On Books, Old and New

On H. B. Charles, Jr.'s On Preaching

On PreachingFor preachers, trusting authors of books on preaching is like is trusting authors of hunting magazines. The writer adds credibility if he has some nice mounts on the wall. Similarly, H. B. Charles, Jr. is a reliable guide on good preaching because he exemplifies it.

Charles—who preached his first sermon at age 11 and became a pastor at age 17—combines the impassioned, authoritative delivery of the African-American tradition with a deep commitment to biblical exposition. Such combination is dynamite, and Charles is a man of power in the pulpit.

Charles describes On Preaching as “not a textbook on preaching. It is a handbook of best practices, not a technical or theoretical treatise of hermeneutics or homiletics. “[1] Moreover, he acknowledges, “I am not an expert trying to show you the way it is done. I am a fellow traveler hoping to partner with you on the journey.”[2]

Though Charles chose to under-promise in On Preaching, throughout the book’s three main sections—Preparation for Preaching, The Practice of Preaching, and Points of Wisdom for Preaching—he manages to over-deliver.

Charles’ foundational conviction is that preaching is the central act of Christian worship and the central responsibility of the Christian minister. But not just any kind of preaching will do. Charles insists, like the Apostle Paul, that the preacher is to preach the Word—biblical, expository preaching. [3]

Charles is a natural wordsmith, with his book—like his preaching—being filled with metaphors and analogies. Among the memorable words of instruction are:

  • “The bow that is always bent will soon break. You need to be delivered from the sweet bondage of weekly preparation occasionally”[4]
  • “The title is the sermon concealed. The sermon is the title revealed.”[5]
  • “The title should not bear false witness against the sermon.”[6]
  • “How many points should a sermon have? As many or as few as the text requires.”[7]
  • “Effective preaching requires that you exegete your audience as well as your text.”[8]
  • “As Christian preachers, we are royal heralds, not court jesters. We are ambassadors, not clowns. We are called to edify and evangelize, not entertain.”[9]
  • “Preach the message, not the manuscript.”[10]

Charles’ chapter on “Sermon Transitions” is most helpful, and it typifies the content and style of the entire book. In this chapter, Charles declares war on “things.” He writes: “Get things out of your sermon. . . . The word ‘things’ is nonspecific. The more specific you are, the more compelling your ideas will be. So try other key words instead of ‘things.’”

  • Give four reasons why believers should pray.
  • State three requirements for Christian discipleship.
  • Share five benefits of forgiving people who have wronged you.
  • Describe the dynamics of a healthy church.
  • Explain the signs of true conversion.
  • Present three principles to practice for loving your spouse.
  • Warn of the dangers of living selfishly.[11]

On Preaching is a collect-all on preaching. It is not all theory, though theory abounds. It is not all practical, though it is chocked-full with practical insights. In fact, On Preaching reminded me of Spurgeon’s Lectures to my Students. It conversationally presents preaching insights and practicalities from an accomplished minister to aspiring ones.

For preachers, there is a bottomless stack of books on preaching one can read. But for the preachers seeking to up their game, On Preaching is worth moving near the top of the stack.


[1] H. B. Charles, On Preaching: Personal and Pastoral Insights for the Practice and Preparation of Preaching (Chicago: Moody, 2014), 11.

[2] Ibid., 11.

[3] Ibid., 16, 35, 50.

[4] Ibid., 33.

[5] Ibid., 74.

[6] Ibid., 75.

[7] Ibid., 69.

[8] Ibid., 81.

[9] Ibid., 76.

[10] Ibid., 105.

[11] Ibid., 84.

topicsH. B. CharlesPreaching

One Response to “On H. B. Charles, Jr.'s On Preaching”

November 26, 2014 at 7:55 am, Olumide Omatsola Agboghoroma said:

Not court jesters, clowns and entertainers, not even motivational speakers. We are called to preach the word that is eternally true and relevant. Shalom!!!

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