Preaching By Ear

I love this book! I highly recommend it to anyone who teaches or preaches.

As one who began preaching with some regularity only a few years ago I realized rather soon that preparing and writing out a sermon during one's private study in a room is quite different from preaching the sermon before a live audience. The written sermon should be primarily for reading and study, while the preached sermon is for the listening audience, which is live. The author, Dave McClellen, explained this important difference by exploring the art and science of orality from the ancient masters Augustine, Plato, Aristotle and Quintilian. McClellan also explained Preaching by Ear in two introductory videos on youtube: Preach By Ear - What's the problem (2 min) and Preach By Ear - Beginnings (5 min).

Having attended a church for over three decades where the sermon is always read from a written script, I subjectively sensed some limitation without knowing exactly how to explain why. A few years ago, I began experimenting with preaching extemporaneously, and found it to be far more fulfilling and organic for me. McClellan's book helped confirm my suspicions that extemporaneous preaching enables you to connect with your congregation in the moment with unlimited flexibility and vulnerability. On the other hand, reading a prepared script to a live audience is "safer," but more limiting and less able to connect with the audience in the ever changing moment. At least, this was my own experience when I preached by reading from a script with little or hardly any deviation from it.

A significant emphasis from Augustine and Quintilian is that the character and integrity of the orator (preacher) is far more important than the skills he may possess in orally communicating his knowledge. Vir bonus (Latin: a man of virtuous character) is perhaps what Quintilian is best known. For Quintilian, there is no separation of speech and speaker. Who a person is irrepressibly leaks into what is said. "We are to form, then, the perfect orator, who cannot exist unless as a good man, and we require in him, therefore, not only consummate ability in speaking, but every excellence of mind."

McClellen writes, "I've preached sermons where I was funny, even entertaining and very fluent. But my heart was missing. I've covered my lack of heart with humor and stories that are fun to tell. A preacher without deep reflection can hide even in the midst of a passionate delivery. So we have to be mindful that our words and tone demonstrate the deep reflection to which Quintilian refers."

The quotes at the beginning of the chapters also summarizes well each chapter:

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. . . . The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books." C. S. Lewis, "Introduction" to Athanasius, On the Incarnation.

"For no one may benefit another with that which he does not have himself." St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine

"It is not true, as some writers assume on their treatises on rhetoric, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes nothing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary his character must almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses." Aristotle, Rhetoric.

"I am convinced that no one can be an orator who is not a good man, and even if anyone could, I should be unwilling that he should be." Quintilian (35-100 AD), Institutes of Oratory.

"According to our way of thinking you would think the Lord would at least have put off being born until after the invention of printing, that until then there had been no fullness of time, and that he would have secured for himself a few high-speed presses." Søren Kierkegaard.

I received a free copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews on behalf of Weaver Book Company.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Preparing the Preacher
      1.   Something Old, Something New  
      2.   The Wise Preacher: Augustine's Homiletic  
      3.   Baloney: Why We Trust Some Speakers and Dismiss Others  
      4.   Quintilian: A Surprising Preaching Tutor  
Part 2: Developing an Orally Based Model of Preaching
      5.   Why God Is Partial to the Spoken Word  
      6.   Tongue before Text: Introduction to Orality  
      7.   Finding the Sermon That's "Already There"  
      8.   Swallowing the Word: Building a Sermon Inside You  
      9.   Going Off Script: The Internalized Sermon in the Live Room