Distance in preaching

Michael Brothers, Eerdmans (2014)


Few pastor teachers in busy parish ministry take the time to stand back and assess their preaching style. Some see that as part of the process of initial training, others lack the time or discipline, many struggle with feelings of insecurity in their preaching and are cautious about taking that inward look or inviting others to help them. Yet surely we know that the task of preaching is too important to stop learning and honing our skills?

Brothers states clearly that his goal is to reclaim the understanding of distance in preaching and to introduce this to those who have not come across it before. Introducing us to the work of Fred Craddock, an elder statesman of North American homiletics, Distance in Preaching takes us on a scholarly journey that is academically thorough and helpfully applied.

Brothers lays the foundation of the book with a consideration of distance as a concept in philosophy, theatre and literary criticism, which seems at times somewhat impenetrable. The concept of distance and participation in preaching are then explained, followed by several practical examples and critiques which bring the book back into the sphere of the practitioner.

While it is not an easy handbook with readily accessible practical guidance for the preacher, those who persevere will find numerous insights into how to reflect on their sermons and hone their skills. There is helpful guidance on the construction of the preacher’s text, manner of delivery, tone and use of eye contact. The goal is to enable clear hearing of what is preached without either smothering the hearer or sending them to sleep. Right understanding and use of distance is at the heart of this.

As a preacher who has not spent much time in the academic field of homiletics, a considerable part of Brother’s material was new to me, perhaps even out of reach. However I look forward to it helping me in my preaching and my support of others.

Reviewed by John Birchall