Book review: “Preaching by ear” by Dave McClellan

I received an electronic copy of this book free of charge against a fair review.

There is no doubt that every preacher would agree that preaching is an oral task. Yet, the majority of us preachers rely on a literary style. This helpful little book powerfully argues that we should go back to an oral style, and that a specific method is required if we are to preach in an oral style. The author highlights a few principles from antiquity’s best orators: Augustine, Aristotle and Quintilian.

In the second part, he tries to give a biblical basis for his argument and outlines his own method. He advocates the use of  a sermon map rather that an outline.

It is a helpful book, but not a homiletic manual. The most helpful principle I got from reading this was from Quintilian’s idea of Vir Bonus. The author explains:

The Latin term vir bonus, meaning a man of virtuous character, is perhaps the feature for which Quintilian is best known. For Quintilian, there is no separation of speech and speaker. Who a person is irrepressibly leaks into what is said.31 “We are to form, then, the perfect orator, who cannot exist unless as a good man, and we require in him, therefore, not only consummate ability in speaking, but every excellence of mind” (Institutio oratoria, preface, 9).
For Quintilian, an orator draws deeply upon something as he speaks. It is not the external brute facts of a given case or matter, but the personal grasp a speaker has upon the situation as informed by moral character. The well from which he draws is internal and personal. “I am convinced that no one can be an orator who is not a good man, and even if anyone could, I should be unwilling that he should be” (1.2.3). An unprincipled preacher simply cannot draw deeply from internal resources so as to react to the moment in a grounded way. If the preacher is passing along secondhand truth, the essential connections between mind and mouth are missing.

I thought I would give a go at some of the principles outlined in this book, and decided to preach from a sermon map and not type an outline. I used a sermon I had preached once or twice before, but it worked well. I carefully mapped my thoughts, drawing some of the ideas instead of writing words. I thought it helped me. You may want to have a go at it. here is my map for a sermon on the Flood.

Genese 6 Sermon