As those who preach, we have a whole raft of subject areas worthy of our study. Central, in my estimation, is the ongoing engaged and dynamic personal study of Scripture. We also must be studying the people to whom they preach, what they struggle with, their life experiences, how they think, etc. Then there are numerous other areas of study, some of which might motivate you to buy books and read, others of which might only serve to cure insomnia. But what about the subject of the history of preaching?
I know some reading this are avid readers of biography, church history and even preaching history. I am also sure that some are definitely not. Here’s a brief quote on the subject from David Larsen, writing in the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society:
The history of preaching can encourage our hearts (as in the providential appearance of significant Biblical preaching in the most unlikely places and at the most unexpected times) as well as warn us about the perils and pitfalls which surround the practitioner of the craft at all times. Our times call for the wise and judicious balance which attention to history provides.
So for those less inclined to the history of preaching, where to start? There are several (often multi-volume) series of books that address the subject directly. Yet in many cases they, like most historical writing, tend to focus in one area, but remain blind to another. Perhaps the best place to start is with biography of a preacher you find intriguing or encouraging – a Spurgeon, Sibbes, Luther or Edwards. Perhaps it would be worth getting David Larsen’s A Company of Preachers and starting there.
One thing seems clear though, to ignore the past would be naive and might condemn us to repeating errors unnecessarily, or perhaps to leave our hearts weakened by missing the blessing offered by some of these great preachers.
(Here is an accessible starting point – take a look at this introductory article to Richard Sibbes that was just posted over on theologynetwork.org – click here)