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Preaching By Heart: How a Classical Practice Helps Contemporary Pastors to Preach without Notes

Review by Christopher Burkett, Editor

Ryan P Tinetti
Cascade Books, 2021, £17.00. ISBN 978-1-7252-6951-4

<strong><em>Preaching By Heart: How a Classical Practice Helps Contemporary Pastors to Preach without Notes</em></strong>

Who amongst us would challenge the author’s conviction that every preacher must be credible? Surely it is of the essence of our sermonising that we are believable when we speak from the pulpit. That said, Tinetti’s further conviction that that credibility can only ultimately be achieved by not using notes when speaking, is something with which many of us would disagree. For Tinetti, anything that comes between the eyes of the speaker and the eyes of the hearers, puts a negative question against what is being said – no matter how infrequently consulted or carefully utilised is that ‘in-between’ resource.

As an habitual user of a sermon manuscript in the pulpit, Tinetti’s conviction makes me uncomfortable. On the occasions when I have memorised by rote my manuscript, the effort involved, and the anxiety of delivery, have made the labour counterproductive. Yet, I have to admit that I wouldn’t be convinced by a stand-up comic reading from a script, nor an actor delivering a role from a teleprompter – why then do I expect the heartfelt words of eternal life to be deliverable from notes being read?

I have always been in awe of preachers who week by week speak without notes, but the books by them that have promised to teach me a way to do the same have never worked for me. Is this one any different? I have to say, ‘Yes’ it is. And that difference is Tinetti’s masterly application of the method of loci (often called, the memory palace) used by the likes of Cicero, Quintillian, and Augustine.

I say ‘masterly’ because Tinetti avoids reducing the memory palace to a technique to be emulated in the instrumentalist way so prevalent in self-help manuals. Instead, he offers a brief but very clear introduction to rhetorical practice in the ancient world (with lots of summaries, charts, and examples from Augustine). The key is in that word ‘practice’ because for Tinetti the sermon is an event – a practice (something done) that requires lots of practice (rehearsal and design) and happens as people practice (reflect on and live out) their faith together. Preaching by heart is so much more than remembering, and so much less than remembering verbatim. Preaching by heart requires preachers to employ a few rhetorical principles to every aspect of their preparation for the sermon. Internalisation is necessary at every point, not just at the end. We are urged to ‘inwardly digest’ as the old collect has it.

If you want to be clear about those principles and use them yourself, do buy this thoroughly practical book. Does Tinetti’s advice work? Ask me again after Sunday!

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