Writing for the Ear, Preaching from the Heart
by Donna Giver-Johnston
Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2021, £13.99
This book is an argument for a particular method of preaching. Giver-Johnston sums it up halfway through the book as ‘…an extemporaneous method in which the sermon is carefully written, for the ear, but delivered orally without notes or text.’ (p 67). The structure is quite simple; the first two chapters build a case for the method and the last two chapters give lots of advice about how to do it. As this is a preaching method the author has used for many years there are lots of examples and anecdotes along the way. Packed into the short 127 pages is also one of the best overviews of preaching theory I have read. It is worth buying the book just for that.
It took me a while to get into the spirit of this argument. At first, I thought it was because of my scepticism about preaching without notes. As I read more, I realised it was because I was having to do some heavy lifting work of cultural translation. My sense is that the argument that you write a sermon to be heard, rather than as an academic text on a page, is already won in the UK. We write and we speak, with or without notes of various kinds, in order to be listened to. This difference made some of the book heavy going, not least the bits about the theology of communication as incarnational. Furthermore, some of the practical advice needs some translation. I can’t imagine being able to get into any UK church three hours before the service to spend an hour by myself rehearsing a sermon!
Having said that, this is a great book for some really helpful advice about writing, but more importantly about how to embody and perform a sermon in order to connect people with the hints of the divine that you have encountered during your preparation.
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