SINCE I’VE BECOME A PROFESSOR OF HOMILETICS, PEOPLE OFTEN ASK WHAT homiletics is, and exactly how it is taught. The dictionary definition of homiletics is “that which resembles or relates to a homily (a short sermon, discourse, or lecture on a moral theme or inspirational catchphrase).” So the discipline of homiletics is the art and craft of preparing and preaching sermons that transform hearers, more than speeches that merely inform them.
Homiletics is also the study of God’s Word by divinely called and chosen spokespersons to bring His message to contemporaries by explaining biblical texts with special emphasis on prophetic preaching, rather than the current popular pastoral or conversational styles of sermon delivery.
Prophetic preaching includes, but is not limited to, the preaching of prophecy. It is a spiritual gift that seeks to faithfully proclaim God’s Word with the authority of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the passion of great preachers of the past to move the church forward in His name. This gift is generously given to our generation for the transformation of hearers “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12, NRSV).*
A preacher’s creativity, confidence, and enthusiasm can be dampened by the boundaries of human speculation and restraints derived from carnally constructed barriers such as race or culture. But prophetic preaching unleashes preachers who are often unlikely prospects from a human perspective. They may be outcasts, misfits, and deserters, such as the original disciples. They are often poor, youth, women, men of no special regard; strangers to the kingdom of God about which they must make the Word meaningful. Wrote the apostle Paul: “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world . . . so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:26-29, NRSV).
As a professor of homiletics, I educate students to be wise according to the Spirit, so that when they preach the Word listeners actually hear the voice of God. Preaching is more than standing in a pulpit and proclaiming words. WISE is an acronym for:
W–worship, (Greek, prokuneo) composed of pros, to make obeisance toward (the One who is the truth) and kuneo, to kiss (representing the spirit of spontaneous joy and unrestrained praise—see Rev. 14:7). Today’s preachers are divinely called to usher in the spiritual revival longed for and prayed for by our community of faith. They are to inspire worshippers to worship God in spirit and truth to a movement strong on declaring “truth” but often weak on the “spirit” of praise.
I–instruction (Acts 2:42). In this day of shallow, syrupy sermons that lack power to pierce beyond the pretentiousness in which some worshippers shroud themselves, congregations must be instructed through passionate, biblical, prophetic preaching and teaching; not only during a vibrant Sabbath service, but also at midweek meetings.
S–service (Matt. 28:20). After gathering for worship and instruction, believers must be equipped to serve. Like football players who huddle with their quarterback long enough to receive the next play, worshippers gather together every Sabbath to receive their assignments and implement them during the week as partners with Christ in the mission of seeking and saving the lost.
E–evangelism (Eph. 4:5). The expression of the divine call to preach prophetically is a genuine, even desperate, concern for the salvation of others. Through consistent, inspired outreach servants of God affirm, help, and encourage those who are “of the world” (1 John 2:16, 17) while living “in the world” by preaching the good news of God’s grace (John 3:16).
This, and much more, is involved in preaching, aka homiletics (2 Tim. 4:2).
*Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Hyveth Williams is a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. This article was published November 25, 2010.