Phillips Brooks’ was considered one of the great “princes of the pulpit” in the nineteenth century. Perhaps his most lasting legacy were his Yale lectures on preaching in which he defined preaching as the “communication of truth through personality.”
Brooks was no pulpit performer. He was a shy man who spoke rapidly, had a stiff delivery style and poor eye contact. Yet he drew the crowds. He was meticulous in his study of the biblical text. He spoke conversationally and had a distinct sincerity and intensity, despite his evident shyness. He cared about his listeners and developed relational bonds with them.
So he was no pulpit performer. He wasn’t trying to sanctify his own style of preaching with a definition when in reality he simply wanted to affirm his own personality. Rather, he was convinced that preaching is a communication act in which a person is involved.
I do wonder whether we all grasp this simple reality. I am not saying that anyone needs to perform or be something they are not. What I am saying is that if the personality of the preacher does not offer something of the gospel, then maybe they should reconsider their passion to preach. That is, you can be shy or extraverted, humourous or serious, loud or quiet, demonstrative or reserved. Be yourself, however…
However, none of these elements of a preacher’s style are what I am concerned with. It is those preachers who preach as if only their declaration of truth matters. They seem not to care if their manner is bombastic, or arrogant, or sarcastic, or sharp-edged, or ungracious, or dour, or harsh. I believe we should all care. These are not issues of personal style. These are issues of personal character. And if the gospel has not marked our character and personality, why are we stepping into the pulpit to preach the gospel to others?
This week I would like to probe some of these issues of character and personality. I am not suggesting we perform, that would be bordering on deceitful. I am suggesting that we have personal and personality integrity. Where we don’t, we undermine the very message we claim to be called to declare.