Book Review: “A Primer on Biblical Preaching” by Jerry Sutton

As a communicator, I have learned over the years the general principles involved in both writing and preaching a message. Understanding that some people think in words and others think in pictures is just one of the many insights it takes to formulate and deliver not simply a strong message, but also one that makes sense, is applicable to real life, and is even easy to recall at a moment’s notice. Jerry Sutton’s Primer is overflowing with such insights—and I do not use the word “overflowing” kindly.

Having been a pastor for thirty-two years and a professor of Preaching as well, Sutton obviously has a handle on the art of writing a message. My own opinion says, however, that writing a message and writing a book about writing a message are two completely different art forms, and Sutton is far less successful at the latter.

Imagine a professor who loves outlines. Now imagine him scratching all hopes for simplicity in those outlines by itemizing “simple steps” into groups of twelve or eighteen or twenty. Now imagine him refusing to use parallelism in those outlines. Now imagine him mixing bullet-points into his formal outlines whenever the wind blows that way. If you are still with me, finally imagine this professor taking years and years of such outlines, attempting to throw them into paragraph form, and then publishing them as a book on preaching. This is pretty much how I imagine Jerry Sutton actually wrote Primer, and goodness me, I had a terrible time getting through my required readings without tossing the book across the room.

If you are the type of person that requires directions for absolutely everything you do (i.e. “Move your right foot forward. Ok, now move your left foot forward. Hooray! You’re walking!”), then this is the book that will teach you how to preach. If, however, you can walk and chew gum at the same time (or even at separate times, if that’s too hard), then I would suggest passing this book by. I hate to be sarcastic in my book reviews, honestly, but the attitude that comes out in my writing here is the same one I felt throughout my reading of Primer. My sincere apologies if you find this too heartless, but I hope this helps you in your search for a worthwhile primer on preaching.

©2012 E.T.

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3 Responses to Book Review: “A Primer on Biblical Preaching” by Jerry Sutton

  1. I haven’t yet found a book on preaching that is really good…but I at least found “The Big Idea of Preaching” by Haddon Robinson to be helpful. I think what’s hard is some books attempt to cram both exegesis and sermon writing into one volume. While they work hand in hand, if you try to go through both at the same time it gets either a little long, a little too technical, or a little too messy. I hope the rest of your reading for school goes better!

    • I would have to agree, and this one certainly falls into the “messy” category. I guess another thing I didn’t like about this book is that the preacher on the cover only has 2 people in his audience! Not its best selling point.

  2. Agreed. And, well…its rather unlikely that someone going up to preach is going to be THAT focused on the Scripture. When I preach or teach, I always have a manuscript. I usually have the Scripture memorized, but I like to have a point of reference.

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