Here’s an interesting little book: The Imperative of Preaching by John Carrick (Banner of Truth, 2002). Carrick is a professor of theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and teaches on the topic of this book.
The target audience for the book is given away somewhat by the critique he offers of the preaching method of the Redemptive-Historical school within the Reformed/Presbyterian community. In a nutshell, this school sees a minimal role for imperative instruction from the pulpit. Its is not the function of the preacher, so they say, to make the Bible relevant to people. Rather the method seeks to draw people into the text where they see themselves. Carrick rightly asks what this means!
Carrick’s purpose, then is to show what the essential elements of preaching are, and to show how they are used in Scripture. There are four:
- The Indicative: stating the glorious truths of the gospel
- The Exclamative: the use of exclamation to add ‘heat’ to the indicative statements
- The Interrogative: the use of questions to analyse indicatives, or as rhetorical devices, or as a means of searching the hearts of hearers.
- The Imperative: giving instruction to the hearers.
Many examples are given from Scripture of all these elements, as are many from the recorded sermons of well known preachers spanning the time from Jonathan Edwards down to Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It is a pretty thorough approach.
As such the book is a useful tool for analysing how one constructs and delivers a sermon. The danger, as with any book that deals with homiletics, is that one can become formulaic in one’s preparation and delivery without possessing the heart and fire of the gospel. Without this the endeavour of preaching is pointless.
The niggling question I have, though, is one for Carrick’s method. Is it valid to infer from the teaching methods in the writings of Scripture what the nature of the preaching should be? Written records of sermons often do not read very well as writing simply because they should be heard. Similarly, attempting to read a theological book as a sermon will be stilted because it is intended to be read not heard. So, is it possible that Carrick mis-states, possibly overstates, the case for the role imperative in preaching?