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Reading for Preaching [Kindle Edition]

Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

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Book Description

In Reading for Preaching Cornelius (Neal) Plantinga makes a singular claim: preachers who read fine writing will likely become deeper and defter preachers.

In his own winsome writing style Plantinga shows how a general reading program benefits preachers. First, he says, good reading generates delight, and the preacher who enters the world of delight goes with God. Good reading can also help tune the preacher’s ear for language -- his or her primary tool. General reading can enlarge the preacher’s sympathies for people and situations that she or he had previously known nothing about. And, above all, the preacher who reads widely has the chance to become wise.

Though aimed especially at preachers, this beautifully written book will benefit anyone interested in the wisdom to be derived from reading.

Product Description


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. "-- Theology Today" Plantinga invites preachers into the wonderful world of literature as a primary source for homiletical imagination. . . . The benefits of a general reading program for preachers are not simply described but demonstrated with enough detail so that the preacher can actually imagine its practice in a sermon. Preachers will be reminded of the artistic elements of preaching that we tend to forget in the pressing demands of having something to say each week. "

About the Author

Cornelius Plantinga Jr is President Emeritus of Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan. His previous books include Beyond Doubt, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, and Engaging God's World, and his many articles and essays have appeared in such periodicals as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, and The Christian Century.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 841 KB
  • Print Length: 148 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0802870775
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (13 Aug. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #303,518 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  30 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interview with the Author 26 Jan. 2014
By David George Moore - Published on
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.

I lectured about all this at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2012. The book is a revised edition of the lectures. My motive is to draw anybody interested in both fine preaching and fine writing into healthy conversation with storytellers, biographers, poets, and journalists and to profit from the conversation.

Moore: You mention the importance of preachers reading poetry. I like to say poetry is akin to a good cook with turkey dressing. We want tasty dressing, but we also want the cook to put as much of it as possible in a very small space. So poetry compresses as much meaning into as few a words as possible.

Why should preachers read poetry?

Plantinga: I doubt that many congregations are ready to hear poetry recited to them from the pulpit. Poetry that's good is, as you say, really concise, and therefore hard to grasp on a single hearing. For many, it also carries with it a certain air of upper-tier delicacy-maybe almost snobbery. I doubt I've ever included more than a single line of poetry in a sermon.

BUT. The preacher at home who recites a single poem out loud, getting it into the ear as well as the brain, will tune his ear, restock his pond of images, move his heart (trees in November are "bare, ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang"), and see more deeply into the human condition. In one of Jane Kenyon's quiet poems on aging ("In the Nursing Home") a single horse in a corral discovers that, in the night, somebody always moves the fences in. Once the horse had done big graceful loops in the corral, but night by night those fences come in, so that the horse is reduced to tiny circles, and then to none at all. That's aging for you.

Moore: Elaborate a bit on your marvelous insight that "Great writers stretch our sympathies."

Plantinga: I can't help looking out at the world from the two sockets in my own skull. The world looks as it does to me because I am the one looking at it. My outlook contains all my own shortsightedness, bias, bigotry. To have a shot at integrity, empathy, and understanding I need good writers to disturb my biases, to lengthen and widen my worldview, to challenge my bigotries.

Good writers do this all the time. They put a name and a face on a Honduran boy traveling on the tops of boxcars to see his Mama in the U.S. (Sonia Nazario, Enrique's Journey). Nazario does not help the preacher answer all the big questions the U.S. faces on its southern border. But she does pretty much ensure that the preacher never looks at immigrants the same way again.

Moore: I like to find my own illustrations from my own reading so was glad to see you address it. What is the advantage of mining for your own illustrations rather than simply going online or consulting some anthology of illustrations?

Plantinga: I do this for freshness' sake. Anthologized illustrations are, in my experience, either really good and therefore overused, or not really good. But something that pops up at me from my reading is likely to be fresh, and I'll know from experience whether it's going to be as striking to others as it is to me.

Moore: Many pastors complain that they are too busy to do serious study, reflection, and prayer. What is your counsel to them?

Plantinga: I've been ordained for over forty years. I've seen a lot of ministries. There are definitely ministry situations in which, for various reasons, pastors are overworked by merciless congregations. But in other settings pastors busy themselves with details of congregational life that should be done by others. In The Contemplative Pastor Eugene Peterson says at the outset "I (and most pastors, I believe) become busy for two reasons; both are ignoble. I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. . . . I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding for myself."

If a pastor is the main preacher, that is his or her main work. Week by week it is the congregation's single biggest exposure to the pastor's ministry. Both preacher and congregation need to protect the preacher's time to prepare to preach. Things that get in the way, unless they are emergencies, need to be delegated. Contemplative reading of Scripture, study of the text, hard thought about sermon design, conscientious preparation of sermon notes or text, and delivery of the sermon-all these things take serious time.

So does the attempt to become the kind of person who can do these things well. Hence the preacher's ongoing struggle to become wiser, more imaginative, more empathetic, more adept with the language.
This struggle is part of the serious preacher's calling, and fine writers can help immensely.

Moore: You have an extended section on LBJ. Does LBJ have more to teach us about human passions and pursuits than say Jimmy Carter?

Plantinga: I don't know Carter enough to be able to say, but I suspect this fine man may not have enough demons stirring in him to attract someone like Robert Caro.

Moore: Richard Baxter encouraged pastors to use simple and straightforward language. You say "Sermons need to be clear, but they don't need to be obvious." What does that look like?

Plantinga: Clarity of course, because without it nothing definite goes home with the listener. And I'll take obviousness over unclarity. But a clear sermon needn't belabor ("He was blind! He could not see! His eyes were dark!"). In fact, it shouldn't belabor, because belaboring is annoying. Neither does good preaching trade in cliches ("mold the minds of today's youth") or in stale metaphors ("busy as a bee") or preacherspeak (But, you say, "What of the Christ?'").

Good preaching is clean and fresh and clear, but it may also introduce, sustain, and only partly resolve suspense, especially around the great mysteries of the faith. Clarity is then suspended till the sermon resolves (as in a Whodunnit). If not all has been resolved we are at least clear on what has not been resolved. Some of the most anguished questions in the psalms of lament (Why are you so far away? Why do you keep silent?) have no obvious answer and only a foolish preacher would try to provide one.

Moore: If you could wave a wand which made all Christians carefully read, consider, and digest five books outside the Bible, which ones would you pick?

Plantinga: Hundreds of possibilities here. On this Thursday in January I'll say (for classic works) John Milton, Paradise Lost; Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov; one Dickens novel that has a befriended child in it, such as David Copperfield or Great Expectations; Leo Tolstoy, the great short works, but especially including "The Death of Ivan Ilych" and "Father Sergius"; C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity and/or one of the Narnia tales.

But put-off preachers (Milton? Dostoevsky? you kidding?) should be aware that a program of general reading needn't major in history's greatest works, in which you inch along just to make a little progress. In the seminars we read Kathleen Norris, Anne Lamott, Pulitzer Prize-winning articles from newspapers, Norman Maclean, Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Katherine Paterson, Garrett Keizer, Ron Hansen, and many others. They are all accessible, intelligent, and revealing authors. They can handle the language. They can move your heart. And they all have abundant wisdom.

That's all she wrote, David. Thanks for the opportunity.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful Reading To Generate Delightful Preaching 23 Nov. 2013
By Phil Aud - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
“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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really good book for preachers 6 Dec. 2013
By James C. Anderson - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Become a hunter of wisdom. Read this book. 16 Feb. 2014
By Jason P. Burden - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True, deep, and brilliant 15 Feb. 2014
By Docent - Published on
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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