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Monday, November 24, 2014

"Preaching by Ear" (Dave McClelland)

TITLE: Preaching by Ear: Speaking God's Truth from the Inside Out
AUTHOR: Dave McClelland
PUBLISHER: Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014, (176 pages).

Preaching is not only about giving a sermon. It is also about preparing the preacher. This two step process is critical, but it needs to begin at the heart. For once, the heart is right, we have one foot firmly on solid ground. As for the other foot, we will need an "orally based model of preaching." This two-part preaching process is taught in this book, with a very intriguing title, "preaching by ear." I have heard of "playing it by ear" by musicians, as a way in which experienced persons "wing it" or let the spirit flow. In social circles, when people say, "Let's play by ear," it can also mean staying flexible to decide the right moves later. More importantly, in preaching by ear, one preaches out of something rich and full "because the preacher and the sermon are inextricably linked," so says Dave McClellan, Pastor of the Chapel at Tinkers Creek in Ohio. With a PhD in Rhetoric and Communications from Duquesne University, McClelland is well equipped to show us how to move sermons from paper into the preacher's heart, and then to the audience. For the author, preaching by ear is a movement from literary sermon to "the orally driven sermon." The former streams off from the written text while the latter springs from the impressed heart. Preaching by ear carries with it an aura of vulnerability and risk. How do we cultivate a heart that leads to the ability to preach by ear?

In Part One, McClelland first looks for teachers and preachers of old, like the Great Augustine of Hippo, whose confidence in the Truth drives him. Preaching is not simply a good expression but conviction. It keeps a constant eye on one's heart to ensure that one is a theologian first, a communicator second. In other words, know the truth, learn the truth, and then share it. From Aristotle, we learn of ethos, the need to be authentic when speaking. Aristotle's rhetoric is persuasive, not manipulative. It relies on credibility, authority, vision, and energy flowing from good reasons. We are reminded that the hardest part is not speaking or giving advice, but to receive and to take that very advice to heart first. We cannot preach by ear if what we preach is not real or living in us prior to our preaching. Other teachers of authentic rhetoric include some very unexpected individuals. Despite Moses' pure oratory skills, God equips him. We can learn of the example of Pontius Pilate's famous question, "What is truth?" as a way in which he became what he spoke of, turning into a "caricature of himself" that basks in self-confidence and pride. Identity is crucial in preaching by ear. From Quintillian, we learn about the three practices of oral competence: 1) fostering curiosity; 2) learning from good speakers and authors; 3) using casual debates to hone skills.

Part Two of the book highlights the importance of verbal communications. In arguing that "God is partial to the spoken Word," McLelland points out the power of the spoken Word, and that The Bible is meant to be spoken and received through hearing. Keenly aware of Walter Ong's classic distinctions of orality and literacy, McClelland shows how Jesus spends more time in orality rather than literacy. I appreciate his "water-ice-water" metaphor to parallel how the Word of God transitions from literacy-orality-literacy. He then sets out to elevate the place of orality  amid a world increasingly dominated by the printed. He summarized the work of the Jesuit priest, Walter Ong who demonstrates the artificial nature of literacy, and that we cannot equate intelligence with literacy. More importantly, we cannot swallow uncritically, lock, stock, and barrel, the benefits of literacy over orality. Despite this distinction, we would still need to find the "sermon in the text." The difference is to learn the original contexts on how the Word was first delivered. One way is to be "bound to the book" by learning to preach large chunks, even books of the Bible. Once found, we can "swallow the Word" and internalize the truths within us. We study the Bible devotionally. We dialogue with the text and let the text disciple us. We converse with the passage orally. We design a road map for remembering the text. We develop a sense of being comfortable with the text. McClelland then highlights the life of an oral preacher, sharing with us his own typical week:
  • Monday: review the passage
  • Tuesday: continue reading and reflection, by letting the text engage himself through the day's activities
  • Wednesday: Prayer and morning walks. Talk with worship leader.
  • Thursday: Sequence ideas. Summarize. Paraphrase. Muse over flow of thought. Know how the passage connects personally
  • Friday: Day off
  • Saturday: Practice
  • Sunday: Take a shower and run through flow of thoughts

For any preacher wanting to learn to preach without notes, this book is a must read. In fact, preaching by ear is a natural development for preachers who want to grow in their preaching. I like the way McLelland first makes a crucial distinction between literacy and orality. It is not downplaying the importance of literacy or the printed material. The world of technology and printed media had already downplayed the importance of oral communications. What is needed is to return orality its credit and its value. This is especially true in an increasingly technological world. Ironically, the way this book is presented to us is through the printed word or the e-medium. Can we really appreciate the power of the spoken Word by simply reading or studying it? Perhaps, we can benefit more by using an audio edition of this very book. Better still, use both.

I remember my preaching professor once told me that it is important to preach for the ear. There is a sharp difference between writing for the eye and preaching for the ear. Perhaps, both McLelland and my professor have pointed to something more important. Preaching is from one's heart to another's heart. The gospel is not about mediums or methods. It is about meaning and manna for the heart. There is a difference between good preachers and God's preachers. The former can utilize the best rhetorical skills or humanly enabled devices to deliver great messages. Only the latter can move hearts. Those who are able to preach by ear are first touched by the Spirit of God and taught by the Spirit of God. They would then be empowered to tear down the walls of darkness and let God's truth shine through and through. Pray for more to be God's servants, not merely good services.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Weaver Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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