Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the Dots By Fred Brenning Craddock (Chalice, 2009).

Fred Craddock, Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament, Emeritus, at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, has undoubtedly been one of the influences on preaching in the last century. His classics, As One Without Authority (1971, 1974, 1979, 2001) and Preaching (1985), have influenced the trajectory of inductive preaching in pulpits everywhere—preaching intended to persuade the listener into an experience of the sermon rather than to authoritatively prevail upon that one to embrace, passively, the deductive logic and linearity thereof.

Not often does one get to take a look behind the preacher in the pulpit or the author at his desk. However, this account focuses only upon the first eighteen years of Craddock’s life. And, despite the subtitle, I admit I found several chapters rather unconnected—the one dealing with the African American midwife who delivered Craddock, the chapters on his mother, siblings, Sunday School experiences; etc. Dots they all were, but the significance of those dots were oft unclear, especially as they related to Craddock’s preaching call and life-trajectory. All seemed a bit adrift at sea.

The essay on his alcoholic father (chapter 5) unveils Craddock’s earliest motivation to become a preacher. “With a son, his own namesake, going into the ministry, would not Daddy toss the bottle forever and return to the pew beside my mother? Surely. But I was naïve, knowing nothing about the power of addiction. In my disappointment, I visited with a vocational counselor. He shocked me with the suggestion that maybe my motivation to be minister was not a call from God but my own desire to reform my father” (46). Craddock confesses he has never forgotten the pain and confusion of that session.

One important preaching influence in Craddock’s early days at Central Avenue Christian Church in Humboldt, TN, was Brother Foster. “He moved easily and with grace. His voice was strong enough to be heard, but not so strong that one had to hear him. He talked as though his listeners wanted to hear, as though they were informed and interested. He stood usually to the side of the pulpit, sometimes down in front of the pulpit. He talked, not at or to, but with the congregation. Nothing about him or his words was intimidating. He seemed to incarnate what might be called the modesty of God” (91). The reader can see the nascent stirrings of As One Without Authority in this description.

Craddock’s account of the first time he was pressed into preaching at a local church is marvelous. He had thought he would take twelve minutes, but was through in five, including two interruptions from a mentally challenged person, Bible questions he was unable to answer. “My life was over. I had flunked ministry, Bible, and preaching. … In one night I managed to begin and to end my career in the pulpit” (106). But soon thereafter, at his job in a manufacturing company, a fellow-worker asked him if he had been called to preach. Craddock, after a pause, answered, “Yes!” “What just happened? At a time when I had been trying to say ‘No’ to God, I said ‘Yes’ to Floyd. Had Floyd just called me into the ministry?” (108).

Out of that experience came a powerful revelation: “God sometimes calls through one’s realization of the needs of people among whom one lives. … Maybe this was the bare bones, no fanfare call I needed to hear: if one is made alive and aware of human need then that in itself is the call. Look out on the world rather than probing within trying to locate the ‘gifts and graces’ for ministry” (108–109). Wise words, these.

In the end, I wondered about the wisdom of the authorial/editorial decision to limit this book to Craddock’s early years; even his spouse of over five-and-a-half decades—surely wielding great influence in the life of the man and the preacher—gets only one brief sentence. All in all, a pleasant read, but this reviewer would have preferred a more focused narrative of what made the scholar and preacher rather than what in the first two decades of Craddock’s life contributed to making the man.

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 10 (2010): 140–142

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