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Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists Paperback – November 30, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

To the preacher's weekly challenge of needing "something intelligent to say on an intimidating list of topics raised by biblical texts," Plantinga, systematic theologian and former president of Calvin College, presents practical and spiritual motivation for cultivating a habit of sophisticated reading. Contending that preachers have as much to learn from Victor Hugo, Robert Frost, and Thomas Friedman as from Augustine, Calvin, and Barth, Plantinga argues that such exposure not only tunes the preacher's ear and offers choice sermon illustrations, but aids in the pursuit of wisdom. Urging caution with illustrations to avoid emotional manipulation, and careful consideration of congregational context and one's own pastoral identity, he reviews excerpts from sermons of well-known preachers, examining the "attentiveness and reverence" of Barbara Brown Taylor's writing; Will Willimon's use of "a single, quotable line"; and William Sloane Coffin's clever quip at Yale, which might have flopped in a different setting. Plantinga's sympathetic understanding of the preacher's "daunting task," combined with his concrete guidance for enhancing homiletic skill, makes this a valuable resource for new and veteran preachers alike.

Review

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society
“This slim volume, like the book of Proverbs, packs a lot of wisdom -- insight for skillful living in the fear of God -- into a few pages. . . . Plantinga’s own prose delights the reader as much as the dozens of passages he quotes from luminaries like Tolstoy and Steinbeck.”

Christian Century
“Concise, thoughtful, provocative and engaging, this is a book we preachers should read.”

Preaching (Survey of the Year’s Best Books for Preachers)
“Preachers will find tremendous wisdom and insight from reading Plantinga’s short but very potent treatise on the preacher and reading.”

Christianity Today
“A marvel of concision, blunt good sense, sharp insight, and intellectual generosity. Buy one yourself and one for your pastor.”

Sharing the Practice
“Plantinga’s selections are rich in humor, satire, delight and carry the reader into some powerful times, places and events. This book would be a good resource for ministers to use in discussion groups or in personal study. For the preacher looking to escape the ‘dry days’ and dull preaching, this book offers a challenge to revitalize one’s preaching.”

Theology Today
“Invites preachers into the wonderful world of literature as a primary source for homiletical imagination. . . . This book offers a concise argument for the necessity of preachers to engage in conversation with great writers. . . . The permission to read, to schedule reading in one’s weekly tasks, and to take reading seriously, will be another great joy of this book.”

Presbyterian Outlook
“In this book are found riches from novels, short stories, poems and essays that will enrich any preacher’s art. That is one of the many delights of this book. One is treated to insightful commentary on a delightfully wide range of reading that demonstrates how the great skill of the authors can be learned by preachers who are seeking to announce the presence of God and move the human heart. . . . After all these years, I have again found a source for deepening my own reading that may in turn deepen my preaching.”

Richard Lischer
-- author of Stations of the Heart and The End of Words
“Cornelius Plantinga’s Reading for Preaching represents the gift of a lifetime. Plantinga has spent many years mapping great fiction, poetry, biography, and journalism. In this book he shares that map with technologized, digitalized, busy preachers who badly need what he has to offer. This is not a guide to ‘pretty sermons,’ as Niebuhr called them, but to human, deeply textured reflections. . . . I can’t imagine a preacher who will not benefit from this gift.”

Walter Brueggemann
-- author of The Prophetic Imagination and Truth Speaks to Power
“Two matters are unmistakably clear in this book. First, Plantinga loves words, phrases, sentences, and stories. He remembers them, relishes them, and knows their durable power. Second, Plantinga cares about ministers. He knows the burdens and wonders of ministry, and treats preachers with deep respect. . . . Preachers will find in these pages a colleague and fellow traveler who exudes courage and pathos and joy in our common calling.”

Thomas G. Long
-- author of The Witness of Preaching and What Shall We Say?
“With wit, wisdom, and a fresh supply of his own compelling prose, Cornelius Plantinga invites us into the whitewater adventure of good reading. He speaks directly to preachers, to those who bear the load of weekly sermons and who wonder where they can find language that bristles with energy and faithful imagination. But he also gathers in all Christians who hunger for the old words of the faith -- sin, hope, salvation, providence -- to come alive in the vibrant metaphors, rich stories, and telling insights of great literature. This book is about delightful reading, and it is itself a delight to read.”

John Ortberg
-- author of If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat
“Jesus once said we are to love God with all our mind -- I know of no one who does this better than Neal Plantinga. He seems to be incapable of crafting an uninteresting or unedifying sentence. To be able to learn from him how to stock a mind for greater preaching is beyond price. Whatever this book costs, it’s not enough.”

Publishers Weekly
“Plantinga’s sympathetic understanding of the preacher’s ‘daunting task,’ combined with his concrete guidance for enhancing homiletic skill, makes this a valuable resource for new and veteran preachers alike.”

John Buchanan
-- editor/publisher of The Christian Century
“Reading is the necessary backdrop to relevant twenty-first-century preaching. There is no shortcut or substitute. When the gospel and the preacher’s personal faith and experience are informed by wide, disciplined, varied, and sustained reading, lively and compelling sermons will be the result. Cornelius Plantinga, an avid and creative reader himself, provides the community of preachers with a very valuable resource and the impetus for all of us to read, read, read.”

Lillian Daniel
-- author of When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough
“Why don’t preachers read more? Preachers are writers who produce more content each week than the average newspaper columnist. Why don’t we ravenously read in order to feed the beast of each Sunday’s deadline? The truth is that a million pressing callings invade the small space that pastors reserve for reading. And so I give thanks for the deep reading that Cornelius Plantinga has done over the years, and for this gentle guide to words that are worth reading.”

Fleming Rutledge
-- author of And God Spoke to Abraham: Preaching from the Old Testament
“This treasure of a book by Neal Plantinga offers substantial help to a generation of young preachers (and older ones too) who have not fully grasped the importance of furnishing the mind with great literary writing. . . . Plantinga is discerning, witty, humane, up-to-date, and profoundly pastoral. I urgently recommend this ear-opening book to a host of readers -- including not only preachers but also those who listen to preaching, for they will be enlarged by it as well.”

Kevin J. Vanhoozer
-- editor of Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible
“This beautifully written gem of a book admirably fulfills its sign function by pointing not at itself but at the thing it is about -- other people’s books. Plantinga makes as good a case as I have come across for the importance of reading many books to enrich the preaching of the Christian’s one book. Here is no recipe for pretty preaching, which only distracts from the biblical message, but rather a discerning call to ‘Take, read’ and more effectively minister God’s word.”
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 136 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (November 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802870775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802870773
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
Here is my interview with Plantinga. I have read one of the author's other books. He is insightful and knows how to get at the nub of an issue.

Moore: What was the motivation behind writing this book?

Plantinga: I've been convinced for years that the assignment to get up weekly before a significantly mixed audience, to address it on topics of final significance, and to do so in a way that really engages-I've been convinced that, soberly assessed, this assignment is daunting. As far as I can tell, it's also unique. So, ten years ago, when colleagues at Calvin College invited me to host a summer seminar on "Imaginative Reading for Creative Preaching" I jumped at it.

Here's the idea: the Sunday preaching assignment is daunting: the preacher needs to read Scripture intelligently, to read the congregation empathetically, to imagine a nifty design for a sermon, to write and speak the sermon engagingly, to center everything where the gospel centers, namely at the intersection of human sin and divine grace, and to do all this afresh every week to the same audience.

The preacher is going to take all the help he can get. General literature is one of the helps. It tunes the preacher's ear for language, which is his or her first tool. It moves the preacher's heart. Above all, it tends to make the preacher wiser about sin and grace, about God and evil, about hope and longing, about beauty, and all the rest of the topics that come up in Scripture.

So for ten years I have co-hosted seminars for preachers in which we read novels, biographies, poems, and essays, always asking why the preacher wants to read whatever we're reading. Then we point out acute beauties of language, wonderful bursts of empathy, deep pieces of wisdom. Some of it rubs off.
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“Good reading generates delight” says Plantiga. If that is the case, then this book was clearly a good read. Hopefully it should be taken for granted that preachers should be readers, most homiletics classes will teach you this much, at least. However, what kind of reader should the preacher be? Plantinga presents a case against those who only read theology. Perhaps that last phrase is misleading, for it’s not a ‘case’ in the sense of an argument, but a case in the sense of inspiration. Regardless, you leave this book feeling like you need to read more novels, biographies, poetry, and even children’s books. Plantiga makes it clear that it’s not just quotes or information that the preacher will glean, but new eyes with which to see the congregation and the world. What’s incredible about this book is that it’s words are as moving as the books that it describes. Plantinga writes succinct beautiful little phrases like, “Maugham tells us preachers about old sins in young people…”. “Old sins in young people,” a simple little phrase, but one that holds a lot of weight. Part of this books beauty is that it doesn’t just explain, it demonstrates. You also begin to learn the deep wisdom that Plantiga possesses. In chapter 4, he lays out five and a half pages of questions the preacher feels, or should feel, when she stands up to preach. You feel the weight of preaching again. You feel the weight, and delight of reading again.

There is plenty of practical information here, but also much, much more. I hope that this book makes into many preachers hands, and becomes required reading in homiletics classes.
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This book should be required for all seminarians, and probably for all ordained preachers. It lays out very clearly the rewards of a wide and varied reading program; and by implication, it lets preachers know what happens when they don't pay attention to their preaching language. I preached for 41 years and retired a year ago. I wish I had had this book at the beginning of my ministry.
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I was excited to stumble across this volume recently. Several years ago I attended a Creative Reading for Imaginative Preaching conference with Cornelius Plantinga and Hulitt Gloer. I enjoyed the conference as much as I enjoyed Reading for Preaching.

As a preacher, I need encouragement from my peers to browse among the great works of literature outside the commentaries and theology books that fill a preacher's bookshelves. Plantinga not only takes you directly to those great works, but he shows you what to look for when you get there to assist your preaching.

Sin and Grace, Fall and Redemption, and Salvation are illustrated for us in almost everything we read. An alert preacher will see and learn from the best ways they are communicated. Plantinga is an excellent reading companion as we search for ways to bring the Gospel to life from the pulpit Sunday by Sunday.

I'm glad to have Reading for Preaching as a resource and I highly recommend it to preachers who are serious about improving their craft.
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The gold standard for books about preaching. Rev. Plantinga uses his decades of experience in the pulpit to craft a wise, funny, and clearly written piece about the value of reading for pastors, the challenges of writing sermons for a diverse congregation, and much more. Reading for Preaching will appeal not just to those in the ecumenical arena but to anyone who appreciates fine writing. This book is alive. Way to go, Dad.
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