Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dick Bodey, We Hardly Appreciated Thee!

How Shall We Then Learn How to Preach?

An old friend  and I made quick trip to the place of our birth. As you will, when in a car together for almost 10 hours, we talked about many things. But, we both being is the same “business” for 40 years come this summer, and both thinking we know something about the craft, one of first topics was preaching.

We found we shared many of the same observations about the state of preaching today (not so good, but then we ARE old) and many of the same appreciations of the training we had received. It’s good to find how sharp minds so often run along the same lines! However, what follows is to be attributed to this cranky old man, not the other.

How do we learn to preach? I will suggest three ways. Here is the first:

Preaching is taught. Homiletics courses are not so useless as seminarians are inclined to believe. Our primary homiletics professor came from “northern Presbyterianism”, favored “liturgical renewal,” and was a duck out of water in the south. But he was stickler for preaching who communicated to us that preaching was serious business which demanded our best, and that he would. He made us write – prayers and sermons. He drilled us in grammar, and he did such things as give us the first sentence of a paragraph we had to complete or an illustration around which we had to construct a point. He used his red pen generously on manuscripts and his rapier tongue unsparingly on our actual preaching.

He taught us method, a method that seems not so much in favor today, but a method which served us preachers of average gifts quite well and which to my observation would much improve the preaching of men of average gifts today. Sermons were to have: (1) an introduction that drew the listener into the body of the proclamation, (2) several distinct points, shed light on by means of illustrations, and connected by logical transitions, and (3) a conclusion that brought the sermon not just to an end but to a conclusion.  This method was not a straight jacket for the preacher or a grid to impose on Scripture, but a help to showing respect for both the Word and the congregation and an aid to communicating a message from God to his people. It did not imprison preaching; it set the preacher free.

I did not appreciate it in the early years after seminary, but the emphasis on writing and the requirement to produce manuscripts, which were returned in ways guaranteed to deflate the ego, was a blessing. I came to see, that, even if you left the manuscript in the study, the discipline imposed by writing was a great benefit to the preacher and to those he asks to listen.

Writing makes you address these questions: (1) Do I have anything to say? (2) Do I know how to say what I want to say? It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you have something to say and that it will come to you in the preaching how to say it. But writing exposes the emptiness or fogginess of the mind the mind and gives the preacher the chance to fill it or clear it before he shares it with others. Too often preaching can leave the listener asking, Did you have anything to say? What did you say? 

Thank you, Mr. (later doctor) Richard Allen Bodey. You were of a different sort than anything I had experienced growing up in fundamentalist Presbyterianism, and you were under-appreciated, but you knew what you were doing. Though you’d probably not want to claim us, you taught a number of us how to preach.


Joseph Pipa said...

Bill, I agree and in fact incorporate much of Dr. Bodey's pedagogical method at Greenville Seminary. Joey

Anonymous said...

Bill, Gerald says that he would agree if he knew what you & Joey were talking about. He has his own appreciation of Dicky Bodey. Dr. Bodey actually asked Gerald to come & be his assistant in North Carolina.....can you imagine???

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Hey, Anonymous, I remember that story about Bodey asking Gerakld to be his asst. Didn't he think it was Pete Hurst or someone pulling a joke and respond in a flippant way? BTW, John and I the other day also retold the story of Joey and the shoes. BTW DeYoung was at Providence last Sunday.