What’s Our Big Idea? Analyzing the Academic Literary Corpus of the Evangelical Homiletics Society

Over its 25-year history, the scholars of the Evangelical
Homiletics Society (EHS) have presented more than 250 papers
at its annual conferences and published more than 200 academic
articles in its journal. As a whole, what has EHS been writing
about, and what has it said? A clear understanding of its past can
enable any organization to move responsibly into its future.
Using Latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) from the field of data
science, this paper scrutinizes the entire EHS corpus, describes 17
distinct topics within that corpus, and offers informed
suggestions for the society’s future inquiry.

Reflections on the Future of the Evangelical Homiletics Society

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., former president of Gordon-Conwell
Theological Seminary used to quip, “I’m not a prophet, nor the
son of a prophet, but I work for a non-profit organization.” I
stand before you today not as a prophet, but more as a prompter,
someone who’s at the side or even out of sight reminding people
of things they already know.
Twenty-five years ago, the first Evangelical Homiletics
Society was held on the Hamilton, Massachusetts campus of
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. We were a smaller
group then, maybe about twenty-five persons—men and women
looking to set a new direction for evangelical homiletics.
Ten months before that first founding meeting of our
society, Keith Willhite and I bumped into each other at an
Academy of Homiletics meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We
proceeded to map out a plan for an organization that more
appropriately met our needs theologically—and would open the
door not only to professors of preaching in seminaries but also
those who taught homiletics in Bible Colleges, as well as pastors
who taught preaching adjunctively. We shared this vision with a
The Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 107
few others who were with us at the meeting, including Timothy
Warren, Endel Lee, Grant Lovejoy, and others.
Keith Willhite (1958-2003) and I divided up the work and
contacted professors of preaching in evangelical seminaries and
Bible Colleges, setting our sights on gathering in October of 1997
at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Desiring wise
guidance, we enlisted the distinguished evangelical leader, Dr.
Vernon Grounds (1914-2010), at that time Chancellor at Denver
Seminary as one of the plenary speakers for that inaugural
meeting. He set the tone for the gathering speaking on “Some
Reflections on Pulpit Rhetoric.”1
My intention for these few moments is not to bore you
with the lore of the long ago and far away beginnings of our
society. Instead, as a prompter, I want to remind us of what and
who we are as a society as we look to the future.
Let me remind ourselves of who we are:
The Evangelical Homiletics Society is an academic society
formed for the exchange of ideas related to the instruction
of biblical preaching. The purpose of the Society is to
advance the cause of biblical preaching through the
promotion of a biblical-theological approach to preaching;
to increase competence for teachers of preaching; to
integrate the fields of communication, biblical studies, and
theology; to make scholarly contributions to the field of
homiletics.2
This statement was carefully crafted in 1997 by those who
attended the first meeting—and it is the guide-star for our future
as well. This purpose statement will shape my promptings to all
of us as we consider the life and work of our society in the coming
years. As we look back on twenty-five years, we look forward to
God’s intended future for us, and I am here to remind us of who
we are as we set our sights on the future.

May “Flights of Angels Sing Thee to Thy Rest” My Reflections on the Speech of King Charles III

Queen Elizabeth II was the longest reigning monarch in British history. After serving her people well for 70 years, on Thursday, Sept. 8th, 2022, at the ripe age of 96, Queen Elisabeth II passed away at her summer home, Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Immediately after her passing, her heir, Charles, the Prince of Wales, ascended to the throne, becoming King Charles III. In this momentous historical context, fraught with sorrow over the queen’s passing and laden with questions about the future of the British monarchy, one of the new king’s first responsibilities was to deliver a speech. It would be a speech that could make, break, or damage his reign and the future of monarchy. The delivery of the new king’s speech was no light matter. The long historical arc of communication has taught us
that some speeches outlive their delivery, impacting people for good for years and for generations to come; the Gettysburg Address, delivered by Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States in 1863, and the I Have a Dream speech, delivered by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist Minister, 100 years later in 1963, serve as classic examples.
With so much at stake in this moment, what would the new king say? What would be the content of the speech? Would he use vivid verbs and robust nouns? What imagery would he employ to make clear his ideas and thoughts? Will he speak in such a way that the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, and the world will listen? I watched the video of King Charles III speech several times. In my professional judgement, the speech was wonderful, powerful—well delivered. As I watched and listened, I concluded before God that biblical preachers and communicators could learn a number of important lessons from the new King’s speech. In the remainder of this editorial, I will
focus on two lessons.

“A Solemn Thing” John A. Broadus’s Homiletical Theory, Pedagogical Method, and Contemporary Impact

John Albert Broadus writes, “It is a solemn thing to preach the
gospel, and therefore a solemn thing to attempt instruction or
even suggestion as to the means of preaching well.”1 While many
contemporary preachers may not be familiar with Broadus,
modern evangelical preaching is largely shaped by his
homiletical influence. For example, Fasol in his work, With a Bible
in Their Hands comments, “Generations of preachers—Southern
Baptist and many others as well—have stood and now stand on
the shoulders of John A. Broadus.”2 Broadus’s broad shoulders
have held up preachers through his influential homiletical work,
A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (1870). As
Thomas R. McKibbens argues, “He was a Baptist of international
stature, to be held above all others in his influence on preaching
from his day and well into the twentieth century.”3
This article will argue that the solemn thing of Broadus’s
preaching theory is an intersection of ancient rhetorical elements,
Reformational/Post-Reformational homiletical methodology,
and the expository preaching tradition that is sensitive to the
history of preaching. Thus, Broadus serves as a bridge between
an older preaching methodology and the modern expository sermon model.

When the Levee Breaks: J. Gresham Machen and “The Good Fight of Faith”

In this article, I rhetorically analyze J. Gresham Machen’s final
chapel sermon at Princeton Theological Seminary entitled “The
Good Fight of Faith” to reconstruct and situate a watershed
moment in the American church. Machen, although unknown to
many rhetorical scholars, was one of the most important
evangelical voices in the cultural shift that occurred at Princeton
theological seminary during the early twentieth century. As the
threat of Modernism overtook the conservative orthodoxy of the
school through a scientistic discourse, Machen vigorously
defended the boundaries of historic Christianity both in his
speaking and writing. In this final sermon before the seminary’s
reorganization and his resignation, Machen employs a rhetoric of
orthodoxy to clarify the reformed faith’s doxa and thus draw
distinctions between historical Christianity and Modernism.
“The Good Fight of Faith” uniquely demonstrates the ritualistic
nature of celebrating orthodoxy and how, in doing so,
interlocutors can be called to stand and struggle for the
continuation of tradition. Such research also calls for a renewed
interest in the intersection of rhetorical tradition and homiletics
in lieu of their profitable relationship for drawing boundaries,
maintaining orthodoxy, and advancing the gospel.

What Ezra 2 Has to Teach Us About Biblical Lists

Lists of names in the Bible can often be a stumbling block for
many preachers. This article is an attempt to help preachers read
and preach biblical lists by using Ezra 2 as a case study. First, this
paper will provide a series of questions to ask the text in an
attempt of exegeting it. Questions such as, why does Ezra use a
list in chapter 2? What are the names included in the list? What
is highlighted or downplayed in this list? How are the people in
the list arranged? How is Ezra 2 connected to the surrounding
narratives? Second, attention will be paid as to how we as New
Testament believers should understand Ezra 2. Third, we will
transit from the text to a sermon, where suggestions will be
offered as to how a sermon can emanate out of our study of Ezra
2. This paper will argue that Ezra 2 is more than just a list of
unrelated names. Rather, it encapsulates a powerful message that God is using you and me to show the world that he is in the
process of bringing his restoration in Jesus.

On the Willows We Hung Our Harps: Preaching the Lament and Hope of Psalm 137

A genre that poses particular difficulty for preachers is
imprecatory lament. Psalms that call for vengeance are often a
mystery as we plan and prepare to preach. Yet if we are
committed to preaching the whole of the canon we must be
willing and able to preach these hard and sad texts to our
listeners. This paper will explore imprecatory lament for
preaching, first considering different lenses for their
interpretation and adoption in worship, and then working
through one of the most violent, Psalm 137, in a covenantal
context as an image of how we might engage these texts for
proclamation. We can faithfully preach the terrible beauty of
Psalm 137, and other imprecations, by aligning with the
psalmist’s pain and anger within the context of God’s indelible
faithfulness. This is timely as we are inundated with news of
tragedy, injustice, and pain in areas such as pandemic deaths,
racial division and violence, mass shootings, and war. The
lament and hope of Psalm 137 gives the preacher something to
say in the midst of tragedy as he or she seeks to bring hope to the
congregation.

Wanted: Catfish for Our Think Tank

What is needed are holy healthy places for thinking, interaction, and engagement without intellectual prejudice or divisiveness. We need think tanks more than we need labs. Our Evangelical Homiletics Society is not so much a lab as it is a think tank. A think tank consists of a body of experts who share ideas and advice to advance a chosen field of research and application. Unlike medical labs, think tanks are messy places. Not all ideas gain traction there. Advice can come off as criticism.
Sacred cows get slaughtered. Presuppositions are called into question. Novelty is neither embraced for novelty’s sake nor rejected on the same grounds. Catfish swim freely in healthy think tanks. By their presence, resistance, and “convince me” attitudes, they keep their colleagues’ minds from growing soft and mushy

Preaching to People in Pain

For this conference, Jesse Nelson asked me to speak about a new publication, Preaching to People in Pain. This book released in May of 2021 with Baker Academic. It’s a book that has long been on my heart as someone who has pastored people who are broken and hurting. How many of you have broken and hurting people in your churches today? I can assure you that all of us do. I remember pitching the book idea to Baker initially proposing the title of Pain-Full Preaching: Sharing Our Suffering in Sermons. For whatever reason, the marketing team relayed back that Pain-Full Preaching may not sell so why don’t we title it Preaching to People in Pain: How Suffering Can Shape Your Sermons and Connect with Your Congregation. Steve Norman is a pastor who has been writing
thoughtfully about preaching. In his new book, The Preacher as Sermon, published by Preaching Today, he shares a mantra for his ministry which is this: “Never underestimate the pain in the room.” This evening I don’t want to underestimate your pain or the possible pains that you’ve been going through over the past two years or more. They’ve been a very difficult two years for many of us. Ministry has not looked the same for any of us.

Preaching Hope and Lament from the Psalms

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast with in me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan . . . Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:5-7). Hope and lament. Usually, the order is reversed, as in Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD,” verse 1. Verse 7: “O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” Lament and hope. In psalm after psalm we find this pattern: the petitioner begins: “How many are my foes! How long will you hide your face from me? Why do you stand afar off? God, I don’t understand, I don’t like, and I’m not about to acquiesce to this current state of illness, distress, injustice, persecution, danger, loss. But—(so much Gospel in that little word!)—I trust you. I know you are faithful to your promises. I wait in hope for the LORD, he is my help and shield. I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Be strong and take heart all you who hope in the LORD. Lament and hope.