By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist seminary professor says Fred Craddock, one of the most influential preachers in the last half century who died March 7 at age 86, was “dead wrong” in his fundamental assertion that good preaching should start with the hearer rather than the text.
Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., said in a blog March 9 that Craddock’s seminal 1971 book As One Without Authority helped set the stage for modern preaching that has been described as “a mild-mannered man encouraging mild-mannered people to be more mild-mannered.”
Allen, 38, won the Clyde T. Francisco Preaching Award at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. — where he earned both his master’s and Ph.D. degrees and served both on faculty and administration before his election as Midwestern’s fifth president in 2012.
Allen said Craddock, a longtime professor at Candler School of Theology at Methodist-affiliated Emory University and an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), “argued preaching was in hopeless decline and the church must reinvent homiletics or forfeit the sermon altogether.”
Allen said at the core of Craddock’s critique was the issue of authority.
“According to Craddock, the modern preacher cannot — and perhaps should not — preach with authority,” he said. “Thus, in the words of Craddock, the preacher exists as one without authority.”
“In a sense, Craddock’s diagnosis was right,” Allen observed. “The modern mind may well be adverse to authority and disinclined to trust the ‘sage on the stage.’ Nonetheless, his prescription was dead wrong. Where there is no authority, there is no true preaching.”
Allen said preaching authority is “established by the Scriptures,” “emboldened by the Spirit” and “enhanced by a life of integrity and ministerial credibility” on the part of the preacher.
He said the sermon’s authority is further enriched by the delivery itself.
“Church members are not fools,” Allen said. “They ask themselves, ‘Does the preacher believe his own message?’ If the preacher does not believe the sermon, why should they?”
Reporting on his death March 8, CNN described Craddock as a “pulpit giant” who was “like no other preacher you have ever heard.”
Thomas Long, Craddock’s successor as the Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Candler, termed his predecessor “a national treasure” whose impact on preaching “is incalculable,” both in terms of scholarship and practice.
Long told the United Methodist Reporter that As One Without Authority “is arguably the most significant book in preaching to appear in the last 100 years.” In the book, Long explained, Craddock articulated a form of proclamation that he called “inductive preaching.”
“In the inductive approach, the preacher — instead of announcing the main idea of the sermon at the beginning and then unpacking that idea in three or more didactic ‘points’ — would work cooperatively with the hearers toward the disclosure of the sermon’s idea near the sermon’s end, usually experienced as a mutual discovery and shared burst of insight.”
In the 1991 E.Y. Mullins lectures on preaching, Craddock urged young preachers at Southern Seminary to think of the four Gospels as “not merely the source for preachers” but as preachers themselves.
Craddock said each of the four Gospel writers “preached Jesus Christ” in a different way. He delivered four separate lectures on Matthew’s presentation of Jesus as “the normative voice in matters of ethics, morals and relationships in the life of the church,” Mark’s “stand-up opponent of demonic forces in the world,” Luke’s portrayal of Jesus as the prophet who says what people “don’t want to hear but need to hear” and the one who made a “radical in-breaking of the grace of God” in John.
Craddock said preachers “do not honor” the Gospels by viewing them only as texts to be preached. “Let’s listen to them preach,” he urged. “See how they preached.”
Craddock also spoke at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, delivering the Adams Lectures on Preaching and the Pastoral Ministry. The series, inaugurated in 1976, is named after Theodore F. Adams, a former Baptist World Alliance President who taught 10 years at Southeastern after retiring from 32 years as pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., and died in 1980 at age 81.
In 1989 moderate leaders invited Craddock to speak at the sixth annual Southern Baptist Forum in Las Vegas. The Forum was an annual session held during the height of the Southern Baptist Convention inerrancy controversy to provide an alternative to the traditional Pastor’s Conference prior to the SBC annual meeting, which many felt was too one-sided and politicized.
Craddock was a featured speaker at the Baptist General Association of Virginia annual meeting in 2005.
In 2009 he was a keynote speaker at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina General Assembly at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., attended by more than 1,100.
Early reports did not indicate the cause of Craddock’s death, but he had been in declining health for several years due to Parkinson’s disease.
Craddock’s funeral was scheduled for 2 p.m., Monday, March 9, at Cherry Log Christian Church in Cherry Log, Ga. Craddock was senior minister there from 1996 until 2003 and after retiring was named minister emeritus.
In 2001 the church established The Craddock Center in his honor to enrich the lives of the people of Southern Appalachia through programs of education, cultural enhancement and service.
In lieu of flowers the family recommended memorial contributions to the Craddock Center, P.O. Box 69, Cherry Log, GA 30522 or a charity of the donor’s choice.
Raymond Bailey, who taught preaching at Southern Seminary for 16 years before becoming pastor of Seventh & James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, said in a 2010 interview with what is now Baptist News Global that a “major movement in the United States in the 20th century was the shift to narrative preaching,” and Craddock was perhaps its best-known and most-effective practitioner.
“Craddock’s inductive approach to preaching leaves the sermon open-ended,” Bailey said. “The listener has to supply the ending. The preacher attempts to lead people through the scriptural narrative in an open-ended way, recognizing that each person may come out differently through his or her encounter with Scripture and with God. The preaching event is three-sided: Scripture, preacher and congregation, with the Holy Spirit working from all sides.”
Albert Mohler, the current president of Southern Seminary, mentioned Craddock’s influence less favorably in a Spring 2009 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine dedicated to the recovery of “expository” preaching in Southern Baptist pulpits.
“Expository preaching is characterized by authority,” Mohler said in an excerpt from He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World, published in 2008 by Moody Press. “The Enlightenment culture that gave birth to modernity was subversive of every form of authority, though it has taken some centuries for this rebellion against authority to work its way throughout society. In the postmodern culture of the West, authority is under attack in every form, and a sense of personal autonomy is basic to contemporary ideals of human rights and freedom.”
“Some homileticians suggest that preachers should simply embrace this new worldview and surrender any claim to an authoritative message,” he continued. “Those who have lost confidence in the authority of the Bible as the Word of God are left with little to say and no authority for their message.”
“Lacking reverence for the Word of God, many congregations are caught in a frantic quest for significance in worship.” Christians leave worship services, he said, asking each other, “Did you get anything out of that?”
“Expository preaching demands a very different set of questions,” Mohler said. “Will I obey the Word of God? How must my thinking be realigned by Scripture? How must I change my behavior to be fully obedient to the Word? These questions reveal submission to the authority of God and reverence for the Bible as His Word.”
In an editorial introducing the magazine’s theme, Mohler said during the trend toward topical preaching, “under the guise of an intention to reach modern secular men and women ‘where they are,’ the sermon has been transformed into a success seminar.”