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Book: Preaching Christian Doctrine

Preaching Christian Doctrine.

William J. Carl III. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984, 167 pp., $8.95.

A theological identity crisis is, according to the author of this book, the most serious problem plaguing the modern church. Since the cause of this plague is lack of Christian doctrinal preaching, says Carl, the antidote is a renewed commitment to such preaching. In this book the author gives a guide to doctrinal preaching that will fill the void left by years of sermons on marginal issues.

Carl defines doctrinal preaching as "Christian preaching grounded in the biblical witness to Jesus Christ; it starts with text, doctrine, or cultural question, but tends to focus on one or more Christian doctrines regardless of its starting point" (pp. 8-9). Chapters 3, 4, and 5 examine these starting points and develop approaches to preaching appropriate to each.

Carl maintains that in order to preach effectively it is important first to identify the nature of the audience one is addressing. However, he admits that this is seldom as easy as it sounds. The audience in a typical mainline church is usually made up of a wide variety of types—from the "never believed" to the "faithful few" to the "fanatical believers." How does a pastor preach Christian doctrine to such a diverse audience? What kind of language should he use? What kinds of images will best express to a contemporary audience the meaning of any particular doctrine?

Carl argues that preaching should ordinarily begin with the biblical text, not with a doctrine or an issue. Following the lead of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Barth, the minister should ex-egete and preach in such a way that the sermon speaks to the heart as well as to the mind. Here biblical theology and redaction criticism, along with the common lectionary based on the Roman Catholic Ordo Lectionum Missae and a series of penetrating questions listed by Carl, can help. In the final chapter of the book Carl also offers three sample sermons (one of them his own) which exemplify this type of preaching.

As one who has been teaching doctrine on the college level for twenty-three years, I found this book excellent and recommend it to all pastors who share Carl's concerns.