“As One Without Authority” by Fred B. Craddock (A Book Review)

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517ey9mr7hl_aa240_.jpg Craddock, Fred B. As One Without Authority. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001. 160 pp. $18.99.

“That there is in our time a language crisis, a general experience of the loss of power of words, is all too evident. Needless to say, this means a crisis in preaching” (7). So says Dr. Fred B. Craddock, the author of the book As One Without Authority. Craddock serves as the Bandy Professor of Preaching and New Testament, emeritus, at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.

Craddock believes that preachers “must be in conversation with the issues of its own time and the voices that address those issues” (viii). He seeks to provide a method for contemporary preachers and pastors to connect to the pressing issues of the day, issues that the majority of parishioners deal with on a day-to-day basis. He rings the death knell of propositional, deductive preaching, holding and hailing an inductive method of preaching.

Summary

Craddock divides his volume into three parts. In Part I, he seeks to analyze the present situation of the evangelical pulpit in America. He lays the groundwork for the entire book by denouncing the problematic nature of deductive preaching which uses propositions, logical sequence, and three-point outlines in favor of a more fluid, conversational tone — even a conversational sermon where the congregation participates.

In Part II, entitled “A Proposal on Method,” Craddock advocates the preacher using inductive preaching as his particular mode of communication. He believes that the preacher should start with the experiences of the listeners and then move them to their own discovery of truth. In this way, the listeners are more able to arrive at their own application, since the preacher has connected with each listener’s personal collection of images and experiences. In understanding how the preacher could easily move toward conversation in the pulpit without preparation in the study, Craddock outlines methods to show how to maintain unity and structure with this inductive method.

The concluding part of this work contains five appendices. In the first appendix, Craddock outlines the process of crafting the sermon. The remaining four appendices are sermons crafted by Craddock himself that demonstrate the model put forth in this book into practice.

Soundbites

  • Younger ministers are keenly aware of the factors discussed above, and their preaching reflects it. Their predecessors ascended the pulpit to speak of the eternal certainties, truths etched forever in the granite of absolute reality, matters framed for proclamation, not for discussion. But where have all the absolutes gone? The old thunderbolts rust in the attic which the minister tries to lead the people through the morass of relativities and proximate possibilities (13).
  • • Offering slang and fashionable jargon as “renewed” preaching, celebrating the secular embrace of certain Christian symbols … or reducing the gospel to the lowest common denominator of acceptable faith and ethic will hardly be received by a serious world as adequate penance (19).
    • Language is, therefore, not only the supreme event of human existence, but the very being of humanity is founded in language. In short, humanity is a conversation (31).
    • If … the preacher is to communicate in such a way that the congregation can hear what she has heard, she will not be satisfied to reduce the sights and sounds of her experience to points, logical sequences, and moral applications. She will fervently desire to recreate that experience and insight; she will seek to reflect it, not simply reflect on it (63).
    • The most important single contributing factor to consistently effective preaching is study and careful preparation … because the method [of inductive preaching] itself can so easily degenerate into casual conversation with the congregation (79).
    • How one communicates comes across to the hearers as what one communicates, and they receive very clear impressions of what the speaker thinks of himself, his text, his sermon, his congregation, and the world. There is no avoiding the fact that the medium is a message, if not the message (114).

    Critical Summary

    Craddock’s work remains a popular volume on preaching in many evangelical circles. One understands his desire to minister to the present generation with the Word of God by evaluating the current condition of American pulpits. Fewer and fewer attend church with each passing generation, and Craddock is right to look primarily at those who are responsible for shepherding the flocks.

    While Craddock nobly seeks to make the sermons more understandable to the modern culture, he goes too far in looking first to the culture to determine the content of the sermon itself. He notes of a “current sag in the pulpit [which] is the loss of certainty and the increase of tentativeness on the part of the preacher” (11). With the culture shying away from any perceived authoritative figure, preachers tend to compensate so as not to offend. This reliance on the congregation’s perception of the sermon is overstated.

    Rather, Craddock believes the key to contemporary preaching is for sermons to cease being exclusively one-sided. He believes the congregation should have some part in the preaching process. While preaching in some degree is a community experience, boundaries do exist — yet Craddock seeks to move the boundary markers more toward the congregation and away from exclusively the preacher. “Without question, preaching increases in power when it is dialogical, when speaker and listener share in the proclamation of the Word” (18). “Without question”?

    Secondly, the preacher will find value in certain aspects of Craddock’s model of inductive preaching. Rather than starting with a particular truth and moving to particular applications (deduction), Craddock believes that starting with the listeners’ experiences and moving them to the biblical propositions would reach more people, especially those in Western culture. He notes:

    Anyone who preaches deductively from an authoritative stance probably finds that shared experiences in the course of service as pastor, counselor, teacher, and friend tend to erode the image of authority. Such preachers want protecting distance, not over exposure. However, these common experiences, provided they are meaningful in nature and are reflected on with insight and judgment, are for the inductive method essential to the preaching experience (49).

    Yet, Craddock implies that a preacher cannot be transparent in relating to his parishioners’ experiences, yet still relay propositional truth. The preacher is not the ultimate authority, but what authority he has is found in the God-given Scriptures from whom that authority derives.

    He conveys that the listener is the ultimate arbiter of whether a sermon is of value or not. This mindset is troublesome. For instance, in the same chapter as the quote from above, he gives a reason for stressing inductive preaching: “If it is done well, one often need not make the applications of the conclusion to the lives of the hearers. If they have made the trip, it is their conclusion, and the implication for their own situations is not only clear but personally inescapable” (48-49). While he rightly presents the fact that the ultimate responsibility for one’s Christian walk lies not with the minister but with the listener, his rationale falls apart. He understands how Western/American culture has difficulty in thinking in a Christian worldview in which propositional truths are processed (implying they need help in this area), he then questions why a minister would want to come along and concretely and objectively help them in properly applying the Word to their lives.

    Though Western culture is most certainly image-driven rather than word-driven, this trend is not necessarily a good trend that preachers should feed. Craddock would do well to remember the doctrine of fallen humanity. The very members of his audience look through the lenses of their own depravity. The experiences and images are quite subjective, and therefore tinged by sin and self. Deductive preaching that begins with the clear, objective propositional truths of Scripture that serve as anchors in the midst of the minds of cultural subjectivity.

    Pastors would take offense to a particular statement that truly sums up Craddock’s not-so-veiled attempt to decry the deductive method of preaching, he propounds that preachers lack academic respectability because of their use of this method in the modern and postmodern age. While he does not advocate a speech teacher to teach preaching in seminaries, he continues:

    And, of course, when preaching is taught by a pastor, retired or active, the course suffers, deservedly or not, from that particular brand of harsh laughter reserved by students and faculty for that which lacks academic respectability. As a natural consequence, preaching continues for another generation as “a marginal annoyance on the record of a scientific age” (5).

    The general nature in which Craddock refers to the majority of preachers does not help his credibility in addressing the so-called ills of deductive preaching. While his concerns may have some legitimacy, to paint such a broad brush stroke over pulpits and seminaries alike is irresponsible. The “thin diet of fond memories” (4) in which he accuses the church of living in perpetuating this method of preaching may well continue for a reason.

    Craddock’s propensity to direct intentionally the book toward the female minister is particularly disturbing. One could forgive this indiscretion if he provided more balance — yet he exclusively refers to the ministers that he describes with the feminine gender. Given how this book seeks to reach the broadest base of ministers and lay leaders possible, Craddock conveys an agenda which seems more reactionary to conservative evangelicalism which clearly (and biblically) holds to male spiritual leaders in favor of a more liberal mindset in addressing and acknowledging only female ministers. While many in various evangelical circles laud this book (even desiring a second edition), he loses a major marketing base by such a transparent and disappointing agenda that distracts from the message he wishes to convey.

    Conclusion

    Regardless of the reception of this book both at the time of its original publication and now, I could not recommend this book to fellow preachers. If I did, I would only recommend this book to show the problematic nature of listener-oriented, exclusively inductive preaching. For a more balanced work, I would recommend Preaching with Bold Assurance by Hershael York and Bert Decker. This work seeks to help the preacher with engaging exposition which seeks not only to touch the listeners’ minds but also to touch their hearts as well. Craddock laments that not enough preaching is relevant for audiences, but blames deductive preaching. Deductive preaching need not be irrelevant preaching. York’s book clearly demonstrates this.

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