Wesleyan Homiletics

In a few sentences, what are some of the characteristics that make Wesleyan homiletics unique? While we have so much in common with the preaching convictions of various streams in the Christian movement, what are some of the distinct traits of Wesleyan preaching, in particular, in terms of sermon preparation, content, delivery, and goals?

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26 thoughts on “Wesleyan Homiletics

  1. Wesleyan’s see the bigger picture of sin and holiness during sermon prep. It is not enough just to say “Adam sinned” and we need to repent. But, “Adam sinned”, we need to repent, and we need to see the reason and the cure for sin. It is more than forgiveness, repentance, and “acting Christian”. It is about realizing there is a sin problem and nothing we can do or any way we act can fix it. It needs to be through Christ and the purity He brings. Holiness is not how we act, it is who we are in Christ which in turn changes our behavior. To me, this is a distinction in our Theology thus making our homiletical process different from prep to expected outcome to content.

    • Al, I appreciate your thoughts here. I am with you but I am wondering, how does your view of Wesleyan holiness impact your process of sermon preparation and presentation? Looking forward to your thoughts.

      • That is a good and fair question to ask Lenny. My view impacts the way I prepare is that I see (look for) the transformational verses in a passage rather than just giving good advice. A recent example is a sermon from Luke 19 on Zacchaeus. Yes he wanted to see Jesus, he was a tax collector ect., but to me the key to this story is vs. 8 “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” He was a new man. He went from being someone dishonest, to going above and beyond what the law stated in return for cheating someone. The law stated return plus 20%, but he said four fold. This is done in the prep portion and thoroughly explored during IBS in prep. It changes the way I present because I believe it, live it, have witnessed it, and experienced it. I don’t know what it is like to as rich as Zacc. I do not know what it is like to be short. I have never experienced eating a physical meal with Jesus. All of these are vital to the story and make for good preaching, but I have experienced having my focus and understanding of who I am and who Jesus is changed. I have experienced being transformed (although I am still in the continual process) by Jesus. As I get to this portion of the sermon I can’t help but be a little more excited and clear that having an experience with Jesus will change you forever. Does this answer your question? I can’t help but get a little pumped up just thinking about it in response to your question.

        • Love it, Al! I think what you’re saying is that when the person of the preacher experiences the Gospel reality being preached, stuff happens! According to Wesleyan homiletics, it matters whether or not the preacher is walking with God instead of merely talking about God.

  2. Good point, Al. I think we also plan and prepare our sermons to invite God’s people to join him in his redemptive work in the world. Some traditions focus primarily on teaching proper theology. Others aim at practicality and relevance. We bring these things together to see the Spirit change every area of life.

  3. I am not convinced that there would be a difference in Wesleyan or Holiness preaching. The real question is what makes good preaching? If we can answer this question, then we will have good Wesleyan/Holiness preaching. Let me suggest seven characteristics that make for good preaching and, hence, good Wesleyan/Holiness preaching:

    Prayerful – No message can be written only in human terms. It must the culmination of God working in the life of the preacher. If prayer is talking to and listening to God, then each sermon must arise out of the time the preacher spends before the thrown of grace.

    Biblical – principles come from scripture. This requires that the preacher knows and loves God’s Word. The principles do not vary.

    Relevant – speaks to today’s audience, those in front of you for this message. The preacher must know their age, gender, their marital status, their dreams. Though the principle may not change, the audience will.

    Theological – we may differ in our theology, but we need to teach truth as best we understand it. The preacher must understand what he or she believes. Theology is not merely our truth, it is God’s truth. Let’s help our people understand it and make it their own.

    Humble – I will do my best to understand what God wants of me, of His church. But, here is the catch, I am broken. The Fall damaged every area of our existence – including our understanding of God. Whether I am Wesleyan, Calvinist, Pentecostal, etc., I must recognize that what I believe may be flawed.

    Applicable – God’s word transforms – when we preach from it, we should expect to see people transformed. This means people make decisions – decisions to follow Christ, decisions to act more like Christ, decisions to be with Christ – where ever we may be.

    Prayerful – A sermon that starts must also be finished prayer. The finished product must be bathed in prayer to the same way that it was started in prayer.

    • Floyd, thanks for these thorough and helpful thoughts. First, I appreciate your emphasis on the importance of beginning and ending the homiletic process in prayer. Well said! I actually wrote my dissertation on Preaching as a Spiritual Disicpline in which I stressed the same thing. You mention that a good sermon is theological. I wanted to see you unpack this a bit more, though I’m sure you were trying to keep it brief. The further I went in my preaching ministry the more I felt that my sermons needed to be more theological. That is, I didn’t just want to give my people life-application and good advice, though this is important; I also wanted to make sure the sermon revealed something substantial about God the Father, Son and/or Holy Spirit. I, to my shame, preached some sermons that laid out good advice that could be applied without any relational connection to or dependence upon God. Wesleyan preaching, at its core, aims to incarnate Christ, since he is the only one who can sanctify us.

      • Thank you for the kind words – before I answer your direct question about theology, some truth in advertising is appropriate – so let me begin with a bit of testimony.

        Many years ago, back in 1972 or 1973, I was attending Wesleyan/Holiness church but was thoroughly involved in my college’s IVCF group which was composed of many (all?) Calvinist. My personal study had convinced me that the Wesleyan position (as I understood it at the time) was correct, but as I looked at seminary, I wanted a place which would allow me to continue to make up my own mind. At the time, I knew of two seminaries that were strongly Wesleyan (Western Evangelical Seminary and Asbury Seminary) and a great many Calvinist seminaries being looked at by IVCF friends.

        At about the same time, I attended an weekend conference sponsored by IVCF. I asked for a few minutes with the weekend speaker, some guy named Paul E. Little, if such a seminary existed. Though I was naive at the time, he recommended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Sadly, Paul Little died the summer after I began studies at TEDS and I never was able to study under this Godly man again.

        For me it was good choice – and I came out still convinced of my earlier response to Wesleyan-Holiness theology – with a better understanding of its historical and Biblical foundations. On the other hand, and here is why I tell this story, I was taught to preach by a Baptist, Lloyd Perry. It probably means my preaching is sounds more Baptist than Wesleyan. Given your earlier comments about Baptist and Wesleyan preaching, I expect it is only fair to give a brief introduction to my background.

        After spending 20 years in higher education, teaching Computer Science, I finally completed the ordination process and was ordained by the Wesleyan Church in the Summer of 2000. And nobody has told me that my “Baptist” preaching conflicts with the Wesleyan/Holiness preaching that they might expect from other ordinands. Well, at least till I saw your comment [:)].

        Now for some thoughts on theology and preaching. At the very least, the theology that is contained in our preaching ought to be intentionally theologically sound. But the purpose of my statement was more than just a call for theological soundness. It seems to me that our people need to know both WHAT they believe and WHY they believe it. Some of this will occur in our Sunday Schools, but it must also occur from the pulpit. As a pastor, I am better trained in theology. Thus, I also am better prepared to help my congregation to understand the faith that is theirs.

        Is this valid for the preacher? Let me give one way to support these thoughts from scripture. I Peter 3:15 says, “… in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, …” We know that this is true for us a preachers, but Peter is not writing to preachers. He is writing to “… This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” (I Pe 1:1b) He is writing to the church. As a pastor, I am called to prepare my people for the tasks that God gives them – and one of those tasks is to make a defense of the faith. This is not just apologetics, it is also theology – WHAT and WHY we believe.

        Does that explain some of what I meant by when I mentioned that preaching must be “Theological”. Thank you for listening. It sounds like you also have some ideas on this topic. I would be interested in hearing what you have to say.

        • Floyd, thanks for the background that led you to some of your homiletic theology on, well, theology:-) Also, thank you for taking your previous thoughts even further so that we can now appreciate and critique them to shreds…just kidding about that last part:-)

          I agree that our preaching needs to articulate “what” we believe and “why” we believe those things. For me, beyond the what and the why, is the Who question that should be addressed through our preaching. The what addresses doctrinal considerations; the why gives apologetic rationale; but the Who question leads one into an encounter with Christ, or at least I hope it does. I believe the theological bar for Christian preaching is to develop and deliver sermons in a way that incarnates, or manifests, Christ in the moment those words are spoken. It’s hard enough to preach good sermons, let alone sermons that, like Mary, birth Christ for the listener to encounter. Sometimes theological preaching can feel so doctrinal (about God) and apologetic (defend God) that it is never incarnational (reveals God). At other times, we are simply offering the logic of apologetics, which has its place but is usually ill-equipped to bring people into an encounter with God. While I am not sure I have been preaching long enough to answer the question of “how” Christ is incarnate through the sermon, it seems to me this is the goal that makes preaching theologically substantive not just for the head, but also the heart and hands.

          • Thanks for the feedback. I really like your outline of WHAT, WHY, and WHO:

            WHAT – is our theology
            WHY – is our apologetics
            WHO – is the focus of preaching, Jesus

            But theology is more than just a statement of what we believe, it is also the scripture and philosophy that support that view. When I attended seminary, the primary theology text was Henry Orton Wiley’s “Christian Theology”. It was a good descriptive theology – but did little to support the Wesleyan/Holiness position. It might explain why many of today’s Wesleyan preachers are less concerned with theology than our Calvinist brothers and sisters.

            There are other alternatives to Wiley. William Burton Pope’s “Compendium of Christian Theology” does a better job of using Scripture to support Wesleyan theology. In a similar vane, Richard Watson’s “Theological Institutes” did a better job of presenting the philosophical arguments that supported Wesleyan theology. Both were writing back in 19th century, so they are a bit dated. John Miley and Thomas Oden both appear to do a better job of blending these two approaches, though I am not as familiar with them as I am with Wiley, Pope, and Watson. Sadly, I know of know of no Wesleyan theology that is as thorough in its scriptural analysis as Augustus Strong’s “Systematic Theology”.

            Finally, it is important to note that, like preaching, our theology should ultimately point us toward the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.

            Thus, the What, the Why, and the Who, are all part of our theology. They are not quite as distinct as your statement makes it sound. And if this true, then our preaching will be theological as it points us to Jesus. I sense we agree on this point.

            In your response, you state that,

            “I believe the theological bar for Christian preaching is to develop and deliver sermons in a way that incarnates, or manifests, Christ in the moment those words are spoken. It’s hard enough to preach good sermons, let alone sermons that, like Mary, birth Christ for the listener to encounter.”

            The terminology used here sounds very much like a Catholic view of communion. We cannot make Christ incarnate. Christ is incarnate, because of his birth and, later, his resurrection, not because of something we do or say. I prefer the language you used at another point in your note – our preaching is to reveal God and Jesus Christ. I expect that you mean the same thing; but the use of a well defined term in another context, can be confusing. Let me know if I am confused here.

            Again, thank you for the dialog. I appreciate the time you have taken to respond to each of us here.

            Yours because His,

            Floyd Johnson

          • Floyd, I love your thought processes and would love to sit and sip coffee over some theological discussion…but I am teaching an all-day preaching class at Wesley Seminary right now:-) We are actually discussing our theology of preaching at the moment. Two quick thoughts:
            -The reason why resources for Wesleyan theology are so slim is because Wesley avoided simply using philophical categories for his theology, as many of our Reformed brothers and sisters have done. Wesley advocated using scripture, experience, reason, and tradition to form our theology (Outler’s Wesleyan Quarilateral). Most theologies tend to miss the exprience piece and are heavy on reason.
            -I’m glad ou pushed back on my sermonic bar of incarnating Christ in the moment the words are spoken. I expected as much. What I mean by this is similar to what Barth, a Reformed theologian oddly enough, stated was the bar of Christian preaching. Is the Word showing up to empower the words of the preacher. If the Word (Christ) is not present then preaching doesn’t happen. Barth put the responsibility for God showing up squarely on God. Wesley, I think, would say the preacher can cultivate the sermonic soil in ways that invite God to show up. At any rate, the sermon should invite the Word into and through our words.

          • After writing last night, it dawned on me that the concept of Preaching as incarnation may be a common one – just one that I have never heard (I have been out of seminary for 30+ years). Can you recommend resources that would discuss this topic further? Thank you for any suggestions you can make.

          • The Kinlaw book Al recommends is a good one- Preaching in the Spirit. Barth’s Homiletics makes the case for the sermon as incarnation, but in a a Reformed sort of way. If I think of more I will let you know. I did write my dissertation on Preaching as a Spiritual Discipline. I was hoping to develop a sermon preparation process that kept the preacher connected to Christ through spiritual disciplines. You can find the 10 page article and sermon preparation process I developed by going to: http://seminary.indwes.edu/Resources/default.aspx?id=285

          • Floyd, if I may suggest an older book that I think speaks of incarnational preaching; “Preaching in the Spirit” by Dennis Kinlaw. It is short, and a practical read.

          • Al – I have already ordered a pre-read copy of Kinlaw’s book. Thank you for the reference.

            Lenny, I too would enjoy sitting down an chatting – but two problems present themselves. First, I live in upstate NY where I was on the faculty of Roberts Wesleyan College for 10 years. Maybe sometime in the future. I did discover you new book “Effective Preaching” coming out later this Sprint. As a reviewer, WPH was kind enough to forward an Advance Readers Copy for my perusal. I am already finding myself drawn into the book – it looks good.

            Because there were 30 years between my seminary training and my ordination, I took on the task of providing myself some retraining even as I gathered the paperwork for ordination. This included a number of FLAME courses and completing a degree in Community Counseling from the University of Nebraska. I also stumbled on Wayne McDill’s book on preaching. I am now looking forward to reading your book.

            Thanks for the reminder about the Wesleyan Quadralateral – it had slipped my mind. I still think it sad that no one has tried to create a Biblically based systematic theology.

            Thank you for the comments on incarnational preaching. I would agree – The preacher in the pulpit must be filled with the Holy Spirit (certainly not a given – either in the person or at the time of preaching) as he seeks to deliver God’s message for the day. But, as you say, the presence of God, is really God’s responsibility. God can even used a poorly delivered message by an ill-prepared preacher to reach broken and hurting people.

            My devotions last night were from Matthew 11:28 – it is Jesus who bids us come, not the preacher. God may use the preacher, but it is Jesus. I think this is what you are trying to say.

            Again, thank you for the conversation.


            Floyd Johnson

  4. Ah, you have asked the question that is on my mind these days, as you know Lenny. Those that don’t know me, a Wesleyan homiletic is the focus on my doctoral dissertation. So as hard as it might be, I’ll try and stick to your request for a few sentences.

    First of all, I see a major distinction of Wesleyan homiletics as being the outcome of the sermon event. We want to see a transformation take place. We’re looking for what I’ve heard Steve Deneff call “a theological shift.” We don’t want to simply entertain or excite our congregations. We want to see God transform them by the power of his Word.

    A second distinction that grows out of the first one. Wesleyan homiletics should be enthusiastically optimistic. We don’t believe that God saves us and then leaves us in a holding pattern for the next life. He saves us for fullness of life on this side of heaven too! We also believe that no matter how strong the bonds of sin have been in a believer’s life the Holy Spirit can deliver one from that bondage. It IS possible through Christ to overcome the power of sin.

    These two distinctions work themselves out when we prepare and preach because we know that no matter what issue we are preaching on, whether it is social issues, addiction, or whatever, we are never alone. The incarnational, transformative work of the triune God is always the reality in which we live. Life change and transformation are possible because of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. That knowledge is a great place to start a sermon. It is a great place to end it too!

    • Mark, thanks for your insightful comments concerning a Wesleyan homiletic. I especially appreciate your point about enthusiastic optimism. This is, in my estimation, one of the things that makes Wesleyan preaching so unique. Wesley believed that the grace of God is powerful enough to, essentially, reverse the impact of the Genesis 3 Fall so that the original imago dei, the image of God, is restored in us. This means that Wesleyan preaching, unlike the preaching of some other Christian traditions which over-emphasize human falleness and underestimate the power of God to reverse the impact of the Fall, will move people past pessimistic defeatism and toward an optimistic view of God’s sanctifying grace. Our preaching, then, should be one that reminds people not merely of our depravity but mainly of our potential to live the Christ-life. Unfortunately, it seems that some preaching in the Wesleyan Church is more Reformed or Baptistic than Wesleyan in regard to human depravity and it’s consequences. I hope I am being cryptic enough as not to offend anyone:-)

      • Our work is cut out for us isn’t it? I agree 100% with your assessment of some of Wesleyan preaching. That’s why I appreciate your work and this website. God is up to something big in our midst!!

  5. Holiness preachers tend to have a stronger anointing of the Holy Spirit in all their endeavors. God favors holiness messages…as these messages call us to bow down before Him. Holiness homiletics flows supernaturally through a speaker’s life, sermon preparation and delivery.

    Holiness parishoners expect more from God and receive more. I want to be were these two groups converge.

    • Well said, Al. Me too! Of course, at some point we ought to define holiness here. I think Wesley was quite clear in his definition, though I think his emphasis has gotten lost at times-even in our tradition. Holiness, if I read Wesley and Scripture correctly, can be defined as selfless love for God and people. This love heightens the ethos of the preacher in a way that enhances the sermon.

  6. Thanks Lenny,

    I might rephrase the first statement to state that preachers who preach holiness messages tend to have stronger anointing. Preachers of non-holiness traditions provide great examples of our aspirations. ‘Selfless love for God and people’ transcends the various streams of the Christian movement.

  7. A Wesleyan homiletic might be most unique in it’s high view of grace. Since we have such a positive view of how much God’s grace might change us, our sermons can, and should, include more than just a call to get someone across the line. A Wesleyan sermon can begin with the end in mind, not just try to get minds across the line.

      • Floyd – thanks for the question. Good distinction. I was trying to draw out the difference between a call that “just gets someone across the line” and a call that reflects our positive and high view of how grace can transform a life. The issue is not the matter of a “call”–it is how deep and wide that call can be. Our view of grace is deeper (sanctification) and wider (free will) than the views of other preachers.