Homiletics – Just a Practical Subject?

I recently heard a comment I’ve heard at various times and in various forms.  Essentially it was a reference to homiletics as if it were a subject of tips for public speaking, a merely practical subject that may or may not be very important in the curriculum of a training institution.  Tips for speaking, suggestions on sermon construction, it is really just a fringe subject.

While acknowledging that my perspective may be a bit biased as someone who teaches homiletics, I would beg to differ.  In my own experience of seminary training, it was in homiletics that everything converged.

Bible study methods, exegetical training and biblical theology training converged in homiletics.  Finally I discovered how the various elements of fine training coalesced into a coherent whole, with a purposeful goal.  Instead of feeling like Bible study would always be both a joyful privilege and an endless task – with the various potential avenues of study never adequately traveled – I saw the personal and corporate fruit of biblical studies as a whole.

The bar is raised on all subjects by homiletics.  We have probably all heard the old adage that to learn something well you should teach it.  It’s true, having to communicate something verbally to others does stimulate us to learn it at a higher level.  So while we may feel blessed to learn about church history and theology and so on, it is when we seek to bring these things to bear in the lives of others that we ourselves learn at a whole new level.

Spiritual formation and Christian devotion feeds into homiletics, which lies at the heart of church ministry, the focus of God’s work in the world.  The privilege of the preacher is to shepherd souls, it is soul care – both evangelistically and in edification.  This is not mere information transfer, but pastoral ministry in focused form.  There are numerous other fields of pastoral ministry, all of which matter and should be taught, but in some way or other, each feeds something into homiletics.  

In a sense all subjects converge in homiletics.  While some like to say systematic theology is the queen of the sciences, perhaps it is worth considering homiletics as the pinnacle of pastoral and theological education?

Too often homiletics is taught as a little addendum, an almost token seminar in public speaking tacked onto a robust theological education.  Let’s think again about the importance of homiletics – for the sake of the institutions, but much more importantly, for the sake of the church.

3 thoughts on “Homiletics – Just a Practical Subject?

  1. Unfortunately, my experience in seminary was not as good as yours. I was taught homiletics as an addendum, and not even as a practical addendum. It came across as some separate theoretical field without much application or connection to the rest of my studies.

    Since then, I’ve been trying to pull together the practical and theological sides of homiletics on my own. I’m passionate that seminary not just train people to develop a sermon, but that graduates are able to do as you said and bring together all of their education into a powerful communication of the word of God to the people of God for the purpose of transformation into the image of God.

  2. I agree. Great expository preaching and teaching will build great Christians. Topical preaching can be very good but is more subject to falling into the trap of proof texting what we already believe, rather than allowing the Word to tell us what to believe and pracice.


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