Book of the Month/November 2012

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I have read many books on preaching, and this one (The Imperative of Preaching) is now right up at the top of the list. One of the reasons it is up there is that it addresses essential topics that I just don’t see being effectively addressed elsewhere. I’ll explain that in a minute. Here is the Banner of Truth link in case Amazon runs out.

On Goodreads, someone asked what some of my other highly-recommended books would be, so let me get that out of the way first, and then explain why this book carves out an important niche somewhere in the top three.

1. Lectures to My Students/Spurgeon
2. Preachers and Preaching/Lloyd-Jones
3. Lectures in Sacred Rhetoric/Dabney
4. Sacred Anointing/Sargeant
5. Expository Preaching With Word Pictures/Hughes
6. The Imperative of Preaching/Carrick

Different books on preaching focus on different aspects of preaching, all of them important. Hughes’ book deals with metaphor in the work of Thomas Watson, and is really rich. Sargeant’s book deals with the work of the Holy Spirit in preaching, using the ministry of Lloyd-Jones to illustrate it. Lectures to My Students is stuffed full of homiletical horse sense, and so on.

This book, The Imperative of Preaching, is really a grammar of preaching — John Carrick addresses the grammatical structures of pulpit declaration, and no, I am not talking about subject/verb agreement. That’s a separate issue, about which I should write more sometime. There have been times when I have been trying to preach the Word with conviction, when my mind is entirely distracted by three sentences back, and whether I should have said is or are. Another time maybe.


Carrick spends his time breaking out certain grammatical categories, and then illustrating them from Scripture and from the sermons of great preachers (Edwards, Davies, Lloyd-Jones, et al.) Some of the categories are familiar to a lot of preachers (such as the indicative and the imperative). The first three chapters of Ephesians are indicative, and the last three chapters are full of imperatives. Or, as Thomas Watson put it once, God gives us credenda (things to be believed) and agenda (things to do).

But Carrick then surprised me by spending a chapter on the exclamative, and another one on the interrogative. The former would be illustrated by something like “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” And the latter would be something like the Pauline question “where is boasting then?” Carrick spends some time breaking down the interrogative into three categories — the analytical question, the rhetorical question, and the searching question — and gives great examples of each.

The convicting thing about these chapters for me was how it revealed to me that certain purple passages in sermons that I would be tempted to write off as “Victorian” were actually a lot closer to the biblical patterns that I have a tendency to be. These chapters revealed the threadbare elbows in my homiletical jacket, and did so in an enormously helpful way.

He then turned to the imperative, and spends a couple chapters on it. The first chapter was like the previous chapters, giving biblical examples of how scriptural commands were built on, and grew out of, an understanding of the grand indicatives of the gospel. Really helpful stuff.

But then, in his second chapter on imperatival preaching, he dedicates a great deal of illuminating time on the controversy swirling around redemptive/historial preaching and the preaching of exempla from Scripture, and that dreaded bugbear “application.” Carrick is judicious, wise, and balanced. He takes a clear stand against the extremes of redemptive-historical preaching (which is a biblical necessity), but does so in a way that does not write off the saner heads in that particular neighborhood. This was a chapter that shed a great deal of light on a convoluted subject.

Young preachers need to get this book, and master these categories early on. Experienced preachers may well need to jack up their house, and pour this slab under the droopy part of their east wing. This book really belongs in every ministerial training program out there. I don’t know of any other book on preaching that does anything like this. I cannot commend it highly enough.

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