Book Review: On Preaching, by H.B. Charles Jr.

H.B. Charles Jr., On Preaching: Personal & Pastoral Insights for the Preparation & Practice of Preaching. Moody Publishers, 2014. 160 pages. $9.00

H. B. Charles Jr. is the pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville, FL. Anyone reading his blog or watching the interviews he conducts with various pastors will soon know that Charles is a student of preaching. It is clearly his passion. He is unashamedly committed to sound biblical exposition. That’s why it comes as no surprise that he would soon put his keyboard to work and join the ranks of others who have written on the subject of preaching.

In his book, On Preaching: Personal & Pastoral Insights for the Preparation & Practice of Preaching, Charles shares perspectives from his years of preaching and pastoral ministry. Even from the title laden with alliteration, one can discern the preacher in Pastor Charles.  So what does the preacher contribute his latest book?

Charles sets out to bring together what he has learned from several books on preaching, trusted colleagues, and advisors. At the outset he says, “This volume is not a textbook on preaching. It is a handbook of best practices, not a technical or theoretical treatise of hermeneutics or homiletics…I am not an expert trying to show you the way it is done. I am a fellow traveler hoping to partner with you on the journey.”

So although  On Preaching  does not really offer anything new on the subject of preaching, Charles, in succinct form, does succeed in making a lot of reflection on preaching digestible and usable.

Strengths of the Book:

Charles writes in a conversational style. At times it felt as if he sat across from the reader having a chat. This made the book a refreshing read. There’s nothing like reading a book on preaching by a preacher who loves to preach. His introduction and chapter selections work well together. The book is divided into three major parts: Preparation for Preaching, the Practice of Preaching, and Points of Wisdom for Preaching. These divisions will make the book easy to access for future reference.

And Charles gives a great definition for preaching with a reference to Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” This passage will be a staple for the author; he will return to it on many occasions.

Charles sees the preacher as a herald who has the responsibility to deliver a message with absolute clarity and accuracy. Charles writes, “to misrepresent the king’s message was just as dangerous as rejecting it.”[1]

He makes a strong case for “faithful, biblical, Christ-centered preaching.” For Charles, faithful, biblical preaching is synonymous with Christ-centered preaching. He writes, “It is God’s will to save the lost and sanctify the church through faithful, biblical, Christ-centered preaching.” He wrote, “Christian preachers are ministers of the New Covenant (). We are witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ (). As such, our preaching should focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ.”[2]

He laments that “biblical preaching” is not a high priority for many people looking for a church. According to Charles, “secondary things like music styles, ministry programs, and congregational prominence are often deemed more important than biblical preaching.”[3] But Charles doesn’t just focus on the current preaching task, but on the preparation leading up to it.

On Preaching took a balanced approached to pastoral training often missing in many of today’s conversations. Charles encourages seminary training while at the same realizing it is not an option for many. He reminds us that there are a variety of opportunities to be trained right where we are. Charles writes, “When my father was a young preacher, to use the biblical languages, he had to learn the biblical languages. There was no Bible software to help him easily get to the meaning of Greek and Hebrew words. If my dad wanted to go to school, he had to go to school. Correspondence and online options for ministerial training were not available to him. Resources my father could never have imagined are now available all around us. But we must take advantage of them. There is absolutely no excuse for any preacher to not be prepared to faithfully carry out the call to preach.”

Pastors are encouraged get as much training as possible with a timely disclaimer: “a degree from a school does not tell you if a man has a godly character, a pastor’s heart, or a gift to preach and teach.”

On Preaching commends the good practice of preaching through books of the Bible as opposed to jumping from text to text. Charles writes, “My father was a strong and faithful preacher. But he did not preach in series, much less do consecutive exposition. Yet I contend that consecutive exposition—preaching through a book of the Bible from beginning to end—is the most faithful way to preach. Many preachers reject consecutive exposition for various reasons. I believe the main issue may simply be that it’s hard work. It is not for the slothful.”

This is priceless wisdom for a wide audience, especially as it speaks to the ranks of so-called Black preaching. The preaching I grew up on was not so much heretical as it was confusing from one week to the next. We did not learn anything the way we were being taught the Bible. I just could not understand why we did not hear a systematic approach to preaching or studying the Scriptures. Not only did this have a negative impact on how I viewed preaching, it hurt how I read the Bible as well. I am trusting that many pastors will heed the book’s advice in this area.

Weaknesses of the Book:

Two weaknesses hinder this otherwise effective book.

1. The Need for More Definition |  Though I appreciated Charles’ emphasis on faithful, Christ-centered preaching, I longed to hear an expanded definition of Christ-centered preaching, along with some resources and an illustration. This is necessary because there are various ways that preaching might be conceived to be “Christ-centered.” Many sermons guided by the infamous, “What would Jesus do?” question are considered to be Christ-centered. Some assume that just the mention of Jesus’ name in the sermon or holding Jesus up as the ultimate  example, whereby Jesus becomes nothing more than an ethical coach, is Christ-centered preaching [4]. So there are many preachers who would make the claim that they know what Christ-centered preaching is, and that they are doing it. But alas, as my brother Anthony Carter would say, “Everybody talking about expositional [Christ-centered] preaching ain’t doing it.” On Preaching includes 30 chapters. Perhaps fewer chapters and an expansion of some of the material would have been more helpful.

2. A Little More Nuance Regarding Conclusions | Though perhaps unintentionally, the book advises that the conclusion of a sermon should carry the freight for the entire sermon (see ch. 17).

I found myself scratching my head at the notion that a sermon can be salvaged and appreciated if the conclusion is on point. I remembered many of the sermons I heard growing up, and it occurred to me that many of the listeners would agree with the premise of ch. 17 because most people were indeed waiting for the grand finale, the big close. The entire sermon would then be judged on how “he brought it home.” This is problematic because it renders the chosen passage of Scripture useless, relegating it to a launching pad of sorts for the real preaching moment.

Furthermore, it encourages hermeneutical laziness and ensnares conscientious preachers who are attempting to rightly divide the Word of God. Lastly, it undermines the sufficiency and necessity of the Scripture, and it robs the people of rich Christ-centered preaching; it dishonors Christ by not making Him the center of our preaching.

In addition, the admonition to “run to the cross” in conclusions confuses Charles’ earlier emphasis on Christ-centered, gospel-saturated preaching. If I am preaching a Christ-centered, gospel saturated sermon, I should have been in some way, shape, form or fashion running to the cross throughout the entire message. I think this superficial “run to the cross” has proven problematic for many pulpits. Many of our fellow yoke men believe they have made their so-called “run to the cross” by simply recounting the events of Jesus’ final week, His last words on the cross, or by repeating worn out cliché’s like, “He died, didn’t He die.” Or, “Early one Sunday morning He got up.” Or by hollering “All power!” four or five times.  Perhaps some expansion, clarification, or illustrations would have made this chapter more helpful.

With that said, I really enjoyed “On Preaching.” It’s a good read, and  it will prove to be helpful to many preachers in a variety of ways. Pick it up and read it. I think you will enjoy it as well.

[1] H. B. Charles, Jr., On Preaching: Personal & Pastoral Insights for the Preparation & Practice of Preaching, Kindle Edition (Moody Publishers, 2014), 15.

[2] Ibid., 55.

[3] Ibid., 55.

[4] Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim (P&R Publishing, 2009), 15.

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (ESV)

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (ESV)

Louis Love
Louis Love serves as the pastor of New Life Fellowship Church, which he planted in 1997. Joyfully married, Louis and his wife, Jamie, have three adult children and eleven grandchildren.

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