Spirit-Led Preaching

Heisler, Greg. Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2007.

This coming spring I expect to be team-teaching a course on the work of the Spirit in the practice of preaching. It’s been a tough course to find a good textbook for. Most homiletic texts pay some attention to the work of the Spirit. Scarcely anyone would disagree as to the place of the Spirit in the work of preaching. Yet there are few books that directly speak to the mysterious ways of the Spirit in relation to the work of the preacher.

Greg Heisler has tried to fill that gap with his book, Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery (B & H Academic, 2007). Heisler is assistant professor of preaching at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Building from his personal experience as a preacher and teacher, Heisler attempts to help preachers think about the way in which the Holy Spirit gets involved in the preparation process.

It’s a subject that we struggle with in every homiletics class. How does what the Holy Spirit does intersect with what I do as a preacher? If spiritual work is the work of the Spirit, then why does it matter that I attend well to my work? Could I thwart the work of the Spirit with poor preparation? Why would the Spirit be dependent upon my level or preparation or lack thereof?

Heisler isn’t going to remove all of the mystery for us. These perplexing questions echo deeper and broader debates about the nature of God’s sovereignty and the freedom of the human individual created in God’s image. The questions aren’t going away any time soon. Still, Heisler serves us by leading us to think more fully about the way in which we not only acknowledge the Spirit in our preparation and delivery, but how we might be actually driven and filled by the Spirit in our preaching.

“Is there a danger,” he asks, “in having sound sermon structure and good preaching mechanics? Yes, the danger we face as preachers comes in the form of misplaced confidence. For example, when I begin to think that the power and effectiveness of my sermon comes from how well-structured or how well-packaged my sermon is on a given Sunday, I will quench and grieve the true power of preaching – the Holy Spirit of God. As a preacher of God’s Word, I must constantly remind myself that the power of my sermon is not located in how well my outline comes together in alliterative fashion. The power of my sermon does not come from my creative introduction or my perfect-fitting illustration. The preached message always finds its true source of power in the theological fusion of the Word of God and the Spirit of God joining together in Christological witness to the Son of God, coming through the proclamation of the man of God. (13)”

Heisler writes in the excellent tradition of classic exposition. The book is at its best as an invitation to reconsider the essential nature of the Spirit’s work in preaching. In that regard the book is highly motivating. It is, perhaps, a little less effective as a manual describing ways and means the Spirit’s power can be appropriated in our preaching. Yet it may be that this is how it has to be. The Spirit blows like the wind and resists our control. Still, preaching doesn’t work until the Spirit does. Heisler serves us by reminding us of this.