Book Review: On Preaching, by H. B. Charles
H. B Charles, Jr., On Preaching: Personal & Pastoral Insights for the Preparation & Practice of Preaching. Moody Publishers, 2014. 156 pps. $15.00.
As a pastor and preacher I am always looking for ways to grow in my ability to proclaim God’s Word to God’s people. I also am committed to helping young pastors develop into faithful preachers. So as I came to H. B. Charles, Jr.’s book On Preaching, I came looking for a resource to improve my preaching and pass on to other young preachers. I did not come away disappointed.
First, if you haven’t heard H. B. preach, I encourage you to give him a listen. The brother is a gifted communicator, and having his voice in your head while you read his book will make your reading all the better.
WHAT’S IN THE BOOK
On Preaching is composed of thirty short chapters (4-5 pages) laid out in three sections (Preparation for Preaching, Practice of Preaching, Wisdom for Preaching). This format and Charles writing style makes this book as easy to read as his preaching is to listen to. This book is quotable, tweetable, and most certainly memorable.
WHAT’S TO COMMEND
Here are what I found to be the most helpful ideas from the book.
Finding Time to Study (ch. 3).
I was greatly served by the reminder that “time management is one of the most crucial areas of stewardship in a pastor’s life” (24). As a pastor, I am pulled in many directions during the week. But discipline and self-control are essential qualities for a pastor to exercise if he wants to grow in learning and produce excellent sermons. This chapter gave some much-needed practical advice in this area.
Developing a Sermon Calendar (ch. 4).
Charles rightly acknowledges that “God knows” all things and that “the Holy Spirit can lead just as effectively a year in advance as he can days in advance” (28). I used to think that spontaneity equaled spirituality. But as I’ve grown, I’ve become deeply convinced of how much a preaching calendar serves both my congregation and me. Charles gives clear and practical advice that will help you map out what sermons you hope to preach in the months ahead.
Consecutive Exposition (ch. 10).
One of the great temptations preachers face is to preach on topics they have a particular passion for. While this can be fine from time to time, it’s essential for us to remember that we are servants of the text. H. B. makes this clear when he says “I contend that consecutive exposition—preaching through a book of the Bible from beginning to end—is the most faithful way to preach” (59). This chapter drove home a faithful reminder that God’s Word must be courageously proclaimed, and a commitment to consecutive exposition will help you to do that.
Writing Sermon Manuscripts (ch.18)
The author suggests that pastors “should carefully prepare what you want to say and write it out before you stand to preach” (95). The process of “writing yourself clear” is a practice I have adopted over the past few years. This discipline forces me to wrestle with an idea until I have been able to understand it and explain it in a way others can understand. He gives several helpful tips on how to write a manuscript, regardless of whether you ever use it or not.
High View of the Scriptures.
As H. B. gave exhortations about preaching, I could feel my spirit challenged to trust God’s Word more deeply. Not one chapter in the whole book neglected to point the reader to the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. This was a wonderful encouragement to my soul.
Strong Emphasis on Prayer.
I was also thankful for Charles’ emphasis on prayer throughout the book. Too often we forget that preaching is a divine art that is absolutely powerless apart from the Almighty moving through our feeble efforts. H. B. rightly said that God alone can “transform an indifferent audience into a waiting congregation that is ready to trust and obey the Word of truth” (42). This book graciously stoked the fire of my prayer life.
WHAT’S TO CORRECT
That said, there are a few weakness that, if addressed, would have made the book better.
The flow and repetition.
H. B. says that many of these chapters were formerly blog posts that were turned into a book (10-11). While I think this is a good way to write a book, you could sense there was a lack of flow from one chapter to the next. Along the same lines, there was a good bit of repetition that was helpful on some points (prayer), but also tempted me to skim past portions that came across as needlessly repetitive.
Don’t be a self-conscious preacher.
In chapters 20 and 21, H. B. rightly discourages preachers from imitating other preachers. Instead, he says, it’s better to “just be yourself” when preaching. This is good advice, but I think a chapter could have been given to warn preachers about the dangers of being too self-aware while delivering God’s Word. I can tell if a preacher is aware of himself when he preaches. He will tend to apologize for going too long or will try to crack too many jokes to make sure the church is tracking with him. I would have liked H. B. to address particular dangers at this point in the book and think he missed an opportunity to encourage brothers to be fully focused on Christ and less on themselves.
O Gospel, where art Thou?
From what I know, H. B. loves Jesus. Every time I’ve heard him preach, he preaches Jesus. But this book lacked a strong emphasis on Jesus, the gospel, and the glory of God. Preaching is supremely an act of worship in which a pastor proclaims the glory of God in Christ through the gospel with the hopes that God will transform sinners on the spot. Beholding Christ is the power of our proclaiming! H.B. refers to the Gospel and challenges us to preach Christ (94, 117-118, 123), but these all-important themes felt like assumed realities for the reader. If he were to do a second edition, I would encourage him to use proclaiming Christ through the gospel for the glory of God as the main idea that threads the 30 chapters together.
H. B. Charles, Jr. is a gifted author who gives both young and seasoned preachers some very practical advice about how to grow in being a more faithful preacher. I was edified by his work and plan to recommend it to our interns as a resource for basic preaching ideas. I am grateful for men like H. B. who are committed to seeing the pulpits of our churches filled with godly and faithful preachers. Ultimately, I’m certain this book will be used to that end.