The Voice of the Good Shepherd: Develop Your Whole Person, Chapter 14[1]

Gregory Edward Reynolds

Ordained Servant: May 2024

Planned Giving

Also in this issue

Seeing Red

Planned Giving as a Christian Duty

Chrysostom on the Ministry: A Review Article

Spiritual Warfare for the Care of Souls, by Harold Ristau

Passio Jesu
On Buxtehude, Membra Jesu Nostri

Shall we marvel then, if oratory, the highest gift of providence to man, needs the assistance of many arts, which, although they do not reveal or intrude themselves in actual speaking, supply hidden forces and make their silent presence felt? (Quintilian[2])

The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. (Ecclesiastes 12:10)

Whenever we come upon these matters in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. (John Calvin[3])

The Importance of General Preparation

General preparation is crucial for edifying preaching. Reading widely on a daily basis is the best fertilizer both for the soil of immediate exegesis and the blooming of the sermon itself. The study of theology has historically been embedded in the liberal arts. For example, Princeton Theological Seminary has always been part of what was originally the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University. This connection also accounts for the ordination requirement of a liberal education for ministers in most Presbyterian and Reformed churches. The trivium (the tools of learning) and the quadrivium (the subjects on which to apply the tools of the trivium) formed the basis for the study of theology—for Medievals, the queen of the sciences. The ancient orator Quintilian said, “Let his discourse continually turn on what is good and honourable.”[4]

“Though moral character is the foundation of Quintilian’s theory, he also advocates three additional practices to build oral competence. The first of these is to foster curiosity about many things.”[5] Quintilian observes that the influence of the liberal arts on public speaking may not be overtly present in the act of speaking, but they “supply hidden forces and make their silent presence felt.”[6]

Common Culture: The Theatre of General Preparation

General preparation involves participation in common culture. In the common culture, inhabited by believers and unbelievers, there is common curse and common blessing in every area of culture under the terms of the Noahic Covenant.[7] Since culture making, after the fall, is a human instinct rather than obedience to a command the term “cultural mandate” may be misleading, since fallen man, even with exquisite gifts, is not bent on glorifying God. “Common cultural instinct” might serve us better. In Genesis 9:1–17 we see the rainbow promise of God to Noah of a continual providential blessing on all people until the end of history. The theater of blessing and curse is common to all, until the redemptive program of God is fulfilled.

In the beginning God created man to subdue the earth to his glory. The presence of sin introduced at the fall does not negate or diminish man’s cultural calling. The fall initiated the idolatrous propensity to absolutize various elements of creation. However vitiated his motives or distorted his cultural creations, he is by nature a cultural being. Every activity involved in exploring and exploiting the potentialities of the creation is a cultural activity. Culture “is regarded by Scripture as an extension of creation.”[8] Ken Myers demonstrates the richness and complexity of this enterprise when he describes culture as

a dynamic pattern, an ever changing matrix of objects, artifacts, sound, institutions, philosophies, fashions, enthusiasms, myths, prejudices, relationships, attitudes, tastes, rituals, habits, colors, and loves, all embodied in individual people, in groups and collectives and associations of people (many of whom do not know they are associated), in books, in buildings, in the use of time and space, in wars, in jokes, and in food.[9]

Henry Van Til offers a more distilled definition:

Culture, then, is any and all human effort and labor expended upon the cosmos, to unearth its treasures and its riches and bring them into the service of man for the enrichment of human existence unto the glory of God.[10]

The presence of the Holy Spirit in all the creative and cultural activities of fallen man accounts for what Reformed theologians have termed “common grace.” In his commentary on Genesis 4:19ff, Calvin notes that

the invention of arts, and of other things which serve to the common use and convenience of life, is a gift of God by no means to be despised, and a faculty worthy of commendation. . . . Let us then know, that the sons of Cain, though deprived of the Spirit of regeneration, were yet endued with gifts of no despicable kind; just as the experience of all ages teaches us how widely the rays of divine light have shown on unbelieving nations, for the benefit of the present life; and we see, at the present time, that the excellent gifts of the Spirit are diffused through the whole human race.”[11]

This restraining influence in turn accounts for the continuation of history for the redemptive purposes of God.[12] Since the church lives in this world, its members participate in common cultural activities, which serve as a theatre of gospel witness as well as enjoyment of God’s world.

Along with common culture in general there are several important ways in which a minister may begin to think about various communication technologies in terms of their positive benefits. Os Guinness and John Seel state the purpose for writing their book No Gods but God:

Our purpose in writing is to provide fellow-followers of Christ to be on the lookout for the idolizing of modern myths and be prepared to give a rigorous account of our use of the best insights and powers of modernity.[13]

The positive blessings of common culture impinge on our assessment and enjoyment of electronic media. Along with the need for rest in a fallen world, recreation is a gift of God meant not only to relieve the tedium of work but also to bring glory to him in the enjoyment of his creation. As Paul enjoins the rich to be humble, he also reminds us that such blessings may be enjoyed in faith:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. (1 Tim. 6:17)

Enjoying cultural blessings is an important aspect of the preacher’s general preparation. It helps stimulate our imaginations. Clive Staples Lewis reminds us of the importance of the imagination as a gift of God:

I think that all things, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not least. “Reflect” is the important word. This lower life of the imagination is not a beginning of, nor a step toward, the higher life of the spirit, merely an image.[14]

The image, the visual aspect of being human, is not per se problematic for the Christian. G. K. Chesterton properly distinguishes between imagination, as God-given gift, and illusion, which is the stuff of idolatry:

Now it is still not uncommon to say that images are idols and that idols are dolls. I am content to say here that even dolls are not idols, but in the true sense images.  The very word images means things necessary to imagination. But not things contrary to reason; no, not even in a child. For imagination is almost the opposite of illusion.[15]

Many Jews and Protestants have wrongly constructed a dichotomy between word and image, based on a false interpretation of the Second Commandment. The biblical dichotomy is between idolatry and consecration to God. The Second Commandment specifically focuses on the means of worship. Even in the redemptive revelation of the tabernacle and temple, God displays a concern for beauty and craftsmanship using images of various kinds. Bezalel and Aholiab went to great pains to craft the tabernacle in accordance with God’s plans and specifications. In Exodus 31:3–5 we read:

I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.

This included images of pomegranates and cherubim. Thus, even in the Old Covenant, images were not forbidden means of worship. But they had to be prescribed by God explicitly. While these images were part of the “types and shadows” of the Mosaic economy, the two New Covenant sacraments involve prescribed visual elements. The Puritan “Regulative Principle” clearly forbids the use of images in worship, which form part of the substance of worship. This does not apply, nor did the Reformers or the Puritans intend it to apply, to our cultural endeavors.

Imagination is a gift of perception, essential to all human activity. The verbal interprets the visual, and the visual expresses the verbal. Witness how many words refer to visual realities. Language is full of metaphors. Imagination involves a complex mixture of the verbal and the visual. Reading involves the interpretation of images of letters and words on a printed page. To drive a wedge between words and images is not an option for the Christian media ecologist. Electronic media, especially the image media, are not inherently idolatrous. Remember, Calvin’s “idol factory” is the fallen human soul, not Apple or Microsoft. Electronic media are part of the God-given development of human culture. The Christian must critically appreciate them as such.

Thus, well done movies, DVDs, documentaries, searching the Internet to pursue a hobby, may be enjoyed with thanksgiving as each of these activities is consecrated to God, and thus useful in cultivating the whole person of the preacher.

Reading and Writing: Cultivating the Soul

With all that we have said about the importance of orality in earlier chapters, it needs to be emphasized that private reading, deep reading, broad reading, and constant reading of Scripture are absolutely essential to the development of the mind and spirit of the preacher. As Joel Nederhood counsels: “Be addicted to reading.”[16] This does not contradict the need to distinguish between written and oral in the pulpit. As William Zinsser observes in his classic On Writing Well:

Good writers of prose must be part poet, always listening to what they write. E. B. White is one of my favorite stylists because I’m conscious of being with a man who cares about the cadences and sonorities of the language.[17]

Since the spoken word came first, good writing will reflect the qualities of speech. Hence, the reading of good writing will help make us better handlers of the language in the pulpit. Furthermore, being a good writer enhances logical and rhetorical skills in public speech.[18]

One of the best ways to develop oral skill is to read aloud and pay attention to the best oral presentation outside the pulpit. Baseball’s radio announcers are an excellent example of vivid speech which engages the listener. In a visual age their skills are tested to the limit. They are well paid to hold attention, with words which stimulate the imagination so that the listener visualizes the game. These announcers were often English majors in college and former English teachers. “That hard grounder to the short stop ate him up. . . . He roped one over the head of the second baseman into right field. . . . He crushed that one and sent it into the stands in center field. . . . He had a notion, but checked his swing. . . . A one-two-three inning-ending double play.”

The preacher must cultivate a love for the English language, especially the spoken word. Ransack the best dictionaries. Choose the best poetry and prose and read it aloud. Read the Psalms, George Herbert, Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare, the essays and stories of G. K. Chesterton, Hillaire Belloc, Stephen Leacock, Christopher Morley, aloud!

It is not just reading, but reading aloud that helps the most. This is closer to an oral interpretation of the literature. Reading out loud not only focuses the student on the content at hand, but also toward its oral expression, inflection, and pace. . . . It is writing that forms the capacity for natural-sounding speech. . . . our minds are indelibly imprinted with speech patterns. . . . Reading good writing builds overall verbal agility, though in a very slow and indirect manner. . . . Quintilian has taught us that literacy and orality are not enemies.[19]

The King James Version is best suited to the practice of reading Scripture aloud, not because it is a perfect or even the best translation, but because it was produced in a golden age of orality, the Elizabethan age of Shakespeare. In this period the literary and the oral were held in superb balance. One thing is certain: the Authorized Version was translated to be read aloud in churches. The authorized title says, “appointed to be read in churches.” This did not mean silent, private reading. Let the beauty of the best of the richest language in history sink into your oral memory. Words are your tools. Court them. Work with them to become a wordsmith. Fall in love with them. As McLuhan said, “language itself is the principal channel and view-maker of experience for men everywhere.”[20] “The spoken word involves all the senses dramatically.”[21] The preached Word is the most powerful “view-maker” of all, as it corrects the idolatrous “view-making” propagated by the electronic media, and inculcates the redemptive “view-making” of the heavenly reality of the incarnate Logos.

A rich vocabulary is only developed through hard work. Looking up every unknown word is essential to developing a storehouse of tools of expression, what Quintilian calls “the treasure-house of eloquence.”[22] The Oxford English Dictionary is the standard,[23] but for everyday use Dictionary.com and the Merriam-Webster are excellent, and both have very accessible applications for computers and mobile devises. Furnishing the mind with tools for the tongue is akin to the painter’s skill in mixing colors on his paint-filled pallet.

Often the King James Version is considered a stumbling block to modern understanding. I believe that is only partly true, and largely due to some—there are not that many—archaic words. But when read aloud it has a vividness and an oral power unequaled by any other translation. Because the average person today has little sensibility for the beauty and power of Elizabethan English, jaded as we are by secondary orality, image media, and functional illiteracy, I believe we are wisest to use a modern translation like the English Standard Version in the pulpit, because it retains the accuracy and much of the oral excellence of the King James Version, without its archaisms. It may surprise some to learn that one of the great lessons of the King James Version as a translation is its use of vernacular. English, American or British, is an amazingly versatile language. It is always evolving. The preacher must pay careful attention to the language that people speak every day. The danger, of course, is the temptation to be trendy or vulgar. But one need not compromise grammatical correctness, or good taste, to use the people’s English well.

Today it is assumed that speed of communication is an absolute virtue. Efficiency has become an end-in-itself. Combining speed with a lack of context, electronic media radically undermine reflection and criticism. We live in a sea of thoughtlessness—informing ourselves to death. Knowing where the off button is, and using it, is only the first step in creating a Christian counter-environment. Taking advantage of the change of pace this affords is a major key to cultivating the soul.

Reading—wide and good reading—fortifies us against the onslaught of high-speed media and promotes a healthy balance of the senses and of every aspect of the soul. We need an apologia for reading, writing, and print in the new context. Birkerts and Postman have in different ways made such an apologia—Birkerts as a writer and Postman as an educator. Second century Coptic Christians invented the codex.[24] This proved to be a gigantic improvement over the scroll, both for portability and accessibility. It is also a fine antidote to distraction elicited by our electronic environment. Inattentiveness is our natural tendency. The codex develops a high degree of concentration.[25] The ubiquity of electronic screens and sounds threatens to drown out all serious thought. Thus, for the preacher this is an ocean that requires serious navigation skills. As sociologist Jacque Ellul once sagely observed, “people manipulated by propaganda become increasingly impervious to spiritual realities.”[26] Efficiency pioneer Frederick Winslow Taylor fanned the flames of the modern worship of efficiency in every area of life.[27] Google exemplifies this efficiency. This is Neil Postman’s “technopoly,”[28] a culture promoting “cognitive efficiency” above all else.[29] “Google is, quite literally, in the business of distraction.”[30] “The strip-mining of ‘relevant content’ replaces the slow excavation of meaning.”[31]

The act of reading deepens and extends the self, because the printed word, at its best, involves a continuing conversation with the great ideas of the past, ideas which connect us with our culture and beyond. Reading expands the soul in its connectedness with creation, culture, and cult Lewis assures us:

In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.[32]

Good reading then is more than just reading; it involves being delivered from ourselves—to rid ourselves of the narcissist.

But one of the chief operations of art is to remove our gaze from that mirrored face, to deliver us from that solitude.[33]

Sven Birkerts emphasizes the importance of “inwardness,” or to use Ong’s term, “interiority.” The older definition of sensibility is as follows,

a refinement or cultivation of presence; it refers to the part of the inner life that is not given but fashioned: a defining, if cloudy, complex of attitudes, predilections and honed responses. . . . Here is the power, the seductiveness of the act: When we read, we create and then occupy a hitherto nonexistent interior locale.[34]

Cultivating inner resources is the business of God’s image bearers, and especially the business of the preacher.

The Psalmist and Paul experienced and even longed for this inwardness in the profoundest way. “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Ps. 51:6). “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). “I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Ps. 77:12). Meditation is reflection, often done by the psalmist on his bed in complete quiet, concentrated musing, consideration of the meaning of the text, especially the text of Scripture, and its implications in the wide world. “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds and be silent” (Ps. 4:4). This alone builds the interior of the soul. It is one of the great antidotes to the a-musement (i.e. against musing) of the lightning-paced electronic world spreading itself thinner every day on the surfaces of our experience.

Good reading exercises the imagination. At the 1988 commencement of Columbia University, Professor Barzun told his students, “For to read intelligently and profitably, your imagination must work every minute, reconstructing the lives, events, and emotions depicted in print.”[35] There is a priority to the verbal and the written which prevents sinful creatures from being beguiled or stupefied by mere images. The best humanly produced images are dispersed purposefully among the paragraphs of a printed book and dominated by the text. We may think of this as an illuminated detail of our approach to all images in God’s world—controlled by the text of Scripture, the pure revelation of the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable God.

In An Experiment in Criticism C. S. Lewis deals especially with works of literature. For all kinds of reading, the original 1940 edition of Mortimer Adler’s and Charles Van Doren’s How to Read a Book is very helpful. Lest Christians devalue other kinds of reading than the Bible, we should remember that we are first creatures made in God’s image and placed in his world. As redeemed sinners we read God’s infallible Word in the context of that world. Thus, we are called to explore, understand, and enjoy his world for his glory. Unless the Christian is a good reader, generally he will not be a good reader of Scripture. This is not to deny that many poor readers who become Christians will become good readers by first reading their Bibles; but reading more generally should follow, if they wish to be most useful in Christ’s service.

Preachers especially must be deep and wide readers. The breadth of Paul’s reading stands as an exquisite example. Joel Nederhood counsels ministers to understand the Bible as a “cultural tract,” a document with a solitary purpose, divinely inspired to destroy idolatry.[36] Moses was profoundly aware of his culture and blessed by God’s Providence with “all the learning of Egypt.” The preacher must plumb the depths of Scripture to speak to our times, demonstrating the irrelevance and emptiness of idolatry and calling people to change by God’s grace. “The Bible is our environment.”

Marshall McLuhan participated very little in the electronic environment. He was one of the most literate men of his or any generation. Thus, we are not surprised to hear, “For all their obsolescence he himself finds books ‘a warm, visceral, tactile medium’.  . .”[37] He eliminated the clutter from his life to read and think and teach face-to-face. His son Eric echoes this effort with simple advice:

This could also take the form of advisories concerning exposure: e.g., “no more than three hours per week of e-mail or Internet” without necessitating, say, four or five hours of direct exercise of literacy as counterbalance (by reading a novel printed on paper—or something).[38]

The preacher must order his time to master the art of meditation and develop critical intelligence.


[1] Portions adapted from Gregory E. Reynolds, The Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001), 49–51, 243–47, 272–76.

[2] Quintilian, The Institutes of Rhetoric, Loeb Classical Library, trans. H. E. Butler (London: William Heinemann; New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1922), 1.10.7–8.

[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, The Library of Christian Classics, vol. XX. Ed. John T. McNeill. Trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols.  (1559, repr., Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 2.2.15.

[4] Quintilian, The Institutes of Rhetoric, 2.2.5.

[5] Dave McClellan with Karen McClellan, Preaching by Ear: Speaking God’s Truth from the Inside Out (Wooster, OH: Weaver, 2014), 47.

[6] Quintilian, The Institutes of Rhetoric (1.10.7–8), 163.

[7] Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (South Hamilton, MA: Meredith G. Kline, 1993), 95–99.

[8] Kenneth M. Myers, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1989), 35.

[9] Ibid., 34.

[10] Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959), 30.

[11] John Calvin, The Book of Genesis, Calvin’s Commentaries vol. 1 (1540–1563 repr., Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969) vol. 1:218–19.

[12] Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 155. “Common grace whose mercies are real while they last, provides the field of operation for redemptive grace, and its material too.”

[13] Os Guinness and John Seel, eds. No God but God: Breaking with the Idols of Our Age (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 26.

[14] C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1955), 167.

[15] In Vigen Guroian, “The Moral Imagination in an Age of Sentiments,” The Intercollegiate Review 34, no. 1 (fall 1998): 16, quoting from G. K. Chesterton Autobiography.

[16] Joel Nederhood, “Effective Preaching in a Media Age,” class notes, Westminster Seminary California, 1990.

[17] William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 7th ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 36.

[18] Richard S. Storrs, Preaching without Notes (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1875), 45ff.

[19] McClellan, Preaching by Ear, 48–9, 52.

[20] Marshall McLuhan, “Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters,” in The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion, eds., Eric McLuhan and Jacek Szklarek (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999), 154.

[21] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964), 77–78.

[22] McClellan, Preaching by Ear, 148; Quintilian, The Institutes of Rhetoric, 11.2.2.

[23] Many good libraries have access to the OED.

[24] Svend Dahl, History of the Book (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1968), 25–29. Cf. David Greenhood and Helen Gentry, Chronology of Books and Printing [300 B.C.–A.D. 1935] (New York: Macmillan, 1936), 2.

[25] Cf. Maggie Jackson, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2008); Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (New York: Harper Collins, 2007); a positive approach to the subject of focusing is Winifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life (New York: Penguin, 2009).

[26] Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (New York: Vintage, 1973), 229.

[27] Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010), 149–50.

[28] Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage, 1993).

[29] Carr, The Shallows, 151–52.

[30] Carr, The Shallows, 157.

[31] Carr, The Shallows, 166.

[32] Clive Staples Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 141.

[33] Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism, 85.

[34] Sven Birkerts, The Guttenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (Winchester, MA: Faber and Faber, 1994), 87.

[35] Jacques Barzun, “An American Commencement,” Columbia (June 1988): 50.

[36] Nederhood, “Effective Preaching in a Media Age.”

[37] Jane Howard, “Oracle of the Electric Age,” Life Magazine (28 February 1966): 96.

[38] Eric McLuhan, “Response to Tom Farrell,” mediaecology@ube.ubalt.edu (6 November 1999).

Gregory E. Reynolds is pastor emeritus of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant.

Publication Information

Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

Editorial address: Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds,
827 Chestnut St.
Manchester, NH 03104-2522
Telephone: 603-668-3069

Electronic mail: reynolds.1@opc.org

Submissions, Style Guide, and Citations


Editorial Policies

Copyright information

Ordained Servant: May 2024

Planned Giving

Also in this issue

Seeing Red

Planned Giving as a Christian Duty

Chrysostom on the Ministry: A Review Article

Spiritual Warfare for the Care of Souls, by Harold Ristau

Passio Jesu
On Buxtehude, Membra Jesu Nostri

Download PDFDownload ePubArchive


+1 215 830 0900

Contact Form

Find a Church