The Anatomy of Preaching: Identifying the Issues in Preaching Today

By David L. Larsen
Grand Rapids : Baker (1989). 203 Pages.

Reviewed by
2.2 (Fall 1991) : 210-212

The author, Professor of Practical Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a former pastor of nine years, observes that preachers "need a sharply focused awareness of the key issues facing the pulpit today" (p. 9). Consequently, each of the fifteen chapters of his book "seeks to identify a pressing current issue and to chart a reasonable and prudent course for preachers today" (p. 9).

The author builds his discussion of various issues on a theology of preaching. Beginning with a historical survey of Ezra's rudimentary principle (Ezra 7:10) and practice (Nehemiah 8), he selectively surveys the history of Christian preaching. Several objectives characterize the biblical preacher of all ages: "He keys his message carefully to his audience, his aim is clear (Acts 2:36), he uses a definite arrangement in his argument, and he moves aggressively to his conclusion and application" (p. 16). A brief history of preaching after the biblical era follows.

In the third chapter the author reviews extensive recent research on what the preacher faces as he addresses a congregation. On the one hand, he must not shrink from being counter-cultural in embracing and proclaiming the Bible's message, but on the other, he must be aware of the obstacles to clear and cogent communication. Pulpiteers face an onslaught of opposition: overstimulation, desensitization, enervation, depersonalization, preference for the nonverbal, and confusion all wage war against effective communication. In response, preaching should be pictorial, personal, practical, participative, and pointed.

Other helpful discussions include spirituality, sermon structure, sermon flow, variety, relevancy, creativity, intentionality, manipulation, story preaching, Christocentricity, style, and improved delivery.

Several themes appear sporadically throughout the book. The author's discussion of the relationship between the New Hermeneutic and the New Homiletic warns of the ways Bultmann's influence has affected the preaching process from interpretation to delivery. A second pervasive theme is the requisite commitment of the preacher as a whole person. Spirituality, including the preacher's prayer life, has sadly been omitted from homiletical discussions. Yet personal relaxation and voice care, although lesser issues, are not to be ignored either.

The book is clearly and interestingly written, and offers numerous helpful suggestions, often neatly structured in lists. The volume is indexed at the back by subject and Scripture reference. The author does not pretend to address every issue or any one issue exhaustively, but seeks to stimulate further research and reflection.