Review: Preparing Expository Sermons, by Ramesh Richard

Sub-title: A Seven-Step Method for Biblical Preaching

Sub-sub-title: The Scripture Sculpture Method

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Ramesh Richard teaches preaching at Dallas Seminary as well as around the world in a noteworthy international ministry.  His cross-cultural training and ministry experience gives his book a good level of sensitivity to preaching in various settings and cultures. 

As a student and successor of Haddon Robinson at Dallas, there is a clear mark of Haddon’s influence throughout.  This book is a good introduction to sculpting sermons and is worth reading.  However, for reasons noted below, I would place others higher on my list of best introductions to the subject.

The book itself is short, 140 pages before the appendices.  It is nice to read a concise work, but at times the writing feels slightly overwhelming, with one example or teaching element after another.  Richard takes the reader through seven steps of sermon preparation.  The steps make good sense and are similar to the seven stages I use on this site (main differences in stages 1, 6 and 7).

Throughout the book I found strengths, and usually a “but” as well.  For instance, in stage 2 the focus is on the structure of the text.  This chapter is great at demonstrating content cues and structural markers in a text, but it is almost exclusively focused on individual verses.  By having one verse on a page, as suggested, it is harder to focus on the flow of thought in a “chunk” of text.  On several occasions Richard suggests handling the Bible one paragraph at a time, but there seems to be little attention given to narrative texts that may need multiple paragraphs for a whole plot.  In fact, even in the appendix that deals with narrative texts specifically, the idea of “plot” is strangely absent.

Probably the strongest step in the process is the fourth step, the purpose bridge.  This stage links the Bible study to the stages of sermon formation.  As far as Richard is concerned, the author’s purpose influences the process sufficiently in the Bible study stages of 1-3, so that now at 4, the preaching purpose is the only concern.  I would suggest the author’s purpose must be specifically discerned, rather than assuming it will be discovered in the Bible study process provided, and the author’s purpose should be the starting point for the modern preacher (who obviously can and will sometimes select a differing purpose for the contemporary audience).

Richard is essentially very deductive in approach.  He allows for inductive sermon shapes, but it seems that each major point in any sermon should follow a deductive pattern with the stating of the point up front.  This feels a little rigid.

The final 60 pages of the book are given to 13 appendices.  These deal with issues that regularly come up in Scripture Sculpture seminars around the world.  Strong appendices include one on the Holy Spirit’s role in preaching (a regular concern when people formally interact with the process for the first time), and another on understanding your audience (brief, but with some helpful comments on differing cultures).  On the other hand, several of the appendices are relatively weak and have the feel of an information dump for things that didn’t fit in the text of the book.  Appendix 5 on principilization contains non-stop warnings, but does little to instruct the reader how to avoid the pitfalls.  Appendix 10 provides a sample sermon introduction, but I would assume this sermon was for seminary students, since the language used seems a little lofty for a typical church congregation – omni-function, self-deification, apokalypsis.

For people wishing to have a book that gives a detailed step-by-step process for sculpting a sermon from an epistolary text, this would be a decent option.  For those who, like me, are perpetual students of preaching, then this does contain much to commend it.  Yet as a practical introduction to expository preaching, I would recommend others, such as Robinson and Sunukjian, above Richard.  

(Ramesh Richard also has a book on preparing evangelistic sermons, which I suspect would be a very worthwhile read.)

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