ages, inspired by the central ministry component of Jesus Christ himself whose very purpose and mission on earth was to preach. As Jesus himself made clear in Luke 4:43:44: “‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching…”

Now that legacy is collected into two new volumes that are perfect for students, preachers, and interested Christians alike who want to learn from and carry forward that legacy.

A Legacy of Preaching: Volume One explores the history and development of preaching from the apostles to the revivalists through a biographical and theological examination of its most important preachers. Instead of teaching the history of preaching from the perspective of movements and eras, each contributor in this series tells the story of a particular preacher in history, allowing the preachers from the past to come alive and instruct us through their lives, theologies, and methods of preaching. As the editors explain:

This book is about the seasons of preaching history and the preachers who proclaimed the eternal riches of God’s grace and truth. Our goal is to present a historical, theological, and methodological introduction to the history of preaching. This approach to the history of preaching is one of this volume’s unique markers. (27)

Each chapter includes the following as it engages the legacy preachers from the past:

  • An introduction to a key figure in the history of preaching
  • An analysis of the theological views that shaped their preaching
  • An engagement with their methodology of sermon preparation and delivery
  • An appraisal of the significant contributions they have made to the history of preaching

This diverse collection of familiar and lesser-known individuals provides a detailed and fascinating look at what it has meant to communicate the gospel over the past two thousand years. Further, the intent “is not to focus only on the history of preaching as a past event, but to consider how to best move forward in our own pulpits and in the training of future preachers,” (27).

Below is a primer of sorts to the rich legacy of preaching you will find in volume one. Continue reading to better understand this legacy and how you and your devotional life can benefit from sitting at the feet of these legacy preachers. If you teach preaching or homiletics, we also welcome you to request an exam copy of volume one to see how it could benefit your course and students. Learn more in volume two and the two-book set.

Telling the Story of Preaching

(Here is Timothy George's complete foreword to volume one.)

At the heart of the Christian faith is a Savior who was a preacher. This stands in contrast to the gods of Olympus or the Roman pantheon whose interaction with mortals, when it happened at all, was transient, ephemeral, detached—like a circle touching a tangent. Zeus thundered, but he did not preach. Nor did the dying and rising savior gods of the mystery religions. There were ablutions and incantations and the babbling utterances of the Sibylline Oracles, but nothing that could rightly be called a sermon.

But when the divine Logos was made flesh (egeneto sarx), he embraced the full range of human pathos and human discourse: Jesus wept, and Jesus preached. Mark opened his account of the Christian story with this announcement, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel” (Mark 1:14 KJV). Jesus himself declared that the very purpose of his mission on earth was to preach: “‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching . . . .” (Luke 4:43–44, emphasis added). The old liberal construal of this text was to say that Jesus came preaching the kingdom but what we got was the church. But that way of putting it is to deny the coinherence of the kingdom and the King, a title ascribed to Jesus Christ at several places in the New Testament (see John 12:15, 18:37; 1 Tim 6:13–16; Rev 17:14, 19:16). In the Gospels, Jesus not only proclaimed the kingdom, he was the bearer of it. Thus, from the beginning, the content of early Christian preaching was neither a new philosophical worldview nor a code of ethics to improve human behavior, but rather Jesus Christ himself: Jesus remembered in his words and deeds, Jesus crucified, buried, and risen from the dead, and Jesus yet to come again in glory—all of which is included in that earliest of Christian confessions, “Jesus is Lord!”

Early Christian proclaimers fanned out across the Roman Empire to engage in what Ephrem the Syrian called “the sweet preaching of the cross.” The aim of such preachers was not merely to express their opinions or to provide entertainment to their listeners. No, they were in the vanguard of the militia Christi, and their preaching had an urgent eschatological motivation and thrust. It propelled redemptive history forward toward the consummation of all things. This is certainly how Matthew 24:14 has been understood, from the age of the apostles right down through the dawn of the modern ecumenical movement: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

The end has not yet come, and so the preaching of the Gospel continues. It is done in many ways by countless voices in numerous settings—from tall-steeple cathedrals and mass meetings to small village churches and out-of-the-way Bible study groups that are forced to meet in hiding. Today’s proclaimers often have access to media—radio, television, print, and the internet—that would have astounded the preachers covered in this volume. But in these and other ways, the gospel still goes forth, lives are transformed, and the church is renewed.

This volume tells the story of preaching through biography. The context, theology, and contributions of some of the most notable proclaimers in the history of the Christian movement are gathered here. It is a strong list but not an exhaustive one. What we do have in this volume is a distinctive account of preaching told through the lives of thirty of the most consequential proclaimers from the first 1800 years of the church.

The diversity and variety of witnesses is striking, but so are the common themes and single-minded passion that motivated these proclaimers. The Holy Scriptures—the charter documents of the Christian faith—are at the heart of their preaching, and the centrality of Jesus Christ shines through their sermons. We see here how preaching as a spiritual and ecclesial vocation shaped every aspect of the church’s work: evangelism, theology, exegesis, worship, and witness. We also see how in different ages God has renewed the church through new forms of preaching—the monks, the mendicants, the mystics, the missionaries, the Reformers, and the awakeners—all of whom drew from the wellspring of the apostolic faith announced by the first proclaimers of the gospel.

One of Martin Luther’s favorite verses from Saint Paul is Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ . . . and how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom 10:17, 14). May God yet renew the church again through a new generation of faithful gospel proclaimers.

—Timothy George is the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture.

Introduction to A Legacy of Preaching, Volume One

(Here is the complete introduction to volume one, written by series editors Benjamin K. Forrest, Kevin L. King, Bill Curtis, Dwayne Milioni.)

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2). This book is about the seasons of preaching history and the preachers who proclaimed the eternal riches of God’s grace and truth. Our goal is to present a historical, theological, and methodological introduction to the history of preaching. This approach to the history of preaching is one of this volume’s unique markers. Instead of teaching the history of preaching from a perspective of movements and eras, our goal is to aid the reader in the exploration of preaching history, with a biographical and theological examination of its most important preachers. Therefore, each contributing author will tell the story of a preacher in history, allowing these preachers from the past to come alive and instruct us about their lives, theologies, and methods of preaching.

Our intent is not to focus only on the history of preaching as a past event, but to consider how to best move forward in our own pulpits and in the training of future preachers. To accomplish this goal, we have looked backward in order to explore how theology intersects with and informs the practice of preaching in context. By telling the stories of these preachers, we provide a stage for understanding how their theology informed their practice and how they methodized the task of approaching the Scriptures for the proclamation of the gospel. It will be readily evident that preachers throughout history have approached this differently. Some preachers have a very robust theology of preaching, while others, instead, have a theology for preaching.

This book details how great pulpiteers in history have approached their task of preaching as pastor-theologians. Much of the challenge in teaching students is not just what to know, but how to communicate what they have learned, in a way that is understood by their audience. This book doesn’t teach how biblical preaching is done, but demonstrates how it has been done. Our hope is that this approach will yield fruit for present and future preachers as they formulate their own understanding of how to be a theologian from the pulpit. There has been a great legacy of research in the area of the history of preaching. It is our goal to stand upon the shoulders of this research, much like the figures in this book have stood on the shoulders of the preachers who have gone before them.

Choosing the Preachers

Choosing which preachers to include for a book such as this is an imperfect process, and some readers may be disappointed about who was left out. When this project was birthed over breakfast at Cracker Barrel, we only had a vague notion about whom to include. A later discussion over lunchtime pizza gave our list more clarity, but it was still not perfect. Our final product is still lacking, but it is an attempt to give a voice to those whose impact must certainly be remembered and those with a unique methodology or theological perspective on preaching that we believed was significant enough to include. We hope readers will commit to researching those important preachers who were not included and yet deserve a place among those who have preached from some of history’s most influential pulpits.

Organization of Text

This book follows the great preachers of history. Each chapter has been written by a different author who is a scholar of the particular preacher. We left room for each author to express his own voice while maintaining consistency throughout the book. Each chapter will start with the “historical background” of the preacher. The length and scope of the biographical sections vary based on how much background information is needed to clarify their social and ministerial context. Next, each author will explore theological aspects of the preacher’s approach to preaching. Sectional divisions vary slightly. But the essence of each will articulate what aspects of theology concerned the preacher and will identify either the preacher’s theology of preaching or their theology for preaching. Then there will be an analysis of the preacher’s methodology. Some preachers were very strict in their methodology while others more loose and extemporaneous. The final section will explore the preacher’s overall contribution to the field of preaching along with a sermon excerpt from the preacher, so readers can hear the voice of the preacher in their own words.

Our Challenge

Our challenge to readers is threefold, and there is a nuance in our challenge to you, depending on why you have come to this book.

If you are an inquisitive pastor wanting to look back at the pulpiteers of history, then our hope for you is that you will find comradery and encouragement in the strengths of these preachers. We also hope you find solidarity as you recognize (perhaps very intimately) their challenges. As a pastor, at some point in your ministry, you will find yourself in a situation where looking back just may help you to move forward. As you look back on these pulpiteers, we hope you see their resolve, their commitment to the ministry of the Word, and their pursuit for the church. As you see these, we hope you will be refreshed and encouraged to press in and press on in your calling.

If you find yourself reading this book as a student, we hope you will find several heroes, or at least examples to imitate. Just as George Whitefield was inspired by Matthew Henry, and John Piper has been inspired by Jonathan Edwards, we hope you will find an example and hero for yourself. No preacher is perfect and what is written here is not hagiography, but in most cases it is deferential. Do not look to anyone but Christ to find the perfect role model for ministry, but look to these preachers who sought to follow Christ, love his bride—the church—and preach the Word. Let this be how you read this book: recognize your own imperfections and learn from those who have gone before you.

Lastly, if you are reading this book as you prepare to teach in the field of homiletics, history, or practical theology—we hope you will enjoy these chapters and the research your colleagues have provided. For those you disciple in ministry, encourage them to be students of the Word. Inspire them to see the practices of history’s greats and learn from their dedicated study as they approach the task of sermon preparation. Challenge them with the reality that sermon preparation is never done—that life is constantly preparing us for the next sermon. Prod them with examples from your own life about the challenges and joys of drinking the Word personally and sharing it with a thirsty flock. For those you disciple in the classroom, urge them to compare those in history with those we are familiar with today. Embolden them with a vision that places the proclamation of the gospel at the summit of seminary preparation. Share with them stories about your own heroes of the pulpit. Your hero may be in this book, or may be a pastor barely known to history. This is important because you will likely have students who will go on to have ministries that make a visible impact, while others will remain largely unseen until eternity. Let them know both of these epitaphs are to be celebrated. Do not set before students the goal that to be remembered is to leave a legacy, but let them see faithfulness to the gospel through the proclamation of Christ is what counts when considering a legacy of preaching!

Soli Deo Gloria!

—Benjamin K. Forrest, Kevin L. King, Bill Curtis, Dwayne Milioni

Complete List of Legacy Preachers

This first volume of A Legacy of Preaching covers the period from the apostles to the revivalists, profiling thirty preachers from Paul and Augustine of Hippo, to Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards, to John Wesley and George Whitefield. Below is the complete list of legacy preachers covered in volume one, along with their particular homiletical emphasis, and the five eras covered in volume one.

Preaching in the Early Church and among the Patristic Fathers

  • Paul: Proclaiming Christ Crucified
  • Peter: Proclaiming the Gospel in the Power of the Spirit
  • Melito of Sardis: Proclaiming Christ the Lamb
  • Origen of Alexandria: Preaching as Spiritual Edification
  • Ephrem the Syrian: Preaching Christ through Poetry and Paradox
  • Basil of Caesarea: The Preacher as the Mouthpiece of Christ
  • John Chrysostom: Golden-Mouthed Preacher
  • Augustine of Hippo: Agape-Driven, Christocentric Preaching

Preaching in the Medieval Ages

  • Gregory the Great: The Art of Arts as the Health of Souls                 
  • Bernard of Clairvaux: Preaching to Foster a Love and Devotion to God
  • Francis of Assisi: Using Words and Life to Preach the Gospel
  • Saint Bonaventure: Franciscan Friar
  • Meister Eckhart: Preaching the Inexpressible God
  • Johannes Tauler: Preaching Repentance and the Soul’s Return to God
  • John Huss: Forerunner to the Reformation
  • Girolamo Savonarola: Apocalyptic Preacher and Martyr to Opulence

Preaching among the Reformers

  • Martin Luther: Preaching a Theology of the Cross
  • Ulrich Zwingli: Pastor, Patriot, Prophet, and Protestant
  • Balthasar Hubmaier: Catholic, Evangelical, and Anabaptist Preacher
  • William Tyndale: Translation for the Task of Proclamation
  • John Calvin: Preaching the Glorious Christ

Preaching among the Puritans

  • William Perkins: Prince of Puritan Preaching
  • Richard Baxter: Preaching as a Dying Man to Dying People
  • John Owen: Preaching for the Glory of God                                           
  • John Bunyan: Preaching the Word from the Heart to the Heart
  • Matthew Henry: Exegesis and Exposition for the Church and the Pulpit

Preaching among the Revivalists

  • François Fénelon: The Art of Eloquence
  • Jonathan Edwards: Preaching the Beauty of Holiness
  • JohnWesley: Homiletic Theologian
  • George Whitefield: Calvinist Evangelist


9780310538226In some of his final words to his young protégé, Paul urged pastor Timothy to “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Such preparation is a lifelong pursuit, and one way to prepare is to learn from the preaching legacy of others. Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College, explains in his endorsement how this resource can shape your preaching:

For most pastors—maybe for all—becoming a better preacher is a lifelong quest. And on that quest, few things are more beneficial than spending quality time with more gifted preachers. Reading A Legacy of Preaching affords an unprecedented opportunity for all kinds of pastors to learn from a legion of men and women who are widely regarded as among the best preachers in history . . . Hearing their life stories, learning their homiletical theology, and listening to their gospel proclamation will help any pastor fulfill the high calling of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Covering a broad range of preaching over the centuries, this resource is the definitive reference for experienced preachers who wish to deepen their own preaching, as well as aspiring students who want to learn from the masters of the past.

Add it to your reading list and soak in this legacy of preachers, letting it inform your own legacy of preaching. If you teach preaching or homiletics, we also welcome you to request an exam copy to see how it could benefit your course and students. Learn more in volume two and the two-book set.

You may also like this related post

A Primer on the Legacy of Preaching: Volume Two (Enlightenment to the Present Day)


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