Sermons That Sing

Music and the Practice of Preaching

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Pub Date 17 Aug 2021 | Archive Date 16 Sep 2021

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Preaching and music are both regular elements of Christian worship across the theological spectrum. But they often don't interact or inform each other in meaningful ways. In this Dynamics of Christian Worship volume, theologian, pastor, and musician Noel A. Snyder considers how the church's preaching might be helpfully informed by musical theory. Just as a good musical composition employs technical elements like synchrony, repetition, and meter, the same should be said for good preaching that seeks to engage hearts and minds with the good news of Jesus Christ. By drawing upon music that lifts the soul, preachers might craft sermons that sing. The Dynamics of Christian Worship series draws from a wide range of worshiping contexts and denominational backgrounds to unpack the many dynamics of Christian worship—including prayer, reading the Bible, preaching, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, music, visual art, architecture, and more—to deepen both the theology and practice of Christian worship for the life of the church.

Preaching and music are both regular elements of Christian worship across the theological spectrum. But they often don't interact or inform each other in meaningful ways. In this Dynamics of...

Advance Praise

"A fresh and fascinating look into the practice and history of preaching through the lens of music. An insightful and intelligent offering to the field of homiletics even for those who would never call themselves musicians, as Snyder's clear and winsome writing draws the reader into a rich and lively conversation between the two. A great text for those who want to get beyond the noise of preaching and attend to the deeper rhythms within."

-Mary S. Hulst, college chaplain at Calvin University

"Throughout the history of preaching, there have been preachers who proclaim the gospel in a musical fashion. They chant, intone, or sing their sermons, literally. Noel Snyder takes readers deeper than historical practice to a theological and methodological framework for engaging homiletical theory through the lens of musicology. Like a musical homiletician, he teaches us how preaching makes music through synchrony, repetition, and teleology. Like a sermonic conductor, he directs us in the gospel symphony of Jesus Christ that is a melody we all should sing. Like a pastoral musician, Snyder leads us to recognize that the melodious good news in the pulpit should be the faithful reverberation of the musical tune of doxology on the altar of our hearts. This book is a must-read for those who desire to practice a hymnic homiletic."

-Luke A. Powery, dean of Duke University Chapel and associate professor of homiletics, Duke University

"This positively original book by Noel Snyder is guaranteed to inspire preachers with a vision of sonorously potent sermons that ring true with the good news of the God who, as the poet John Dryden imagines it, sing-speaks creation into being and who mends the human creature with Spirit-ed words that retune the heart to the voice of the Chief Liturgist, Christ himself."

-W. David O. Taylor, associate professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary

"Music and language are human universals that are widely regarded as synergistic. How strange it is, therefore, that their relationship is underexplored by preachers whose ministry involves using sound to inspire the church to make a joyful melody to the Lord amid the world's deafening cacophony! Sermons That Sing is a deep dive into a long overdue exploration from which preachers will emerge creatively recharged to competently lead the procession of praise for God, who joyfully sings over us."

-Ahmi Lee, assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary

"There are few resources available today that truly bring the homiletic and liturgical arts together in conversation as winsomely as Noel Snyder's Sermons That Sing. This is a resource that every pastor and worship leader should read together. It is an interdisciplinary feast laid out with pastoral grace and acumen that ultimately points us to our singing Savior. I'm already grateful for all that I have learned from it!"

-Bruce Benedict, chaplain of worship arts at Hope College and creative director, Cardiphonia Music

"When Amanda Gorman delivered her spoken word at the 2021 inauguration of President Joe Biden, she took her listeners to a place beyond mere prose. As music and poetry can often do, her hearers and viewers were transported, and in measure transformed, because what she gave us sang. All the way to our deepest places of pain and longing, her beautiful, melodic honesty drew us toward hope that lies beyond the prosaic. This miraculous singing is what preaching can manifest. What this very fine book by Noel Snyder underscores is not that music matters per se, but that the spiritual formation of the preacher is what creates the breath from which the singing of the sermon can also rise in the lungs and lives of others. It's not the vocal cords alone but the ruakh offered up from the preacher's soul. May this profound work make more sermons rise and sing better because of it!"

-Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary

"Sermons That Sing is essential reading for anyone exploring homiletics as it relates to theology and the arts. Noel Snyder masterfully provides a map to orient us into an expansive conversation, where musicality and preaching converge for a melodious dialogue, and the power and possibilities of Christian proclamation within the arts are given their due with honor."

-Trygve Johnson, dean of the chapel at Hope College

"A fresh and fascinating look into the practice and history of preaching through the lens of music. An insightful and intelligent offering to the field of homiletics even for those who would never...

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Featured Reviews

For many preachers, giving a sermon is often done as a solo effort. Yet, some of the most powerful preaching are done through a team effort. There is the pair comprising of D.L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey, and through their teamwork, they have touched many lives in ways that no single person could have done. Even the televangelist like Benny Hinn at the height of his popularity, has his worship leader such as Terry MacAlmon to thank. Some people might say that the preacher gives the food for the mind, the worship leader provides fodder for the emotion, and the Spirit uses them to minister to the hungry soul. Whatever it is, I believe that worship with Scripture and song is powerful beyond measure. Yet, there is a cautionary note that if we are not careful, one might manipulate the other subconsciously. Knowing the balance is tricky and the author Noel Snyder knows it full well. As a musician as well as a preacher, he understands the uniqueness from both angles and is well suited to demonstrate to us sermons musically and music in accordance to Scripture. It reminds me also of Jeremy Begbie's amazing lectures on how music and Scripture could work together hand in hand. it is apt to see Professor Begbie giving an eloquent foreword to this book that emphasizes that point. The key thesis of this book is to utilize the unique qualities of music to guide and enhance the message at the pulpit. By marrying the art of music into the homiletical practice of preaching, it is hoped that congregations would hear more "sermons that sing."

Snyder begins by giving us a landscape of four models of preaching, as advocated by eight contributors. The first is "Music in Preaching" (advocated by Thomas Troeger and Luke Powery) in which the preacher incorporates music into his message to let the whole sermon be attuned to the moving of the Spirit in the hearts of listeners. The second model is called "The musicality of preaching" (advocated by William Turner and Martha Simmons) where the preaching itself is seen as music. It is common to see preachers (especially African American preaching) using this method to break out into music in the middle of a sermon. A third model is called "Preaching as Music" (advocated by Kirk Byron Jones, Eugene Lowry, and Mike Graves) which utilizes the unique properties of music to narrate a sermon. Here, musical insights and homiletical strategies are combined. The fourth model is simply called "What musicians know" (advocated by Clayton Schmit) uses musical techniques and skills as metaphors to homiletical strategies. Snyder summarizes these methodologies and maps them out using a literal/metaphorical & intrinsic/extramusical matrix. Pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, he proposes to follow instead Jeremy Begbie as his musical-theological guide. Praising Begbie's "theological clarity" and musical methodology approach, aka "theology through music" approach. After comparing and contrasting the different approaches, Snyder chooses to focus on three key characteristics that both music and preaching shares: "synchrony, repetition, and teleology." In synchrony, the author looks at how both of them are used to shape community. In repetition, Snyder challenges the "familiarity breeds contempt" sentiment with a rebuttal, that repetition builds pleasure. Just like people remember sermons for repetitive ideas or concepts, music helps people remember tonality and rhythms. In teleology, we learn how music and preaching can be used to establish a sense of purpose. Finally, the author closes with a chapter that illustrates how the three characteristics work together.

My Thoughts
This book is highly academic. Full of musical theory and homiletical concepts, readers who lack either of these skills might find it difficult to follow the arguments in the book. I would give my thoughts based on three perspectives: 1) Academic, 2) Preachers, and 3) Laypersons. For the academic or teacher, this book provides lots of opportunities for different theologians, scholars, and musicians to learn from one another. Without focusing on any one aspect, Snyder chooses to look at three common characteristics that both music and preaching could share. This is crucial because it keeps the conversation open-ended. I believe it is important not to be dogmatic about the different models and approaches. One might prefer one over the other, but the value of this conversation is to see how the other models could fill the gaps of any particular chosen model. Some of the differences between different models might be subtle, which warrants a closer read. Once the concepts are understood, the value to the preacher and musician is incredible. The second group is the preacher. I know there are some preachers who have the gift of music. They would welcome the ideas in this book more readily, given their musical background. Having said that, preachers who don't have musical skills could still engage musicians and song leaders to help them along. Perhaps, the continual interaction of ideas between musicians and the preachers could build community too! Finally, for the laypersons, I would hesitate to recommend this book to my congregation. I might share some of the concepts but they would have to be heavily illustrated. I guess the main audience of this book is the preacher, worship leaders, and perhaps, those who are contemplating becoming either the preacher, the musician, worship team, or just keenly interested. The rest of us are encouraged to listen in.

Noel A. Snyder (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is program manager at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin University and an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He was previously a chaplain and director of spiritual life at Alma College and an associate pastor of worship and discipleship at First Reformed Church. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife, Heidi, and their three children.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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I really enjoyed this book. The style of writing was perfect and really touched on what it means to preach sermons that have a lasting impact. I am currently studying to be a worship pastor so the topic of music resonates deeply with me. I think music and sermons are so interconnected and this book truly demonstrated that well! I hope to read more by this author soon.

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