Cannon, Katie Geneva. Teaching Preaching: Isaac Rufus Clark and Black Sacred Rhetoric. New York: Continuum, 2002.

In the introduction Cannon makes a couple of moves to situate the reader in the context of Black Sacred Rhetoric. She also dispels some arguments made against the need for teaching to be able to go preaching. I’ll use a list to hit the main points:
1. Clark believes to be a serious homelitician, one needs to develop a complex understanding of theoethical consciousness. (13)
2. According to Clark, there must be a person-in-the-know-of-God to accurately and effectively convey the word of God from the pulpit. In order to be a person-in-the-know, one must have taken a course of study with someone who was also a person-in-the-know of God. In essence, Clark argues that in order to be a preacher, you must know what you’re doing and have confronted the theoethical issues central to preaching. If you haven’t done as much, then Clark would call you a “jackleg” preacher. . . I’m thinking someone like Creflo Dollar or the other folks on the TBN network.
3. Clark’s main concern in his homiletics was to create “clear, precise, cogent, organized and prophetic utterance” (15).
4. In addition to knowing the what-meaning (Title/Subject) and the why meaning (Introduction) to Black sermonizing, Clark puts a huge emphasis on the how meaning. In other words, if the preacher “ain’t got no proposition, you ain’t got no sermon either” (16). So, to be effective it’s not enough to know what you’re going to talk about and why, you must also know how to go about talking it. To establish this how, Clark relies on homiletics. Homiletics, etymologically, can be broken down into homily and rhetoric. So, rejoined, homiletics is the production of persuasive preaching.
5. Clark notes that the essence of black preaching has developed in the following steps: 1) divine activity where the 2) Word of God is 3) proclaimed or announced 4) on a contemporary issue 5) with an ultimate response to our God. I suppose, to some degree, this is his homiletic method.
6. Clark rejects ideas that preachers don’t need education on the basis that Jesus didn’t have any. Instead, he points to the fact that Jesus studied at temple from age 12 and was a student of a man-in-the-know, John the Baptist.
To end the introduction we get a nice summation of Clark’s program:
Clark says he wants to use the most communicative kind of human expressions for convincing and persuading men and women to live creatively under God, which is crucial in expressing faith meaningfully for edifying the saints, and for winning unbelievers to our God. In essence, Clark’s language is grounded in a non-negotiable theological mandate: to apply the principles of rhetoric to the particular ends and means of the Christian gospel, for the purposes of liberation, reconciliation, and maturation in the deepest theological sense of the term, so that as professionals of the Word of God we will never be guilty of unconsciously tampering with people’s souls. (23).

Chapter One: Taking the Holiness of Preaching Seriously
In this chapter, Clark discusses why his class, his pedagogy and the act of preaching especially is a HOLY endeavor. After making reference to Rudolph Otto’s Idea of the Holy, Clark explains that his course and his person is Holy in the sense that [in Otto’s words]: “What Otto means primarily is the idea of the holy has to do with something distinctive in quality of being. Holy means something unique, something with a character that is different from the common world of things in existence. Holy means something that nothing else is like in kind, nowhere. And it is in light of this distinctive, unique, particular, different meaning of holy that Rudolph Otto endeavors to think and talk about God” (28).

Chapter Two: Bearing the Cross in This Holy Course
I’m beginning to really dig Clark’s homiletics at this point. This chapter also provided me with a good deal to think about in the way of response. Anyhow, in Chapter Two Clark lets his students know that they will be bearing a Cross of burden in his class. To understand what he means, he lets the students know that they will be confronted with three central questions in his class.
1. Nature equals what we preach.
2. Method equals how preaching is.
3. Purpose equals why preaching is.
After making the absolutely lovely (imo) statement that preaching is dialogic in that the preacher should preach with a claim and answer questions arising from that claim (even if they are unstated) to make effective preaching, Clarke spends a bit of time explaining WHY this class will be a Cross to bear. Basically, Clark is letting the students know that the class will be a rigorous examination of their own “home” beliefs (which are often wrong) as well as a confrontation with new material from their professors. To engage in this process, Clark lets his students know forcefully that they will be required to tear down their old assumptions and integrate new approaches to the “WHY.” In the end, Clark lets his students know he does this out of LOVE. He notes, “The cross in this preaching course represents the deepest meaning of God in the deepest logical sense. Love in the deepest theological sense always comes with a cross mingled with it. That is why the cross is the symbol that we wear. God’s love has a cross in it. In the deepest theological sense, we are going to lead you again and again to Calvary” (40).

Chapter Three: A- Not the, but a – Theological Interpretation of Preaching
Clark notes that this part of the journey is one called “knowledge.” He states that knowledge is midway between understanding and implementation. It is in this chapter that Clark lays out the 5 step program I mentioned in the introduction of these notes. First, he discusses preaching as divine activity. Clark says that the implications of divine activity are two-fold. We must remember that even though we are the speakers we must keep God first. Second, always remember that preaching is really a reenactment of the creation. Next Clark discusses Proclaimed or Announced. In this section Clark notes how we must proclaim because “the contemporary implication for us as proclaimers is that we require conferences with our king; it is necessary for us to steal away in a programmed way for prayer and meditation, so that people will be aware that their heavenly king has spoken to us first, in order for them to be convinced that they need to obey our proclaimed/announced orders” (45). In a sense, this is a ethos-building activity. Word of God is next on the list. For Clark, the meaning of Word of God is holy stuff being delivered to needy people for the purpose of feeding hungry souls the manna most satisfying. We get a couple of definitions in this section for Sin (being basically rebellious, defiant, arrogant in trying to take over in God’s kingdom, basically against God) and Grace (a gift of forgiveness and power, wherein pardon, amnesty, and friendship are proclaimed in a convincing way so that sinner’s can move to God’s presence one again) (46-8) Finally, Clark discusses Contemporary Issues. He states that these are “the recommended definition of preaching has to do with relevant, existential context, real-life situation to which the gospel is addressed, relating the gospel concretely to problems burdening people down beyond human repair, helping people to overcome in the ultimate sense of the term” (49). The last section for Clark is the “Ultimate Response to Our God.” For this fifth and final element, Clark is discussing a choice to either live by God’s decree or rebel against it. In a sense, this is the responsibility of the preacher, but also the congregants that listen to the preaching.

Chapter Four: A Critique of Contemporary Preaching
In this chapter Clark indicts many preachers using the model he laid out in Chapter Three. He notes that the main reason people aren’t going to church, or at least aren’t motivated by the churches that they attend, is because the preacher isn’t doing a good job translating the message using the aforementioned technique (or any technique that makes it relevant). To a large degree this is a problem in preacher’s not understanding the contemporary issues issue. Clark using Billy Grahamism to note how nearly a million folks attended his crusade and thousands were saved. They did this not because of TV presence, plants, etc., but because they were HUNGRY and Graham had the food for the soul. For Clark, the preaching situation in mainline Protestantism is “shallow and in the shadows.”

Chapter Five: The Sermonic Text
In this chapter, Clark discusses the three important elements that define sermonic preaching. First there is the text, second the text must be of the Word of God and third, the text is frequently taken from the Bible (99.44% of the time actually). In addition to the bible, a preacher can use hymns, church history, rituals (baptism, etc. BUT TAKE IT SERIOUSLY).

Leave a Reply