By Charles Davidson (Cascade Books, Wipf & Stock Publishers)

From the Cover

Here is a vivid, poetic, and evocative story of the painter Vincent van Gogh’s struggle to become his true self. The author listens in on Vincent’s most intimate, frequently startling thoughts on a host of topics, drawn from three volumes of his correspondence and his 900 extant paintings.

What emerges is the portrait of an artist whose spiritual vision was born of an agonizingly prolonged experience of the “dark night of the soul” through which his art dared to intimate the triumph of joy over sorrow, of resurrection over suffering and death. Readers will discover that in many ways Vincent’s story is as much about us as about him.

Tracing van Gogh’s pilgrimage from being an apprentice art dealer to being called to minister, in self-renunciation and misery, among destitute coal miners, the narrative follows his winding, tortuous path into adulthood as he struggles with family, associates, lovers—and with himself.

Constantly evidenced in Vincent’s own eloquent words and paintings is his tussle with the mysterious presence and maddening absence of God. Vocation unveils as a process of summoning and birthing his own self, through an attempt to imitate Christ, calling forth van Gogh’s extraordinarily creative powers from deep within.

Adding choice supplies from other observers, Davidson here weaves his own exact, artful tapestry of interpretation, producing a suspenseful excursion into the life of van Gogh that offers profound meaning at every turn.

Self-Portrait in Front of the Easel by Vincent van Gogh, 1888

“This richly detailed and deeply felt account of van Gogh’s tormented and self-tormenting life, together with many telling quotations from his correspondence with his faithful brother Theo, will be essential reading for all who see him as one of the geniuses of the 19th century.” Frederick Buechner, author of The Sacred Journey, Now and Then, The Magnificent Defeat, Longing for Home, A Room Called Remember, Godric, Secrets in the Dark, The Yellow Leaves

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“A rich account of the influence of religion on Vincent van Gogh’s life and art . . . that need not be limited to a religious audience.” Kirkus Reviews (read entire review)

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“How do we explain the disjointedness between the darkness of a life and the glory of the same man’s art? Davidson argues that the struggles of the van Gogh who felt without God were matched by the strokes of an artist who saw God made visible in a human face, a meal shared, cypress trees and yes, sunflowers. Davidson leaves us with this haunting question: ‘To what extent, if at all, is the divine presence revealed in the bleakest moments of suffering and despair?’ This book becomes personal as we consider where we are with God when we too are lost, ill and abandoned.” Debra Bendis in The Christian Century (read entire review)

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“This book is an extraordinary blend of theology, philosophy, psychiatry and art that held my attention, challenged my mind and fed my soul for four weeks. . . [and] will enrich me spiritually and intellectually for some time to come. Deo gratias.” Lamar Williamson, Jr., author of Mark (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching) and Preaching the Gospel of John (read entire review)

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“I could not put down this probing, challenging, humane and beautiful book until I had completed reading it. Then, as I gently closed it, I said a whispered but audible, ‘Yes! And thanks!'” Carl Walters, author of I, Mark: A Personal Encounter: Explorations in the Earliest Gospel (read entire review

What Other Readers Have Said

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Edited with biographical introduction by Charles Davidson (Abingdon Press)

Do we still need preachers?

“Does the preacher now impress us as a ‘legate of the skies’? To many he is a pathetic figure, an anachronism, a stage-joke—an inoffensive little person jostled by the crowd, and wearing the expression of a startled rabbit. With one hand he holds a circular hat on a bewildered head and with the other desperately clutches an umbrella. The crowd pushes him from the sidewalk; the traffic shoots him back into the crowd. Some curse him; a few laugh; most are unaware of his existence.” (George Buttrick, Lyman Beecher Lectures, 1931).

Whether we need preaching has been asked for hundreds of years, long before an age of media saturation from streaming 24-hour news, entertainment, politics, and sports. This question hounded George Buttrick, one of the most profound preachers of the twentieth century and often compared with Billy Graham. Buttrick offers a compelling answer to the question, but his answer remained hidden for 40 years until now.

In George Buttrick’s Guide to Preaching the Gospel, we learn why the world needs competent preachers, what the preacher must preach about, and how the preacher goes about creating the sermon with daily discipline and several practiced skills, including research, charting, outlining, writing, and performance.  These writings have never been published before and were found by his grandchildren after his death. A brief biography of Buttrick introduces this master orator and professor to readers who do not know his work.

George A. Buttrick

George Arthur Buttrick (March 23, 1892 – January 23, 1980) became one of the most influential preachers in the United States and England. He was the famed pastor of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, and professor of preaching at Harvard, Garrett, Vanderbilt, and Louisville’s Presbyterian and Southern Baptist seminaries. As the general editor of the bestselling Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (over 275,000 sets sold) and the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (over 75,000 sets sold), Buttrick became a household name between 1950 and 1990 among one million preachers from nearly all denominations. Buttrick was the author of 13 books about parables, prayer, evil, and other topics. He was also active on social and political issues, including anti-war campaigns and civil rights.

“It is high time that a new generation of preachers and other readers should be introduced to the generative work of George Buttrick, the greatest preacher amid a generation of great preachers. The lectures put on full exhibit Buttrick’s great passion for the gospel, his immense authority rooted in the gospel, and his astonishing erudition. What strikes one the most, however, is that Buttrick is a careful and knowing craftsman. He knows what a sermon ought to do, and he knows how it can be accomplished. This book will be a great instruction and stimulus for its preacher-readers. Buttrick stands in solidarity with other preachers; those other preachers will be empowered and encouraged by his wise words.” Walter Brueggemann, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA

. . .

“With the advent of twenty-first-century tools for sermon preparation, one may wonder what a pulpit giant of the last century has to offer. It turns out that George Buttrick has some of the finest insights on sermon mechanics I’ve ever known. His phrases glow. His pastoral heart shines. His indisputably wise insights on the craft of preaching are a gift to readers who inhabit both pulpit and pew.” Peter W. Marty, editor/publisher, The Christian Century

. . .

“Some of the greatest preachers of the past are in danger of being forgotten ― which is why I’m so grateful whenever a publisher invests in reminding us of homiletical geniuses of former times. George Buttrick certainly deserves that accolade, and today’s preachers will certainly grow in wisdom and stature if they read, ponder, and inwardly digest Buttrick’s legacy.” Mark Galli, former editor in chief, Christianity Today

. . .

“Especially in this time when, in his own words, “our earth is filled with death and we (some) propose that God is dead,” these wisdom teachings from George Buttrick offer guidance and hope for every preacher who seeks to offer a timely word to the waiting congregation. Every preacher needs this text. That word for Buttrick is ever and always the gospel. He charges the preacher to preach the gospel, good news that “proclaims the life of Christ.” Through these lectures Buttrick offers a guide on the who, what, when, where, why and how of preaching in a way that makes his wisdom available to every fledgling and every seasoned preacher. His teachings are biblical, deeply theological, and overwhelmingly practical such that they not only invite the reader to absorb his words but encourage movement into a life and witness that proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.”Gennifer N. Brooks, Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Preaching, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL

Click here to read more of Buttrick’s many endorsements

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All royalties from the book go the the Council for World Mission

Click here to listen to some Buttrick sermons and lectures