Fortress Press

The Word Made Plain: The Power and Promise of Preaching

The Word Made Plain

The Power and Promise of Preaching

James Henry Harris (Author)


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Preaching mediates the word of God into a cultural matrix. And no American preaching has done so more effectively and powerfully than African American preaching, claims noted homiletician James Harris. Known for its rhetorical strength, social-justice orientation, and dead-on connection to the community's lived experience, black preaching is here analyzed and proposed as a model for all preaching.

Harris grounds black preaching in the self-understanding of the historic black church and its most prominent preachers, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Samuel Proctor. Harris also explores the hermeneutical and aesthetic dimensions of preaching, especially at the intersection of sacred text and the broader culture. He then lays out the specific distinguishing characteristics of black preaching, including verbal cadence and rhythm, use of gestures, and, most thoroughly, the narrative model of the sermon. His last chapter, ''Preaching Plainly,'' provides specific instructions on how to put the sermon together employing this model.
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800636876
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 178
  • Publication Date July 14, 2004


"Harris has done his homework. He has exceeded other homileticians by not only unpacking the nature of Black preaching, but also in what others have not done as well: He has related this theory of the art to a wide and interdisciplinary gamut of philosophers and scholars to show what the world at large can appreciate and learn from this noble heritage of the African American church."
— Gayraud S. Wilmore, Professor Emeritus of Church History, Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta

"Black preaching in all its powerful dimensions comes alive in this work. It testifies to Dr. Harris's genius as a homiletician in the best tradition of the African American church. But The Word Made Plain also speaks to the kind of homiletic power and artistry needed in the pulpits of churches everywhere today."
— Lewis V. Baldwin, Vanderbilt University

"James Harris does a marvelous job of describing preaching as a dialogical experences: he encourages preachers to discover the complex in that which is apparently simple, to simplify the complex, and to make it all plain through application."
— Paul Scott Wilson, Emmanuel College, University of Toronto

Table of Contents


  1. The Preacher's Self-Understanding
    The Black Church and Self-Understanding
    The Selfhood of the Preacher: The Example of Martin Luther King Jr.
    The Self in Community
    Sermon: Everybody's Talking (Luke 4:31-37)/23

  2. The Preaching of the Elders: Princes of the African American Pulpit
    John Malcus Ellison: The Personality and Interpretive Mind of the Preacher
    Samuel DeWitt Proctor: The Ethical Dimensions of a Sermon
    Miles Jerome Jones: On Being an Authentic Preacher
    Sermon: From Talk to Testimony (Mark 8:27-30)/44

  3. The Sermon as Interpretation
    The Polyvalence of the Sermon
    The Deep Symbolism of Plain Words
    Textuality and Dialogue Preaching
    Understanding and Response
    Interpretation of Novels as a Hermeneutical Discipline
    Sermon: The Power of God (Ephesians 1:18-23)/71

  4. The Sermon as Art
    Beyond the Limits of Reason Alone
    Nommo and Kuntu: Word and Style in Preaching
    Embodied Preaching: Gestures
    A Soulful Sound: The Aural and the Oral
    Rhythm and Cadence in Preaching
    Style Switching
    Sermon: Second Chances (Jonah 3:1-3a)/95

  5. The Sermon as Story
    African American Preaching as Imagination
    Telling the Story: Narrative Structure in Sermons
    Cultural Origins of Storytelling
    Sermon: When Jesus Was in the House (Mark 2:1-5)/119

  6. Preaching Plainly: How to Put the Sermon Together — The Harris Method
    Preaching and Worship
    The Word Made Plain
    The Preacher and the Biblical and Congregational Text
    Developing the Sermon
    Sermon: A Question of Identity — Choes, Self, and Other (Luke 8:22-25)/140