Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Review: "Learning from a Legend" by Jared Alcántara

Learning from a LegendLearning from a Legend by Jared E Alcántara

I had been impoverished and didn’t even know it. Until I got to interview Jared Alcántara last summer, I knew next to nothing about the Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, a celebrated preacher of preachers who ministered with prodigious and prestigious influence for a great deal of the 20th century. Alcántara, a professor of preaching, has focused his academic attention on Dr. Taylor and has committed to passing on Taylor’s pastoral wisdom to an even wider audience and another generation.

I’m glad I read Learning from a Legend because I felt like I was getting two professors for the price of one. I don’t read enough books about my own craft. I write at least one sermon each week, so I should probably try to read at least one book on homiletics each year to hone my skills. In this book, Alcántara introduces readers to six key lessons on preaching that Taylor both taught and lived out himself–Pain, Redemption, Eloquence, Apprenticeship, Context, and Holiness (conveniently comprising the acrostic P.R.E.A.C.H.). In each chapter, Alcántara quotes Taylor on the topic and then shows how Taylor’s own example bore the positive fruit of each lesson taught.

The book is clear and easy to read. It’s well sourced and heavily footnoted. Alcántara has done his homework, and it shows. He does a nice job of not making the book just about Taylor by bringing in a host of supporting evidence from other voices, many from other traditions and eras. When you read it, you feel like you are being taught by the whole church, not just one wing of it.

Alcántara’s book is not just about Taylor in another significant way–it continually points to Jesus. While Taylor’s rich ministry and exemplary life may be the curriculum, the subject is clearly Christ. Concord Baptist Church, where Gardner Taylor pastored in Brooklyn for forty-two years, once had to rebuild after a devastating fire. In the rebuilding process, Reverend Taylor asked the workers to put an inscription on the floor behind the pulpit that read “We Would See Jesus” (from John 12:21, KJV). Taylor explained it this way:

The preacher needed to see that! Never mind your skill at oratory: "We would see Jesus." Do not dazzle us with your knowledge. We have come here to see Jesus. We are not hungry for your theories of life. "We would see Jesus." Never mind your positions and suppositions about what is or ought to be. "We would see Jesus" (Quoted on pgs. 30-31 of Learning from a Legend).
Amen! And Alcántara develops this further, “Taylor understood what every preacher must also understand. The awesome burden and privilege of Christian preaching is not that we will run out of things to say about the goodness and preciousness of God. It’s that we won’t! The more we preach about a God who redeems and reconciles, the more we’ll want to preach. The more we say, the more we’ll realize that there’s so much left to say” (pg. 47).

Having read Learning from a Legend, I now feel enriched, sharpened, and more ready to write a better next sermon about the best subject in the world.

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