Preaching with Variety

Jeffrey D. Arthurs. Preaching with Variety: How to Re-create the Dynamics of Biblical Genres. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 2007. 239 pp. $15.99

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Jeffrey Arthurs’ (associate professor of preaching and communication at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) addition to Kregel’s “Preaching with” series strives to empower preachers to best communicate the various genres of Holy Writ. In Preaching with Variety, Arthurs posits that “we should be biblical in how we preach, not just what we preach” (13). In order to define what preaching in a biblical manner looks like, Arthurs explores the biblical authors’ usage of psalms, narrative, parables, proverbs, epistles, and apocalyptic literature – seeking to emulate the dynamics of the various genres.

Arthurs believes that preachers should preach with variety for two distinctive reasons: the text uses variety, and our hearers will respond best to a variety of preaching styles. He writes that God uses various genre in Scripture because, “God is both an artist and a persuader” (23). For Arthur’s purposes, then, Holy Scripture was breathed out by God and written down by men carried along in the Spirit over the course of 1400 years because God is artistic and has an appreciation for the frilly things in life, and somehow, those frilly things best persuade men to action.

Critique

Though built on what one might consider a weak premise, the book still carried great promise as a preacher’s help utilizing the various biblical genres in sermon delivery. However, one might argue that Arthurs takes his recommendations too far. Rather than merely providing illustrative helps or considerations, Arthurs goes so far as to suggest that pastors should feel comfortable preaching in an assortment of methods and shapes – including third-person and even first-person narrative. Narrative preaching, however, removes the emphasis from the text itself and places it on the storyteller by devaluing the actual words of Scripture. Though Arthurs states otherwise, this cannot be termed expository preaching. [1]

Expository preaching must deal with the words of the text. Arthurs – like Robinson who pens the forward to his book – shows little concern for God’s words as he instructs preachers to communicate God’s Word with variety. One appreciates his desire to protect congregations from dry, lifeless preaching, but mourns his abandonment of the text itself en route.

God has revealed himself in Scripture, in which He has breathed out the very words on the pages. Should any preacher cease proclaiming and explaining God’s words and use their own words – or even their own parables or paraphrases – to communicate what they perceive to be the major thrust of a passage, they have abandoned their post and opted for a task other than preaching. You may call it making a speech or storytelling, but you cannot call it preaching.

Again, all of his suggestions would serve the reader well in the context of illustrating the sermon, but he repeatedly rejects the notion that there is such a thing as proper sermon form. One can only interpret his suggestions, then, not as potential means of illustration, but as the manner in which he believes pastors should preach entire sermons.

An old proverb states that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Arthurs’ Preaching with Variety offers a plethora of different tools for preachers to place in their homiletic toolbag, however, he fails to give the reader the most important tool of all – the discernment as to the proper time and place of using his new toys.

Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Preaching with Variety: How to Re-create the Dynamics of Biblical Genres


1. In suggesting preachers, “stretch a bit to preach epistles in other ways that are faithful to form as well as content,” he assures his readers that they are capable of this, “because we are expository preachers” (165). One can certainly preach expositionally and not be bound by the classic “three points and a poem,” but one cannot legitimately consider himself an expository preacher and yet treat the text as carelessly as does Arthurs.

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