Brief Book Review: The Crisis of Bad Preaching

The Crisis of Bad Preaching:
Redeeming the Heart and Way of the Catholic Preacher
by Joshua J. Whitfield

Who should read this? Anyone serious about quality preaching in the Catholic Church.

Why does it matter? Because without good preaching, along with good sacramental practice and care for the marginalized, the Church dies.

What intrigued me the most? The strong focus that the author places on the importance of the Liturgy of the Hours as key to good preaching.

What will get you thinking? The ways that the author offers for preachers to internalize the Word within an ecclesial context as the foundation for good preaching.

What will most inspire you? “The preacher must stand nimbly between God and the world, balanced on faith in the midst of the people” (page 43).

Challenge 1. Among the many challenges that the author poses for someone who wishes to preach authentically and transformatively is the challenge to know one’s parishioners (or another congregation). This means more than merely to know the congregation’s cultural and economic context, its age range and familiar languages. It means to learn “the deep language of people’s hearts” and to learn to “speak the language of the heart” (page 15). “We must realize that people will only listen to us if first they believe we’ve listened to them, genuinely and respectfully” (page 43). A related challenge, to express the language of the heart, involves the proper use of storytelling. While “telling the story” is a key component of good preaching, it is always a challenge to find the right story and to tell it in a way that evokes wonder and response. To this end, Whitfield encourages “inductive” preaching, which “allows listeners to discover themselves within the subject of the homily itself” (page 104).

Challenge 2. This book is so challenging in its appeal for good preaching and all that this portends for the life of the preacher, that it is likely to turn authentic preachers, at least for a while, into Job. Overwhelmed by God’s presence and challenge, Job whispers: “I put my hand over my mouth. I have spoken once, but I will not reply; twice, but I will do so no more” (Job 40:4-5).

Quibble. The only real problem that I found in reading through this excellent resource is the author’s frequent use of quotations. While he quotes excellent sources, at times the quotations pile up one on another to the point that the reader just wants Whitfield to get on with it. One gets the point; it’s not necessary to make parts of the book look like a college term paper that tries to justify every point with a quotation or reference.

Whitfield, Joshua J. The Crisis of Bad Preaching: Redeeming the Heart and Way of the Catholic Preacher. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2019. 192 pages.

REVIEWER: Gordon E. Truitt

Gordon E. Truitt has served liturgical renewal at the parish, diocesan, and national levels, including 30 years as the publications editor for the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. He holds a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. Married to Carole Truitt for 34 years, he is now retired from his work at NPM.

3 comments

  1. For added context – Whitfield is the parish administrator at St. Rita Catholic Church in north Dallas. Why not pastor? Because he took advantage of the permission as an Anglican priest to become Catholic a number of years ago but current policy will not allow them to be named *pastor*. He is married with 4 children (including a special needs child).
    He is also an op-ed writer for the Dallas Morning News and is published at least monthly (go to Dallas Morning News editorial page) to review his articles.
    If I may add to QUIBBLE – Whitfield’s perspectives is to use the classics (esp. Greek) to make his points. He has stated that his journey is about TRUTH and he has concluded that the Catholic Church has the truth. To that end, at times his op-ed pieces appeal only to those who share his classical focus and can feel/appear to be heavily dependent upon a classical knowledge base.
    Here is an example of his latest op-ed: https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2019/10/15/beto-orourke-is-a-philosophical-psychopath-let-me-explain/
    One could argue that his own writing (and preaching) do not utilize *storytelling* but does reflect what his heart feels – but his own classical references may impede more than explicate his storytelling.

  2. I totally agree with Gordon about the first challenge. All too often a homilist speaks in such a detached way that I have to ask whether I understand his message. I don’t ask that he understand me, but he needs to encourage me to understand myself as a member of this assembly – and about to enter into communion with most of this assembly. (My response could include indignation that our church practice only allows most of those gathered to come forward.) Rather than bringing in other stories I would prefer revisiting the Gospel passages and re-arranging them to address current concerns. For example, the treasure that Matthew buried in a field could become the field itself in danger of contamination.

  3. Why not let women preach? It hurts the whole Church when anatomy instead of gift is used to sort out who can be in the pulpit.

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