Michael W. Casey, Saddlebags, City Streets, & Cyberspace; A History of Preaching in the Churches of Christ, (Abilene;ACU Press) 1995. 210 pp.
Michael Casey provides the churches of Christ with an historical volume of a different genre from most other Restoration History texts. One would expect that in a fellowship that focuses much attention on preaching in our worship, there would be multiple volumes discussion the development and style of our gospel preaching.
Casey develops preaching and advises his reader to realize that preaching is a living representation of a living message that will always change and adapt as people change and adapt within their environment. According to Casey’s research, styles of preaching reflect not only the environment of the audience, but to a large extent the culture of the preacher. As evidence of the adaptability of preaching, Casey points the reader to observe the change in Alexander Campbell. He notes that Campbell made observed a change in sermon he preached ten months prior to crossing the Atlantic. Campbell changed his preaching from a stoic recitation / reading to a more extemporaneous style for the American Frontier (p 19-20). Early in the book, Casey warns that preaching, no matter the style or cultural form, must be faithful to the message of the Gospel.
Campbell, even while preaching more extemporaneously, preached from a Baconian (Rationalistic) style. This style grew out of Thomas Reid’s ideas of Common Sense, which states that every rational individual will come tot he correct answer if given the correct facts. American Rationalism an adaptation of Scottish Realism had four principal elements: (1) enthusiasm for natural science, (2) strict empiricism, (3) a love for inductive reasoning, and (4) the celebration of Frances Bacon as the father of inductive science (p 25-26). Out of this rational approach grew the tradition of debates. The assumption of those debating is that if Common Sense is common then fact presented to a reasonable audience will convince them of the Truth.
Casey then gives descriptions of various styles of preaching and gives examples of those using these styles. he describes T. B. Larrimore as an example of a Narrative Preacher. He discusses the influence of N. B. Hardeman and his Tabernacle Sermons on Evangelism and Campaign Preaching. Casey assigns the genre of “Scholarly Tradition” to those who delve into Historical Criticism, specific exegesis, and general application. Many early proponents of this Scholarly Tradition were the professors and leaders at various Christian Colleges and Universities. To Casey, those that preach “Jesus Centered” lessons are Evangelical in tradition.
Casey concludes asking, “What’s next?” In this age of mass communication, we have very little reason to think that preaching will always remain the same. If in the past, preaching evolved as Casey aptly describes, in this age of ever changing technology preaching will adapt, and should as long as preaching remains true to the Gospel message. Casey recommends a shift or “reconnection of the academic discipline of rhetoric with homiletics” (p 199).
Seemingly, Casey blames much failure on the Rational Tradition for weaknesses in the Restoration Movement. He also admits that each “tradition” has its own problems. The emphasis then remains that the message is more important than the method of presentation.
In the intervening decade and a half since publication of Casey’s book technology has impacted preaching. Additional material discussing “PowerPoint Tradition” and even the influence of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter on preaching would be a welcome appendix. I would personally like to see and evaluation of the methods of Paul, Peter, Stephen, and especially Christ. As 21st Century Restorers, we can still learn much from these great men of the past and those that followed them.
Preach the Truth, no matter what!