Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Necessary Preaching Distinction: Extemoraneous vs. Impromptu vs. Manuscript Preaching

I understand that preaching for all of us preachers is personal and something we all desire to improve on with God grace and calling. Michael Gerson’s recent article, What the Teleprompter Teaches, on President Obama's use teleprompters, and well-crafted words can teach us important lessons. Gerson argues that teleprompters have increased a President’s disciplined thought and communication. Josh Harris says preachers should learn from this and pursue a more disciplined approach to communicating Scripture. Writing is very important for a preacher of the Gospel. Great Writing hones our preaching. We need to spend time in the study reading and writing the ideas we are going to preaching on, otherwise we will be slopy preachers without much depth. We need to communicate the gospel carefully and can learn from Michael Gerson’s article on Presidentual/politician use teleprompters that we need to pursue a more disciplined approach to communicating Scripture accurately and carefully. The Spirit can and does work in our study during the week as well in the pulpit.

But If you will alow me, I would like to push back with the general point and tone of Michale Gerson's article because it presents a partial truth as the whole truth. Is preaching from a teleprompter or a manuscript a good option for most preachers (or for politicians for that matter) as Michael Gerson seems to think for it is for speakers? NO IMHO (not even for President Obama)! It ties one down to their notes and doesn't allow passion and ernestness to be genuine as Spurgeon would encourage his students. When preachers take a manuscript into the pulpit, their manuscript is ususaly writen for the eyes and thus they don't preach for the ears (whcih requires a different style of writing) or connect with the congregation to the truth of the message through their personality. You would never find a lawer reading a manuscript in his closing argument because it is just not persuasive. Manuscripting preaching IMHO is also an act of plargerizing oneself if one doesn't allow for the forming of the actual words at the time of preaching. It is Echo preaching because we don't have the same understanding, passion, ernestness, genuiness for the point of the passage as we did in our study. We must preach the truth out the saturation of the Word and Spirit.

Does Michel Gerson seem to understand the difference between improptu (off the top of my head) and extemporaneous preaching. NO IMHO! While imprompu speaking is lazy speaking because the ideas have not germinated and saturated the speakers heart, Extemporaneous preaching takes alot of work and study and writing (especially if one is committed to Extemporaneous-Expository preaching). Extemporaneous preaching is not off the cuff preaching. When one preaches Extemporaneously, the pastor (speaker) has spent time studying (exegeting) the passage of scripture, writing down ideas, thoughts, pictures, illustrations, metaphors, applications, argumentations, explanations and placing them in relationship to each other. This is oftem painstaking work. But when one place them in a homeletical (sermonic) arrangement to preach, one should have the idea of speaking out of one's real knowledge of their study. In other words, one should craft a sermon after much writing so that one will not need notes (or as little as possible). I don't want to hear what a preacher has written down (he can give that to me in a USB drive on my way out, so I can read it during the week). I want to know what the truth/point/sugject of the particular passage scripture means and that how it has affect him so much that he believes it is necessary that we hear the message God has placed in his heart. Sermon transcriptes are better at this point that sermon manuscripts. Don't bore me! It may be just my opinion, but I see the same judgement of preaching in the history of the Christian church: that extemporaneous exposition is the best.

Yes, I agree that we need to prusue a more discipline apprach to communicating (including writing) but Michael Gerson doesn't make the distiction between inproptu seaking and extemporaneous speaking which makes his overall point less persuasive. Do you think that it is important to make sure that extemporaneous exposition is championed today?


  1. Good post Glenn. You make a number of helpful and good points about preaching extemporaneously coupled with diligent study.

    However, I'm not sure I would be quite so hard on those who do use full length manuscripts to preach from.

    Jonathan Edwards preached "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" in Enfield from a full manuscript. I've seen copies of John Piper's sermon manuscripts that he brings to the pulpit. Mark Dever preaches from a manuscript (Times New Roman, 12 pt font - the one I looked at). Dr. Daniel Block, an OT professor I had at Southern, preached from a full manuscript - he is a phenomenal preacher. I'm sure there are plenty of excellent preachers who use a word-for-word manuscript (though I know of none who actually use a teleprompter).

    I think I agree with a bit of advice I heard from Mark Dever when he encouraged those who tend to have a large personality to take a full manuscript, so that their personality did not tend to dominate the sermon above the message content. For those who are a bit more introverted, they should bring fewer notes to the pulpit, so that more of their personality would come out. I've found it to be some helpful advice personally.

    What do you think?

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  3. Howdy Bret,
    Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to this post. Other things were more important as you can understand. I just wanted to affirm that I do see men who are so gifted in the use of manuscripts such as Jonathan edwards, Mark Dever, John Piper, etc., but they are the exceptions in my viewpoint.

    I have evaluated the sermons of some of the disciples of manuscript preachers and while the teacher is remarkable and gifted by God in this way, most if not all of their disciples would have been better served by throwing away the manuscript, and preaching extemporaneous with no notes or with little notes.

    Is there an article that elucidates the advice that you heard from Mark Dever (an incredible manuscript preacher) that "those who tend to have a large personality would be served well by taking a full manuscript into the pulpit." If preaching is "truth through personality" then personal passion and/or ernestness is part of preaching. In thinking about that advice I think it is good for those who let their personality dominate with stories while disregarding the Truth!

    A great article on preaching and our need for humility and confidence in the gospel and not technique is found at The Melios Theological Journal( Pastoral Pensées: Power in Preaching: Decide (1 Corinthians 2:1–5) (, this would be a great sermon to unpack with regard to our calling to biblical expository preaching.