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Preaching Adverbially

F. Russell Mitman

Eerdmans, 2018, ISBN 978-0802875587

Review by Liz Shercliff, Director of Studies in the Diocese of Chester, Reviews Editor

<strong><em>Preaching Adverbially</em></strong>

Perhaps it is because I read this book during the early summer that the image it leaves in my mind is of sitting in a sunny garden listening to the reminiscences of a wise and experienced practitioner. Mitman lays out his thesis (that preaching should be verb rather than noun) and his commitments (to the lectionary, despite its shortcomings and omissions). His examples and stories also reveal an unacknowledged love of liturgy. In fact, Mitman’s answer to most preaching ills is liturgical. If you want to make your preaching sacramental, invitational, multisensory, or whatever the way to do it seems always to be ‘place it in the context of a liturgical service.’ So committed is Mitman to liturgy that his comments about ‘free worship’ are dismissive. I found myself unsure as to what Mitman really thinks of preaching, but certain what he believes about liturgy.

The book’s chapters are strung together like a row of pearls, each individually of worth, yet each contributing to the overall effect. The title of each chapter reinforces Mitman’s adverbial point: Preaching Biblically, Preaching Liturgically, Preaching Sacramentally, Preaching Invitationally, Preaching Metaphorically, Preaching Doxologically, Preaching Eschatologically. This adverbial idea sometimes seems clumsy. In Chapter 4, Mitman acknowledges contemporary associations of the adjective ‘evangelical’ and their divisive nature, particularly for certain brands of American-based Christianity. In spite of this consciousness he uses the word in the chapter title, ‘Preaching Evangelically,’ presumably under the impression that among his readers it will work as he intends. In the same chapter, he proposes restoring the word ‘gospel’ as a verb rather than a noun, which left me wondering why he did not just invent a title such as ‘Preaching Gospel-ly.’

This is not a book about preaching, or a how-to manual. It would not serve as an introduction to the art for those new to it. Rather it is a treasure trove of stories, experiences and the fruits of wide reading. It is more a book of ‘why?’ than one of ‘how?’ Attention roves from worship to theology to history and back, so that the sermon is placed in a rich and varied context. The book contains nothing new, yet it is full of authenticity. As a teacher and preacher myself, I found Mitman’s example of continual learning an inspiration.

I commend the book with caution to enthusiastic preachers looking for something to inspire and delight, rather than to instruct.


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