We are nearing the end of our conversation with Dr. Clifford Jones’ book Preaching with Power. In this post we will look at the chapter that contains the interview with Dr. Benjamin Reaves. Dr. Reaves taught homiletics at Oakwood College as a professor. He also was the chair of Religion and Theology department, as well as President during his tenure at Oakwood College. He is currently a vice president of Adventist Health Systems.
Understanding of Preaching
Dr. Reaves sees preaching as “communicating biblical truth from God, by God’s power, for God’s saving purpose. The objective of preaching is to motivate people to accept God’s will and plan for their lives. The sermon is the vehicle to communicate biblical truth.”
Here Dr. Reaves sees the importance of preaching Biblical truth, but with purpose. The purpose is to motivate people to accept God’s will and plan. The sermon is not only useful information but it also utilizes the Bible to energize God’s people for action based on God’s plan.
Method of Sermon Preparation
Because Dr. Reaves is now in “itinerant ministry” he considers the occasion, needs of the people, current events, as well as the preacher’s own need in the determination of what to preach. When he was in parish ministry he used the aspects of ministry to come up with a preaching calendar.
This discussion of determination of what to preach for itinerant preachers is valuable. I like Dr. Reaves’ approach especially his recognition that even the preacher’s needs can shape the pastoral approach.
Dr. Reaves’ next step is to prepare the preacher. This is something that is done all of the time. The preacher is not one that simply comes up with a sermon, but should always be in contact with the divine.
Dr. Reaves’ “actual” preparation consists of asking several questions that H. Grady Davis introduced. Among other things, Dr. Reaves asks, what does the passage say? He quickly adds that this investigation is completed independent of any bible commentary. Dr. Reaves reads the passage several times in many different translations. Each time he applys the questions that in Davis’ work. Dr. Reaves then moves to exegetical commentaries and finally Dr. Reaves creates a homiletical outline.
Dr. Reaves is a manuscript preacher. There is argument over whether use of the mansucript is a hinderance to effective preaching. In an upcoming podcast you will hear Dr. Derek Morris present that he believes it is important. Dr. Reaves emphasizes that the issue is not whether you use notes or you do not use them, but that you are effective in your use of the manuscript. Dr. Reaves notes that Charles Adams (the Harvard Whooper) is a master of manuscript preaching.
It is interesting how Dr. Reaves and Dr. Morris both love to preach narrative sermons while one uses the manuscript and the other preaches without notes. One thign is certain, great preaching does not require either a mansuscript or a lack thereof. Currently, however, I tend to agree with Dr. Morris that leaving the notes behind can open up avenues for a greater connection to the people. By no means does this mean that Dr. Reaves is not effective. Dr. Reaves is one of the most effective preachers that I have heard. I would encourage all to see the number of sermons that are available for Dr. Reaves on the internet. My site provides many links.
Understanding of Black Preaching
Dr. Reaves rightly notes that Black preaching is not a monolithic ideal nor is it a merely a style of preaching. At the heart of Black preaching is a world view that believes that God is a liberator who will make all things right. Reaves rightly notes that we must not fall into the trap of thinking that if there is no celebration there is no Black preaching.
Dr. Reaves seems to believe that the Black Preachers uniqueness comes from theology. Black preaching is not necessarily in volume or style, but in a perspective that sees God on the side of the poor and the oppressed working for their good. This is in line with Dr. Cleophas LaRue’s beleif that Black Preachers approach the text with
two fundamental questions in mind with respect to the creation of their sermon: (1) How do I demonstrate to God’s people this day through the proclamation of the Word the mighty and gracious acts of God on their behalf? and (2) How best shall I join together scripture and their life situations in order to address their plight in a meaningful and practical manner?Heart of Black Preaching, 19
I think it cheapens Black Preaching to reduce it to Whooping or yelling or noise. As Dr. Reaves notes if we follow such understandings then Howard Thurman would not be considered a Black Preacher.
Lest I be misunderstood, I do not wish to minimize or eliminate the enthusiastic proclamation of the Word that sometimes demonstrates itself in raise voice and yes even Whooping. But my only point is that the absense of this characteristic component does not mean that Black preaching has not taken place.
Understanding of Adventist Preaching
Dr. Reaves believes that one can be both authentically black and also teach Adventist doctrines. He notes that :
The choice is not between preaching Adventist doctrines and being authentically black in your preaching, but rather having a real sense of one’s self, and a real sense of the meaning of the gospel as it is interpreted through the Adventist tradition.
Dr. Reaves beleives that the “deliverance” aspect that is in black preaching is integral to the Adventist message. He concludes by saying, “We as Adventist preachers need to do…a better job of preaching the liberating aspects of our doctrines.”
I have saught to do some of this in the Sabbath work that you see on this blog, let us move forward in making the doctrines relevant by looking at them with an eye for what delivers God’s people and the world from the demonic.