Kendall Harmon–An Old 2004 post on Preaching in the Episcopal Church

(I thought of this when I was reading the previously posted article. It is only very slightly edited from its orignial form as a post on the blog in 2004–KSH).

Andrew Adam covers an absolutely taboo topic with some helpful comments, including this truth:

One of the problems at the seminary level is that very few people preach a half-decent sermon in their first dozen, two dozen, perhaps hundred sermons. Overall, the standard of preaching in the Episcopal Church is pretty low, so some people preach sermons that aren’t nearly as bad as the average; but most folks need more than three or four practice sermons in seminary to make significant strides toward fluency and grace in preaching.

I [Kendall Harmon] would submit that the question ought to be why the Episcopal Church is not repenting over our pitiful preaching. Most Episcopal preachers today think they are terrific, and in most cases they aren’t good at all, or worse than that.

The Episcopal Church in my view has no outstanding preachers, zero, none, nada. It is why in a movement like Promise Keepers there are no ECUSANS who are part of the preaching program. Someone like T.D. Jakes ought to be considered a possible model for great preaching, yet in a diocese I know well when one of my friends mentioned him a bishop said : “Who is that?”

Preaching simply isn’t a priority in ECUSA, and our system gives us the fruit of that.

If you want to see what I consider a typical Episcopal sermon look at this.

Note: an openly heretical beginning invocation, he tells us mostly what he does NOT believe, but when it comes to being constructive, he is extremely weak. In terms of Scripture and the Tradition we have little. In terms of organization it is merely o.k. The application is pitiful if it is there at all.

Yet: if I gave this sermon to many ECUSANS I bet they would say it was pretty good. A lot of people in ECUSA consider that priest to be a solid preacher!

Good preaching has three parts: it is biblical, it is organized, and it applies the Bible to the lives of those listening. 90% of Episcopal sermons I listen to do not even meet those three criteria which is what is needed to GET OUT OF THE STARTING BLOCKS toward being a good sermon (never mind a great one).

Let me conclude with two points. We do have a few–a very few–preachers with potential. I think John Howe is a very good preacher, and Paul Zahl can be quite good when he is on. Among those slightly younger, Russell Levenson…[is a] good preacher…who may develop into [a] very good [one]….

But I would counsel those who want to learn of great preaching to drink heavily from better wells. Go listen to Tony Evans or T.D. Jakes or Jack Heyford for at least a year. If you want Anglicans listen to John Stott sermon tapes, or those of Michael Green.

And repent and pray for better preaching, and for better preachers, in ECUSA. Heaven knows we need them–KSH.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * By Kendall, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Episcopal Church (TEC), Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Seminary / Theological Education, TEC Bishops, Theology

26 comments on “Kendall Harmon–An Old 2004 post on Preaching in the Episcopal Church

  1. Milton says:

    Agreed about Tony Evans and John Stott. I’d steer clear of T. D. Jakes for his modalism and prosperity gospel. His style may appeal to some, though more’s the pity for making heresy an easier camel to swallow. I would look up some of A. W. Tozer’s recorded sermons on as well.

  2. John316 says:

    I also agree. The best sermons I hear are in churches outside of the Episcopalian tradition. We need to bring in preachers from outside of our tradition to teach us.

  3. sophy0075 says:

    …he tells us mostly what he does NOT believe, but when it comes to being constructive, he is extremely weak. In terms of Scripture and the Tradition we have little. In terms of organization it is merely o.k. The application is pitiful if it is there at all.

    That is because this TEC priest does not believe the Gospel, or any part of the Bible, and probably only selected parts of the creeds and 39 Articles, if that. It is difficult to make a persuasive speech, let alone a sermon, if one does not believe in the topic, or is poorly educated concerning the topic.

  4. Chip Johnson, cj says:

    of course, twenty five years of preaching 3 – 5 times a week in the
    church of God, Cleveland will go a long way to developing a certain style. Even tho’ most of the criticism of my preaching there was that I was too ‘episcopal’.

    Funny, the Episcopal Church that called me to preach seven years ago, thought it was pretty sound and scriptural…all but the Wardens, the priest and the bishop. Ah well, no I preach to my goats, chickens, horses and family for the past two years.

    Abiathar, in the Black Hills

  5. Jim the Puritan says:

    I grew up in an Episcopal family where we went to church every Sunday, and went to a private Congregationalist school from kindergarten through high school where we had Chapel once a week. So I heard an average of two sermons a week up through high school. I continued to go to an Episcopal parish during college.

    Then I got to law school, and both the area Episcopal and UCC churches were unbelievably awful and depressing. On the recommendation of a friend I went to the Presbyterian church there. I was floored by the sermon, and at first didn’t know what to make of it. Was the pastor some sort of Holy Roller? No flowery church language, no little cutesy personal stories and anecdotes, no random quotes from “famous people.” The pastor was preaching right from the book of Romans, going through the passage verse by verse and explaining in understandable English what it meant and why it was important for us today. It was the first time in my life I had ever heard the Gospel preached, even though I had “grown up in church.”

    I went back every week for the next 3 years. When he finished with Romans, he went right on to other books in the New and Old Testaments. Even though I grew up in a nominally Christian family and had always gone to church, that Presbyterian pastor certainly had more to do with my becoming a committed Christian than all the prior years I had spent listening to feel good stories and anecdotes from the pulpit. And I actually looked forward to going to church every Sunday, instead of it being a duty where I snoozed through most of the service.

  6. PeterL says:

    Three best ways not to start a sermon:
    In today’s gospel, we read……
    Good morning……
    Hello, and thanks for making it to church today….

  7. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    In my experience, most Episcopal existential sermons these days can be summed up using the following homiletic map: “In the Name of (insert some politically correct name for the Deity that does not include descriptors of ‘He,’ ‘Father,’ ‘King,’ or “Lord’): This is what I feel about (insert social justice/political hobby horse topic here, heavy on the emotive appeals), because (insert name of 20th Century author or pop psychologist here) wrote (insert some obtusely obscure work of literature or poem that is not really related to the Bible readings here), and (insert disclaimer about the Bible, the Church, and/or Creed not being authentic, relevant, or applicable to culture here); so instead I am going to segway into this internet or news article anecdote I found about (insert some inappropriate and/or unfunny anecdote or news story here, the sappier the better), and then I am going to (insert recap of steps one, two, and three, heavy emphasis on step one here, heavy on the emotive language, hold the mayo) and then talk about (insert some experienced based anecdote about finding God while mowing the yard or some such thing here) but it doesn’t matter because we all come to the table for Communion. God is Great. Yea God. Amen.”

    This, frankly, just does not cut it. It did not cut it for me in Seminary. It does not cut it for me now. I am convinced this is why people leave the Episcopal church. We do not expect people to grow or change, and, thus, we largely do not teach or preach anything that changes people’s lives or helps them to grow. This is just a pet peeve of mine. We do have an incredible preaching tradition in the Anglican tradition, I do not understand why we do not study it more in detail. We might actually learn something.

    I also think the Lectionary in many ways hinders preaching in the Episcopal Church. The new Revised Common Lectionary (I say “new” because the Episcopal church has been on it less than 30 years) has this gimmick for the Trinity Season (I refuse to use the term “Season after Pentecost”) of having two tracts for the Old Testament readings in the summer and early fall. One is the traditional Old Testament readings that tries to capture the theme of the New Testament/Gospel readings, regardless of whether that makes the Old Testament reading change from book to book every Sunday.

    The other alternative track for the summer is one that reads an Old Testament book largely in sequence, at least in theory. Last year, it was largely the Book of Genesis. I really enjoy preaching from a Biblical text in a sequence; you can get more in depth in your sermon if you can build on things and not have the Old Testament text and theme change every Sunday.

    I seldom preach on the Epistles for this reason because the Lectionary butchers them so badly. You have to read the Epistles in sequence or else you spend half your sermon giving the exegetical background of the Church that Paul is writing to and putting into some context. By the time you have done that, your time is about up. And then the next week, you are on to a completely different epistle and theme. I drives me batty sometimes.

    I do appreciate the Lectionary in the sense that it does force us (in a Bataan Death March sort of way) to grapple with a vast majority of the Bible in the 3 year cycle of the Lectionary. Oftentimes, that involves texts that we would just as soon not touch on this week (or ever). So, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Lectionary overall. It does the Gospels and Psalms well. Occasionally, it does the Old Testament and Epistles well in the times when they are read basically in sequence.

    What gripes me, though, is when the Lectionary teases me with this “we’re going to read this book in sequence,” but we will do that by glossing over whole chapter sections of the story. This happened last year with the Joseph story. The Lectionary did a good job of telling most of the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob stories, and then it came to Joseph. The Joseph saga is a good quarter of the whole of the Book of Genesis. And we got 2, count ’em 2, stories about Joseph before it was off to butcher the Moses story in Exodus: the coat of many colors story and then the very end of the narrative when Joseph is reunited with his brothers in Egypt. The Lectionary did not have the gumption to include even the Potiphar’s Wife story.

    This year, it appears we get largely the David saga. It appears that the Lectionary follows David for most of the summer, so I cannot complain too much on that count. But it gives us scant little about the actual saga of Saul. This coming Sunday, we get the story of Israel wanting a King and demanding Samuel anoint them a King. And then next week, we skip all the way to the point where God has rejected Saul and God sends Samuel to anoint David. We completely lose the tragedy of Saul.

    That’s one of the most powerful stories in the whole bible. What’s the deal, Mr. Lectionary?

  8. Sarah says:

    I’m with Sophy — I can’t tell if the preaching is so bad just because they don’t know how to preach, or they don’t believe whatever it is they’re saying.

    It’s hard to string together an appealing, interesting, insightful message when you don’t believe the message.

    It’s like trying to tell a long and complicated lie to your wife about why you were late . . . “er and then . . . after the guys got me back my carjacked car, I hobbled toward it but my foot, uh . . . it was hurt from . . . see, I’m limping — had you noticed I’m limping? and . . . where was I?”

    I agree with Kendall that the sermons are abysmally organized — just strings of unconnected anecdotes, random assertions, remembrances, euphemisms, some social justice comments, all achieving a crisis point designed to evoke a faint chuckle from the “audience.” But they can’t carry the Gospel’s thesis in a bucket because they can’t argue well for something they don’t believe.

  9. Stefano says:

    One of your colleagues, Dr Peter Moore, came to our diocese to give a conference/workshop on preaching. I thought he had a lot of good suggestions to impart and, yes, the effectivenes of sermons, that is, how we tell people ’bout Jesus, could use some improving.
    I once told a friend (a retired bishop) that what I appreciated about his sermons was not that I knew more about him, or could tell how smart he was, but that I knew more about Jesus and what I must do in response to that. So…..if there are no outstanding preachers who are Episcopalians…….who would you recommend????

  10. Dan Crawford says:

    I would add Will Willimon to the list of recommended preachers. He does not shy away from the Word.

    As for the Lectionary, I have heard that complaint from many before, usually from those who think the sermon on Sunday is a platform for whatever their particular preaching passion is: detailed lectures on obscure books of Scripture, or as a means of communicating their particular systematic theology. Their “sermon series” often contain little reference to worship, the liturgical cycles, or the particular content of the Sunday readings. There are preachers, even some in the Episcopal Church, who use the lectionary creatively and effectively every Sunday to the benefit of their hearers. The Lectionary is only a “problem” for those who do not use it. I have preached through the lectionary six times since my ordination: Every Sunday, I find something new in the readings and don’t have to rehash old sermons. I think Cranmer understood that about the Scriptures appointed for Sundays and the Daily Offices.

  11. Kendall Harmon says:

    Milton in #1, thankfully T.D. Jakes moved away from his strange oneness view in terms of the doctrine of the Trinity–

  12. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    I think we need to define what we mean by “good preaching.” I think some people think it is the very passionate, emotive style. Frankly, I don’t think those are particularly good preachers. I, personally, include JD Jakes in this category. What I have watched of him is very emotional without a lot of substance.

  13. Milton says:

    Kendall, if you read the actual comments made by T. D. Jakes, Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald in transcripts of last year’s Elephant Room conference (Pyromaniacs blog, among others, has these), I think you will agree with me and many others that Jakes merely redefined his modalist beliefs in Trinitarian-sounding terms and the others present wanted so badly to hear Jakes as a Trinitarian that they tacitly agreed to move on. Very dishearteningly reminiscent of how heresy infected and infested TEC. I recommend you read the transcripts and judge for yourself.

  14. Milton says:

    Kendall, following the link you posted in your comment, I see that it contains the ER transcript. Using that transcript, what do you think of this excerpt?

    [blockquote]Driscoll: … We all would agree in the nature of God there is mystery, and it’s like a dimmer switch: how much certainty, how much mystery. But within that, Bishop Jakes, for you the issue between Trinitarianism and Modalism at its essence is one God manifesting Himself successively in three ways? Or one God three persons simultaneously existing eternally. … And I understand, there is some mystery — for sure. Would you say it’s One God manifesting Himself in three ways, or One God in three persons?
    Jakes: I believe that neither one of them totally did it for me, but I think the latter one is where I stand today.
    Driscoll: One God, three Persons?
    Jakes: One God, three Persons. One God, Three Persons, and here is why — I am not crazy about the word “persons.” … My doctrinal statement is no different from yours except for the …
    Driscoll: The word “manifestation.”
    Jakes: Manifest instead of persons. Which you describe as modalist, and I describe it as Pauline. …[/blockquote]
    Jakes goes on to make “manifestations” sound rather like the Persons of the Trinity while using language that both Oneness Pentecostals and Trinitarians could accept. The equivocation never quite ends. Why can’t Jakes simply profess the Creed of St. Athanasius, especially after his long and well-documented profession of Oneness modalism? Perhaps that is too much to expect from an ordinary pew-sitter, but not from one with Jakes’ leadership platform and high public profile. What do you think of Malcolm Yarnell’s full statement on Jakes’ ER remarks, especially this portion?

    [blockquote]Fifth, it is encouraging to see T.D. Jakes moving away from the heresy of modalism. However, we should pray for him and exhort him privately and publicly to move into biblical orthodoxy without equivocation. Much of what Jakes stated about God the Trinity in this interview was correct. For instance he noted the simultaneous but distinct movements of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the baptism of Jesus. This is very true, though I might have described it differently.
    On the other hand, Jakes also speaks errantly. This derives from the fact that he is effectively trying to hold two positions without seeing that his proffered mediating category is ultimately untenable. Jakes stated he wants to have “dual affiliations” with both Oneness and Trinitarian churches. This is the goal behind his equivocation, and he relies on unique terminology to enable his dual theology. Although stating he is willing to use “persons” to describe the Trinity, he is also clear he would prefer not to do so. (There have been orthodox theologians who also registered difficulty with the term “person,” but typically they object to modernist meanings attached to the term, meanings different from the classical Christian understanding. Jakes, however, is rejecting the term not because it has been misunderstood but because it is offensive to Oneness Pentecostals, whom he deems Christian.)
    T.D. Jakes wants to have both Trinitarians and Oneness Pentecostals, who are Unitarian Modalists, classified as brothers in Christ at the same time. But you cannot affirm both are in the realm of truth without removing the Trinity as a fundamental basis of the Christian faith. You cannot have both beliefs at the same time: either God is both three and one (as Trinitarians believe and Unitarians deny) or God is only one (as Unitarians like Oneness Pentecostals believe and Trinitarians deny). There is no bridging this divide without losing the Trinity itself, for He is the God we worship.
    Instead of using the term “persons,” Jakes has long confessed he believes the “one God” is “eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (see Potter’s House Belief Statement at Jakes then proceeds to use “manifestations” in ways he hopes that both Trinitarians and Unitarians might find acceptable. Jakes, moreover, argues that “manifestations” derives from 1 Timothy 3:16. But he misuses the term’s meaning in that passage, wrenching it from its Christological context and transferring it to the Trinity. The only “manifestation” to which 1 Timothy 3:16 refers is the incarnation of God in Christ. God was “manifested” in the flesh of Christ; this Christ was “justified” or “vindicated” by the Spirit through the Resurrection; this Christ was “received up into glory.” The manifestation of God was Christ in 1 Timothy 3:16, not the Father and not the Holy Spirit. The Father and the Spirit are indeed at work in this passage but not as “manifestations.” Instead, the Father and Spirit work through the Son, who is God manifested in flesh so we can see and hear and touch Him. Jakes simply does not offer a proper exegetical basis for his unique theological term.
    Sixth, with regard to the same biblical passage, let us recognize that although there is “mystery” in Scripture, this is no reason to paper over real differences in theology. Where God reveals, there is no more hiddenness in the mystery, for the mystery has now been disclosed, for us in Scripture. The point of 1 Timothy 3:16 is not to say that the Trinity is an undisclosed mystery but that the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is the mystery of God now disclosed. An appeal to a continuing mystery in this passage actually subverts the passage’s meaning. Moreover, to claim that Scripture is dark is a repudiation of the Reformation rediscovery of the clarity of Scripture. Scripture is clear and God has sent His Spirit to lead us into all the truth He inspired the apostles and prophets to record therein (John 14:26, 16:12-15).[/blockquote]
    Sorry for such a long quote, but apparently I am not the only one not hearing a renunciation of modalism or a clear affirmation of the Trinity from Jakes. Again, Jakes’ misuse of Scripture on this point sounds too much like TEC revisionists for my assurance. Of course, Jakes’ prosperity gospel preaching is another point of objection, enough on its own to rule him out as a false teacher in my view.

  15. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    I can’t speak about Episcopalian sermons as I haven’t come across enough of them, but suspect it is much the same criticism as I would level against some more liberal preachers here. It is a modern thing found not only in sermons but in worship songs:

    The problem is it is all about me – my experience, my personal anecdote, my emotions, my feelings, my setbacks or my growth, what I have been doing, what happened to me, my run, my hike, my swim, and the same with some modern worship songs – it is I, I, I, me, me, me – you learn nothing about HIM. Hubris.

    If you listen to a John Stott sermon you will learn almost nothing about John Stott, with the possible exception of the story of his conversion. He always points to Jesus, and so should we. We learn about Him by studying His word, and what it tells us about HIM, and how we may be like HIM; how we may follow HIM, and how He can touch us.

  16. devilhasnoknees says:


    You mean to tell me that you have heard and/or listened to all the preachers in the episcopal church?

  17. Pb says:

    Many years ago I noticed a sign on the inside of a Lutheran pulpit, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” But you cannot give away what you do not have.

  18. KevinBabb says:

    I totally agree with the endorsement of Jack Heyford’s preaching. His sermons are a sound refutation of the oft-stated slander than conservative Christians have “checked their mind at the door.” They remind me of the best preaching that I used to hear in the United Pentecostal Church of my childhood (although, truth to tell, I also heard some pretty atrocious preaching in those quarters, too).

  19. David Wilson says:

    I listen to Chuck Swindoll whenever I can on the radio and I almost weekly listen online to John MacArthur. He has a massive library of 35+ years of sermons available on virtually every text imaginable cataloged by book, chapter and verses. Those two men can really preach. This past year I ditched the manuscript (after 20+ years of preaching) and use a brief outline and rely on years of study, experience, and the Holy Spirit. I am so glad I stepped out of the boat.


  20. David Wilson says:

    BTW, Kendall listened to the second sermon I ever preached. It sucked. We were in the same homiletics class at TSM in 1986 or 1987 and we played on the same Trinity Kneelers flag football team. I was a slow and plodding offensive lineman and he was a speedy and lithe defensive back.

  21. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    I have yet to hear a sermon preached without notes that did not completely ramble at best or completely devolve into a stream of consciousness rant at worst. I think that’s part of the problem, personally. That got shoved down our throats in seminary, and I guess I now have a gag reflex to it.

  22. David Wilson says:

    I didn’t state I preached without notes. I said I used a brief outline –well thought and prayed through I might add. I just ditched reading a word-for-word manuscript. My byword has been from John Stott (and often quoted), “Prepare as if there is no Holy Spirit and preach as if that is all there is.”

  23. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    I didn’t say you did. What you said just made me think a bit about what I think is wrong with preaching in the Episcopal Church. That having been said, I have never understood why people think the Holy Spirit will somehow be more “at work” during a service than when one is preparing a manuscript.

  24. David Wilson says:

    I think what Stott is getting at is not that the Holy Spirit is more present one place or the other but that good scholarship and hard work is not to be of short schrift (sp?)
    BTW, the universe of this essay is TEC. I should have mentioned although ordained as an Episcopal clergyman, I am now in the ACNA. I would surmise the quality of preaching might be somewhat improved in the ACNA, at least from a theological perspective.

  25. Matt Kennedy says:

    TD Jakes is a heretic and so he is a horrific preacher…but he is a great speaker.

    Good speaking is not necessarily good preaching. Heresy is usually good “speaking”…never good preaching. Sometimes great preaching is not necessarily good “speaking”.

    I do like Kendall’s point here: “Good preaching has three parts: it is biblical, it is organized, and it applies the Bible to the lives of those listening.” I agree wholeheartedly with this.

  26. Firinnteine says:

    “I have never understood why people think the Holy Spirit will somehow be more “at work” during a service than when one is preparing a manuscript.” Thank you!

    In my experience, both TEC and ACNA preaching needs a lot of work… too many of our ACNA priests were trained in TEC seminaries, or something comparable. There are some good preachers around… but they mostly seem to’ve tapped into something outside our tradition. Which is sad, because there really is a wonderful tradition of preaching within Anglicanism. But where are the great preachers today?

    I don’t do nearly as much as I should to drink at the wells of good preaching, but I’m reading through some of St. Augustine’s sermons lately. Also try to listen to Tim Keller occasionally; there’s a man who can preach! Recommended.

    Pray for your preachers, everybody. We need it.