Fred Craddock is the dean of all contemporary American preachers. He is a Johnson Bible College graduate (a school in the stream of churches to which I belong) and/but served as a Disciple of Christ minister all of his preaching days. He taught at the DIsciples’ seminary at Enid, OK (Phillips Univ) and then later taught at Emory University.
Much sought after as a lecturer, he has delivered the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale, the Scott Lectures at Claremont School of Theology, the Adams Lectures at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, the Schaff Lectures at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the Cole Lectures at Vanderbilt, the Westervelt Lectures at Austin Presbyterian Seminary, the Mullins Lectures at Southern Seminary, and Earl Lectures a Pacific School of Religion. He is from Tennessee and his folksy style is part of what makes him effective.
He used as his text two passages from the end of John’s gospel:
John 21:24-25 “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
Craddock had fun with this text–do we LITERALLY think that if everything Jesus did were written down, the entire world would not hold them. He wryly surmised that the Library of Congress with its hundreds of MILES of bookshelf space could certainly hold them, not to mention the entire world. But John was using hyperbole.
John 20:39-31 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Craddock pointed out that John reveals both his method (selectivity) and his purpose (that you may believe). Heh did not record everything, but chose those events/narratives that would best produce belief in the reader/hearer.
He called hyperbole “the language of sacred excess.” He then gave example after example of hyperbole being used in the church: in hymns as well as scripture.
Hymn-O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing-could we literally think of having a thousand tongues? No. It is hyperbole.
Abraham and Sara -children as many as stars of heaven & sands of the sea
Jesus-faith of a mustard seed & say to this mountain jump into the sea
Jesus-forgive 70×7 (should we literally keep count until we reach 490 times?)
Jesus-strain a gnat & swallow a camel
Servant who owes his master the equivalent of 150,000 years wages.
Trees clapping, rocks crying out.
Aristotle was very disparaging of hyperbole, saying it was for the immature and uncultured. (I have tried to find this quote on the net, but have not had any luck)
Craddock ended with a very (purposefully) ironic series of examples to show the effectiveness of hyperbole. Biblical hyperbole is incredibly effective in reaching people’s hearts. He used example after example of people who took Jesus’ words literally (sell all you have, take up your cross, etc.) and the world was changed by their actions. Imagine if some preacher had convinced them that it was just hyperbole and not to be taken seriously. It WAS hyperbole, but that did not mean it was not to be taken seriously.
He ended with an example of the preacher William Sloane Coffin preaching on “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Craddock teased, “If you start saying whoever, whoever will show up!
**”You can’t preach without hyperbole”**
Fabulous teaching and incredible teaching style. I ended up buying his 6 (8?) CD set on storytelling in preaching. Am excited to listen to it.