30 Insights to remember from Preaching as Reminding

I really appreciated Jeffrey D. Arthurs’s book, Preaching as Reminding. Here are thirty things I especially want to remember…

“The Scriptures themselves are the invitation to remember: Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; remember the Exodus; make a pile of stones; remember the Sabbath. Come again to the table, break the bread, drink the cup. Remember” (Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Preaching as Reminding, p. ix).

Preachers “remind the faithful of what they already know when knowledge has faded and conviction cooled. We fan the flames. That’s what we see when we look at the work of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles” (p. 3). “Preachers are remembrancers” (p. ix). We see this for example through what Peter says in 2 Peter 1:12-13 (“…to stir you up by way of reminder…”). And so, “Ministers must learn to stir memory, not simply repeat threadbare platitudes” (p. 5).

“It matters that we preach. It matters that we call people to remember their God and their deepest values and their truest selves and the story that has maybe shaped their lives and for sure has shaped their world. It matters that we preach with all the fidelity and urgency and learning and purity and creativity that God allows us to muster” (p. ix-x).

“If we have no memory we are adrift, because memory is the mooring to which we are tied. Memory of the past interprets the present and charts a course for the future” (p. 1). “Without memory, we are lost souls. That is why the Bible is replete with statements, stories, sermons, and ceremonies designed to stir memory. Even nature—the rainbow after the flood—serves as a reminder of God’s faithfulness (Gen 9:13-17)” (p. 3).

“The opposite of remembering, of course, is forgetting, and this term also implies more than lack of mental recall. Forgetting is parallel to “forsaking” and ‘rejecting’” (p. 17 see Deut. 8:11, 19; Ps. 119:16, 109-10).

“Because God forgets our sins, we should too, not with cavalier forgetfulness that fails to recognize the pit from which we were drawn but with buoyant forgetfulness that is no longer haunted by past rebellion or future retribution” (p. 24).

“The nation of Israel fails to remember how God delivered them from slavery: “They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt” (Ps 106:21). Forgetting God leads the people to worship idols, and that pattern of apostasy occurs repeatedly throughout the period of the Judges. They lapse into idolatry because hey do “not remember the LORD their God (Judg 8:34)” (p. 28-29).

“Remembrance of God’s power in the past gave David courage to act in the present” (p. 41-42 see Ps. 77:11, 13).

“The church reenacts the story of redemption through preaching, Scripture reading, and sacrament, the assembly experiences “sacred time travel” as they are re-membered to the cross, resurrection, and ascension” (p. 48).

“Stirred by a preacher, the listeners’ memory becomes participation. The past is brought into the present with power, and action results. In short, God’s Word, faithfully announced, builds faith” (p. 49).

Preachers “are not forced to communicate something novel each week” (p. 53).

All over the Bible we see our need to remember (e.g. Rom. 15:14-16; Jude 5, 17; 2 Pet. 1:13-16; 3:1-2; Eph. 2:11-12 and in Rom. 6:3, 16; 11:2; 1 Cor. 3:16; 5:6 it says “Do you not know…?) (see p. 53-54).

“Preaching as reminding captures interest, imagination, and emotion to reach the “motivational structure” from which people act” (p. 58).

Os Guinness is quoted saying: “The Bible . . . knows nothing of preaching divorced from the needed work of persuasion. The two words preach and persuade, and the two ideas behind them, are indissoluble—most prominently in the tireless work of St. Paul, who was an apologist everywhere he went. He preached and he persuaded. He persuaded and he preached, and no one can drive so much as the beam of a laser between the two” (p. 60).

“The apostle Paul, “knowing the fear of the Lord,” sought to “persuade others” (2 Cor 5:11), so we see that persuasion is indeed one of the minister’s jobs” (p. 60).

“Preaching that lacks style rarely gains a hearing. Abstract, boring, impersonal, and bland words are like seed that falls on hard soil, quickly snatched by the birds before it penetrates the ground and sprouts” (p. 67).

“Theology needs literal language for precision and abstract language for breadth, but theology also needs metaphor to capture aspects of reality that are not easily caged” (p. 74).

“Plato said poets and singers had more influence in a state than lawmakers: ‘Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.’… Repetition, rhythm, and parallelism are arrows of eloquence that pierce the heart” (p. 79).

“Style is a means of persuasion, or, for the interests of this book, it is a trumpet to awaken hibernating faith” (p. 83). As Henry David Thoreau is quoted as saying: “A fact stated barely is dry. It must be the vehicle of some humanity in order to interest us. It is like giving a man a stone when he asks you for bread” (p. 87).

“Story not only rouses emotion, it also clarifies knowledge” (p. 89). “Story clarifies abstract concepts, engages emotion and intuition, and lodges in long-term memory” (p. 90).

“I exhort you to retell the old, old stories. Don’t shrink back because you might seem unoriginal. That fear has no place in the motives of heralds because their job is to accurately transmit the message already delivered. Furthermore, don’t be afraid of boring the covenant community. That fear does not take into account the fact that believers need to be reminded of their great God. Furthermore, the fear does not acknowledge the delight believers have in hearing again the history of their faith and the tales of their ancestors who walked with God. As stated earlier, we are like the hobbits who ‘liked to have books filled with things that they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions’ (p. 93).

“Just as moviegoers enjoy watching Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star two, three, four, or eleven times, so believers enjoy hearing again about Abraham and Isaac, David and Goliath, Mary and Martha, and Jesus raising Lazarus” (p. 93).

Eliza Doolittle says: “Words, words, words! . . . Is that all you blighters can do? Don’t talk to me of stars shining above; if you are in love—show me!” (p. 103).

“God has placed his Word in bodies so that we turn ink into blood. The nonverbal channel reinforces, amplifies, clouds, or deconstructs a preacher’s words” (p. 104).

“Delivery is what we sound like and look like when we speak. It includes all the elements listeners hear in our voices, such as pronunciation, projection, pitch, rate, and force. It also includes all the elements our audience sees in our deportment: gestures, facial expression, eye contact, and posture. The nonverbal channel holds a primary place, not secondary” (p. 104, italics mine.).

“When the nonverbal message conflicts with the verbal, listeners trust the nonverbal. Nonverbal communication is difficult to manipulate. It tends to be an accurate reflection of the heart, thus listeners trust it” (p. 108).

“The nonverbal channel is the primary conveyer of relationship and emotion. Communication scholars estimate that 65 percent of social meaning and 93 percent of emotional meaning come through the speakers’ appearance, tone of voice, and behavior” (p. 110).

Here’s “an all-important principle of delivery—to stir others, you must first be stirred” (115). And so Arthurs says, “The necessity of starting with ourselves places a rigorous demand on the spiritual life of the minister, and no shortcut will serve” (p. 116). And, “When the minister displays genuine earnestness, the congregation follows” (p. 116). “So start with yourself. Pray and meditate deep into the Word. No technique can replace that. Without it, no technique will avail” (p. 117).

These insight are so important because as neurologist Richard Restak concludes, “Emotions are infectious. . . . You can catch the mood of other people just by sitting in the same room with them” (p. 113).

We must remember that “marks of earnestness without the heart of earnestness is like painting a furnace red to make it appear hot” (p. 118).

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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