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Abingdon Press, 2020

George Arthur Buttrick’s lectures on preaching from the last decade of his life

Foreword by Will Willimon, edited with biographical introduction by Charles Davidson 

“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

“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

“Very early in these magnificent lectures, one sentence in particular leapt out at me― ‘the Event of Christ eventuates in a certain style of life, but preaching doesn’t tell people what to do, still less what not to do.” What if preachers could have learned this indispensable lesson when George Buttrick first voiced it decades ago? Perhaps it is not too late. We can still hear his eloquent proclamation through these pages, encouraging preachers to choreograph their words artfully, as an event of Christ’s encounter in the midst of worldly struggles. We can still learn from the beauty of passionate preaching that transformed living comes not from reducing biblical texts to moral lessons, but from focus on the wondrous gospel of God.” Paul Scott Wilson, professor emeritus of homiletics, Emmanuel College, University of Toronto, Canada

“George Buttrick’s Guide is timely and prescient. It speaks to the zeitgeist of our present moment. We should not be mesmerized by Buttrick’s erudition, intellect, and insight. To be so would be to miss the resonant substance, faith, and testimony to which those attributes are in service. His unwavering insistence upon the Christ Event as the controlling narrative of his life, faith, ministry, and homiletical preoccupation is compelling. Of great significance, though controversial then and now, is Buttrick’s early and enduring condemnation of racism, militarism, and poverty-producing laws, attitudes, and theologies. This book offers a cogent, clarion call to preachers of all stripes — whether those full of faith, confidence, and vigor, or those burnt-out, disillusioned, and uncertain. This offering evokes a new commitment to keeping “the main thing, the main thing” biblically and theologically.” Anthony Bailey, pastor and activist, former seminary lecturer, Ottawa, Canada

“I picked up this book expecting a nostalgic trip into the history of preaching. Instead, I am struck by the contemporaneity of these lectures as Buttrick crisply, even epigrammatically, speaks of the why and how of preaching. Beyond learning this master-preacher’s step-by-step guide to preparing a sermon, preachers today will resonate with his concerns for the authority of preaching, for a comprehensive understanding of the Gospel that embraces the social world, and for the accommodation of popular religion to the dominant culture. With authenticity, Buttrick faces issues of race, poverty, class, polarization, and pacifism, not to mention matters of faith and doubt. While today’s preacher may supplement Buttrick’s perspectives with more postmodern and systemic frames, this book adds a vibrant voice to the current literature of preaching.” Ronald J. Allen, professor of preaching and Gospels and Letters, emeritus, Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, IN

“One can read George Buttrick’s lectures on preaching with admiration for their erudition, and one can read with deep enjoyment of their wit, or one can read with amazement over their enduring wisdom about the theology and craft of preaching. But for whatever reason, anyone who loves good preaching, especially those who strive to be faithful in the pulpit, should read this book. The day of the ‘pulpit prince’ may be over, but George Buttrick’s humble but brilliant stewarding of the Word will always be in season.” Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor Emeritus of Preaching, Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, GA

“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

“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

“We need good preaching now more than ever, and Buttrick is the master trail blazer. His warnings about illustrations alone make the book indispensable.” Donna Schaper, senior minister, Judson Memorial Church, New York, NY

“Whether you are a disciplined scholar of homiletics or a grateful connoisseur from the pew, this collection of lectures on preaching provides a heretofore missing link in the ongoing narrative of pivotal developments in the homiletical craft in America across the twentieth century. An indispensable voice is that of George Buttrick. Charles Davidson has done a masterful job of curating Buttrick’s lectures and of painting within the introductory biography a winsomely accurate picture of Buttrick in and beyond the pulpit.”  Theodore J. Wardlaw, president and professor of homiletics, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, TX

“George Buttrick was a beloved mentor when I was at Union Seminary. No one could have provided a better model for preaching. His rhetorical prowess in a down-to-earth approach, his prophetic power, the range of his thought, yet always the genteel style — and, most of all, his incisive, profound grasp of the Gospel. Simply put, Buttrick was a giant in the pulpit and a major hit in the lecture hall. From the purpose of preaching, to the preparation of a sermon, and through a spectrum of homiletical contexts, this Guide is a sweeping yet immensely practical resource, a master’s wisdom for preachers. We can all be grateful for having Buttrick’s faithful voice before us once again.” Michael B. Lukens, professor emeritus, theology and religious studies, St. Norbert College, DePere, WI

“Buttrick would often say, ‘Just as there is beauty in a bare tree, there is beauty in a bare sentence, unadorned with adjectives.’ So I say it straight and unadorned: read Buttrick! These lectures are a gift to the church and a tribute to the power of preaching.” Thomas R. McKibbens, retired American Baptist minister; former Buttrick teaching assistant, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

“As one who had the privilege of experiencing George Arthur Buttrick teaching preaching and pastoral theology in a seminary classroom, I have returned repeatedly to notes taken in Buttrick’s course, in order to benefit from his lessons and to gain inspiration. Studying with Buttrick was a transforming experience. I wish that every minister and seminarian could encounter insight and wisdom such as was characteristic of Buttrick’s instruction. And now, Charles Davidson has brought Buttrick’s famous sublime profundity to new life in this re-presentation of Buttrick’s lectures. I enthusiastically recommend this volume to pastors, students, and laity alike, to all who care about the preaching of the Gospel.” Marion L. Soards, professor of New Testament studies, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

“To read this gem is to experience the theological passion, intellectual sophistication, rhetorical precision, and spiritual boldness of George Buttrick, a ‘preacher of preachers’ in the twentieth century. But more than this, to read these lectures is to encounter the Gospel afresh and meet the crucified and risen Christ as if for the first time. Readers will turn away from these pages with the reassurance that Jesus Christ is real and declare with the apostle Paul, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel.'”Luke A. Powery, dean, Duke University Chapel, associate professor of homiletics, Duke Divinity School, Duke University, Durham, NC

“Whether in his East Side Manhattan congregation or in the Memorial Church at Harvard or in the Union Seminary Chapel pulpit often occupied by Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, George Buttrick always seemed to be reaching for the right word of witness to a word of God high and above his own capacity to reach it. He never seemed to forget that his preaching derived from one ‘high and lifted up’ but present to us people. As I listened to him, I often felt that Isaiah 6 was happening again.” Donald W. Shriver, president emeritus, Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY

“This volume proves that George Buttrick’s contribution to the task of preaching in the twentieth century deserves to impact the twenty-first. In these pages readers will see a scholar, pastor, and preacher worth emulating today. Read this as one eavesdropping on a teacher and theologian whose commitment to the gospel, while historically particular, is no less than the required theological practice needed in this cultural moment from homileticians in both the academy and the pulpit.” Joy J. Moore, associate professor of biblical preaching, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

“Reading this book was like experiencing a homecoming to my preaching vocation. Buttrick’s wisdom called me home, yet again, to the truth that preaching is not a single skill to be honed but a practice that emerges from the whole of ministry — richly steeped in the study of Scripture, broadly conversant with a range of other literature, deeply connected to the sorrows and hopes of one’s people, prophetically aligned with those who bear the burdens of poverty and injustice, attentively adaptive to a changing context, and faithfully partnered to the living God in prayer. I am refreshed and inspired by these words to go deeper into the life of my calling.” Kimberleigh E. Wells, Pastor, New Hope Presbyterian Church, Asheville, NC

“Forty years after his death, George Buttrick’s Guide to Preaching the Gospel is arriving just in time. Everybody who claims to be a preacher or who dares to listen to preachers will discover in these pages that the mind and the spirit must unite if the church is to offer a powerful proclamation of good news.” William B. Lawrence, professor emeritus of American church history, former dean, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX

“George Buttrick opened a Chautauqua lecture with these words: ‘We are living in a dark age as far as the church is concerned.’ The very word salvation, he continued, turns off many people today, bringing images of a preacher thundering condemnation from the pulpit. Preaching remains a ministry to a world that needs it, a continual witness to what was central to Buttrick himself: By faith God’s love will find a channel through us.” J. A. Ross Mackenzie, retired director, religion department, Chautauqua Institution; former professor of church history, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, VA

“In living and traveling across the United States since 1965, I have beheld numerous testimonies from Christian laity and clergy regarding the life-shaping impact of George Buttrick’s profound preaching. As a skeptical academic confessed to me about hearing Buttrick at Harvard Memorial Chapel: ‘In his presence, my unbelief was rendered impossible. His preaching was a miraculous antidote.'” Dean K. Thompson, president emeritus, professor of ministry emeritus, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

“Buttrick is sometimes called ‘a preacher’s preacher,’ but when I found him finding me, it was as a doubter’s preacher. When reading these lectures, I hear that croaky voice all over again and can but thank God for all he meant and still means to me.” Wallace M. Alston, Jr., minister (retired), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

“This book is chocked full of wise insights about preaching from a man who was a master at it, but none more important than this: good preaching flows from the identity and integrity of the preacher.” Russ Moxley, honorary fellow, Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, NC

“We are four decades beyond the death of George Buttrick, a time when the memory fades and the luster of a life can diminish. It is said that the epilogue of one’s life, those stories beyond one’s death, will continue to echo with vibrant power for a generation or two before slipping out of consciousness in any remarkable way. But there are some whose light shined so steadily that their life is held in common memory and we can continue to celebrate the wonder of that life. George Buttrick is someone who needs to be cherished and studied, and his book is a striking work that helps those in modern times to remember and experience the depth of pastoral commitment and scholarship that is remarkable for its lasting effect.” Keith D. Herron, United Church of Christ minister; adjunct professor, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Shawnee, KS; former moderator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

“This is a book I have been yearning for but never hoped to see, the lectures on preaching from the last decade of the life of George Buttrick, one of the greatest preachers and pastor-theologians of the twentieth century. I remember my heart racing as I heard these lectures, then racing home to talk about them. It raced again as I read these pages. It is impossible to overestimate his formative impact on my life as a preacher and pastor. There are a thousand sermon prompts in this book, and ten thousand exquisite metaphors of the gospel. Buttrick’s preaching was a Christocentric, new-form exegetical preaching which went beyond the expository and life-situation preaching of the twentieth century and anticipated the next.” H. Stephen Shoemaker, pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Statesville, NC; former Buttrick teaching assistant, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

“George A. Buttrick has influenced me for thirty years through the Interpreter’s Bible and his book on the parables. I have consulted him in the preaching task all these years without really knowing the person.  This book has opened my eyes to the vibrant life and spirit of a great preacher whom I thought I understood, but did not. His guidelines for preaching the Gospel are bracing and timely.” J. Donald Waring, rector, Grace Church, New York, NY

“This book opens a timely conversation with George Buttrick about preaching for a new generation. Insights? Yes. And also questions: What kind of discipline lends itself to creative ‘pertinence’? Can a high Christology inspire social responsibility? Are we truly serious about preaching without a sense of humor? And, ultimately, what have we genuinely experienced of the Gospel we preach?” Tim Phillips, lead pastor, Seattle First Baptist Church, Seattle, WA

“Reading these fine lectures brings back so many memories of when I sat in Dr. Buttrick’s class. His faith, erudition, work ethic and commitment to the church challenged us all, and still does. He simultaneously presents the Gospel and shows the way for others to do the same. This is an opportunity to sit in the presence of a great teacher.” Charlie Summers, minister (retired), Presbyterian Church (USA)

“Those who have had the good fortune to sit before George Buttrick’s pulpit or lectern, or who have enjoyed the warmth and acceptance of the Buttrick home, will remember his command of prose. Who else could compare the earth to ‘a giant golf ball lost in a cosmic rough’? He caused skeptics to examine their premises and believers to sing!”Kent D. Richmond, former Buttrick teaching assistant, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL

“The preacher, who did so much to teach my generation ‘by precept and example’ what it means to proclaim the Gospel, comes to life in this book. George Buttrick becomes a teacher once again, not only through his own words, but through Charles Davidson’s biographical sketch and copious helpful annotations. Buttrick’s perspective on preaching is as instructive now as it was decades ago.” John W. Kuykendall, president emeritus, Davidson College, Davidson, NC

“I took George Buttrick’s homiletics course the year he was the visiting Fosdick professor at Union Theological Seminary. Reading this book brought back much that I learned then, which has shaped my preaching ever since. One example: ‘Our preacher jots down her own thoughts about her text, before consulting any commentaries.’ Buttrick encourages the preacher to trust his and her own sense of God’s leading the formation of the sermon.” David Mote, minister (retired), Presbyterian Church (USA)

“Church members and ministers, for whom proclamation of the gospel is at the heart of worship, will receive in this book an extraordinary gift, a legacy from a preacher who honored an unstinting commitment and encouragement of congregations and preachers. Dr. Buttrick’s own preaching set forth the deepest claims of Christian faith upon both the individual and the community, marked by an unwavering assurance of God’s steadfast love and invincible grace in Christ. Readers who remember Buttrick personally, and those encountering him for the first time, will be challenged and inspired.”  John Rogers, minister (retired), Presbyterian Church (USA)


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