Redmond, Eric C. ed. Say It!: Celebrating Expository Preaching in the African American Tradition. Chicago: Moody, 2020, 240 pages, $14.99, paperback.
What does the Great Migration have to do with exposition? Much! The Black Church in the United States has a beautiful yet painful history. The African American preaching tradition arose in this context, producing notable preachers including John Jasper, Richard Allen, Francis J. Grimké, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gardner C. Taylor, James Earl Massey, and E. K. Bailey. Historically, African American preaching has been underresearched and underpublished. However, times are changing, and homiletical treasures are being unearthed and offered to Christ’s people. Eric C. Redmond (Ph.D., Capital Seminary and Graduate School) has assembled a top-notch lineup of African American homileticians in Say It! to “demonstrate the power of exposition in the cradle of the black pulpit” (back cover). Redmond is a Professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute and an Associate Pastor of Preaching, Teaching, and Care at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, IL. He has published several books and articles, including Where Are All the Brothers? Straight Answers to Men’s Questions About the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) and Christ-Centered Exposition: Jonah (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2016).
In the preface, Charlie E. Dates gives a taste of the riches of studying black preaching. Dates says, “One can learn much from a tradition of preaching that emerged from the transatlantic diaspora, is baptized in suffering, is sophisticated in rhetorical harmony, and yet proclaims salvation to the land of its own captivity” (p. 14). Dates suggests the African American hermeneutic and homiletic will assist preachers in a country that has witnessed Christianity move from the center to the margins.
In the introduction, Redmond shows embracing the African American preaching tradition does not diminish one’s ability to offer expositional preaching. Redmond believes there has been a misunderstanding—some have wrongly thought expositional preaching was the property of one culture. For example, a notable change can take place when a young African American is called to preach and enters an evangelical Bible college or seminary for training: “The people who have sent this young preacher to school no longer identify with the preacher’s sermon content” (p. 22). At times the young preacher develops “a growing disdain for what he believes is ‘the simplistic, unsophisticated’ preaching of the black church” (p. 23). Is it possible to preach expositionally and embrace one’s ethnic culture and preaching tradition?
A significant homiletical question arises: Is expository preaching a matter of form or content? After surveying definitions of exposition from Bryan Chapell, Albert Mohler, and Haddon Robinson, Redmond asserts, “Expository preaching concerns only the content of a message with respect to the words of Scripture and its accurate delivery” (p. 26). Since there is no requirement for a specific style of expression, the preacher is released from any burden to communicate the message in a particular style.
The rest of the book divides into four sections. Part 1 discusses the hermeneutics of African American preaching. In chapter 1, Winfred Neely shows the African American experience has molded preachers in this tradition to be sensitive to some biblical themes the evangelical world neglects. In chapters 2 and 3, Redmond and Ernest Gray show that though some are more difficult than others, all of the books of the OT and NT “are readily accessible and relevant for one to preach” (p. 57). Part 2 gives five sermons from each of the four major sections of the OT—the Pentateuch (George Parks, Jr.), Historical Books (Redmond), Poetical Books (Eric Mason), and Prophetic Books (Terry D. Streeter and Dates). Part 3 gives three sermons from three divisions of the NT—the Gospels and Acts (Romell Williams), the Epistles (Paul Felix), and Revelation (K. Edward Copeland). Finally, Redmond argues for lectio continua preaching in part 4. He asserts, “The best way to give our people the wealth of the truth of Christ for all aspects of their lives is to preach through full books of the Bible as the majority of the regular diet of our preaching” (218).
This book is commendable for at least three reasons. First, the authors demonstrate the African American preaching tradition and exposition go together more than some have assumed. The Black Church is not monolithic, and not all her ministers are considered expositors. Nevertheless, many of her ministers are excellent expositors. Students from all traditions will glean much from these expositors of the African American tradition. Readers will see how these preachers communicate the passage’s meaning and apply the ancient text to their listeners’ current, contextual realities.
Second, the chapters Redmond contributed to this volume were clear and practical. In the introduction, Redmond makes a clear case for the wedding of the African American preaching tradition and exposition while highlighting the dual emphases of justice and hope. In chapter 2, “A Ladder, A Mediator, and an Ark: The Challenge of Old Testament Exposition,” he shows preachers have nothing to fear when they preach from the OT. Students will find his hermeneutical discussion of genre and his exegetical insights of Genesis 28:10–22, Exodus 2:11–24, and Psalm 24 accessible and applicable. In chapter 5, Redmond gives a solid example of a sermon from an OT Historical Book, Joshua 14:6–15, and his pastoral insights at the end of the chapter are beneficial to preachers. Finally, in chapter 12, Redmond makes a convincing case for preaching through books of the Bible as the best way for preachers to model sound hermeneutical principles and give their congregations Christ from all the Scriptures.
Third, readers will find the sermon examples one of the book’s biggest strengths. Good preaching is both caught and taught. These sermons illustrate sound exposition in print form and will be helpful as examples to aspiring preachers. Doubtless, readers will miss out on the special delivery of these sermons, though, thankfully, internet technology allows for listening to sermons from these expositors. Each manuscript has an introduction and conclusion, which will prove particularly useful to aspiring preachers. Here, the preacher gives the context of preaching and homiletical insights.
There are a couple of areas readers should note. First, while the sermon examples were helpful, not every sermon given was a Christ-centered exposition. Due to hermeneutical and homiletical convictions, some preachers have different views about whether and how to preach Christ from the OT. Here, not every brother felt compelled to mention Jesus from an OT text or explain the gospel with clarity, which seemed out of step with Redmond’s Christ-centered advocacy (pgs. 217–218).
Second, readers should think through the definition, purpose, and method of expository preaching. What happens—or should!—when a preacher stands up with a Bible in front of a congregation? There is much to praise God for with the recent resurgence in expository preaching. The sermons of many professing expositors, however, reveal there is little consensus about what expository preaching means. Redmond’s definition of exposition, like Haddon Robinson’s, defines exposition more broadly than others. He places a greater emphasis on contextualization and speaking to the contemporary issues of the congregation. While some homileticians may define exposition more narrowly than Redmond and the sermons illustrate, this book will provoke constructive questions: How much should the text’s structure shape the sermon? What is the part of the preacher in advocating for social change? What is the Spirit’s role in exposition?
The body of Christ is beautiful in its diversity. While various traditions have different strengths and weaknesses, this book demonstrates this tradition has much to offer biblical and theological students and pastors. Here, readers engage with hermeneutics, exegesis, and application principles and see examples from the African American preaching tradition. After completing this book, readers may want greater exposure to this homiletical heritage. If so, they can join a bus tour through the history of the tradition in Introduction to the Practice of African American Preaching by Frank A. Thomas (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2016). Indeed, Students and pastors of any part of Christ’s body should read this book to learn how to Say It! well.
Parkway Baptist Church