Review: Preaching with Variety, by Jeffrey Arthurs

Sub-title – How to Re-Create the Dynamics of Biblical Genres.

Arthurs Variety

I hope this book gets the recognition it deserves. This is a power-packed paperback that seeks to stimulate Biblical preachers in developing variety in their preaching through awareness of how the various Biblical genres function. Arthurs offers not only understanding of how the genres do what they do, but also many suggestions on how to reflect their diversity as we preach them.

Arthurs states, “I believe that a sermon’s content should explain and apply the Word of God as it is found in a biblical text, and a sermon’s form should unleash the impact of that text.” (p.13)

Arthurs is not arguing that the form of a text dictate the form of a sermon, even if that were possible. Rather he argues that genre sensitive preaching seeks to replicate the impact of the text. He affirms the great freedom in form available to preachers, and encourages that freedom by presenting the great variety found within the six major Biblical genres.

The first two chapters argue in favor of variety in preaching, firstly because God the master communicator uses such great variety in all His communication – not least in the diverse forms of literature used in His Word, and secondly because our listeners value variety.

The rest of the book deals with six Biblical literary forms: Psalms, Narrative, Parables, Proverbs, Epistles and Apocalyptic. In each case presenting an introduction to the genre, a helpful explanation of the rhetorical devices used to create their impact and numerous helpful suggestions on how to preach the different types of text. The result of these suggestions, if heeded, will be real variety in Biblical preaching.

Arthurs is as much concerned with rightly handling the Biblical forms as he is with prompting variety in preaching. He is urging effective understanding of the rhetorical function of Biblical genre, so that one’s preaching might also fizz with Biblical variety. This is not the definitive book on creative preaching, for there are others that suggest many exciting and bizarre possibilities. However this may well become a model book on interpreting Biblical genre (and in that divinely designed diversity is the shove we all need to vary our preaching!)

So I hope this book gets the recognition it deserves. Thomas Long’s brief paperback on literary forms has been rightly praised as a helpful introduction to the subject of genre studies with some help for the preacher. Arthur’s work may well replace Long’s, for it is a more complete introduction to more Biblical genres from a more definite evangelical stance, with much more in the way of practical suggestion for the preacher.

This book will help you say what the text says, and do what the text does!

(Peter has responded to a comment on this review) 

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2 thoughts on “Review: Preaching with Variety, by Jeffrey Arthurs

  1. Why would I want this book instead of How to Read the Bible for all its Worth? It looks like the same basic idea of paying attention to genre. So how is Preaching with Variety better?
    And I also wonder about what sort of variety is in mind. Is it week-to-week variety? Is this even reasonable? If you are working through a single epistle over a 10 week period what sort of variety remains faithful to the content and keeps the preacher’s and the listener’s interest? For week-to-week variety we are probably talking about sermon patterns (like a software engineer will use a design pattern or a composer will pick out some musical form to express his idea). But genres are not this sort of variety at all.

  2. Fee & Stuart’s How to Read the Bible For All its Worth has become a very popular introduction to the study of hermeneutics. It does give the reader an introduction to the Biblical genre and describes how to begin to study them. It is a helpful book (although, if I’m honest, I find the book a little dogmatic in some areas, such as the strong pushing of one Bible version). Arthurs’ book has a different goal. It seeks to demonstrate the variety of rhetorical methodology used in the different genre and to make suggestions of how to reflect that variety in preaching. Arthurs’ book is written for preachers, Fee & Stuart’s is not. Even in terms of explaining how the different genre do what they do, I feel Arthurs’ book is more effective, and is a more compelling read. The different genre provide variety in patterns of thought, how the thought is expressed, how their purpose is achieved – exactly the kind of variety that can be reflected in a series of messages. Even with a 10-week series from one book, Arthurs’ suggestions for that genre would help the series contain a week-to-week variety that would help the interest levels of both preacher and listener. It is lack of variety that can harm interest levels. Would that variety remain faithful to the content of the text? If it comes from the rhetorical features of the text then it should be very faithful to the text. A sermon should say what a text says, but also do what it does. How would this be possible in a 10-week series from an epistle? Get hold of Arthurs’ book and see what he suggests!

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