At the end of the year when magazines talk about notable persons who died in 2015, it is possible that many will overlook Fred Brenning Craddock. Yet preachers and congregations will long be indebted to the influence he has had on many sermons. Nearly every time I have read something about him it includes a line like “he is unassuming.” I have heard him preach and it is true. It is not a coincidence that he titled an early book As One Without Authority. I consider this good news for all of us, not one of us bring any authority of our own into the pulpit.
Craddock claimed his early attempts to teach preaching did not go well. At that time he was encouraged to read Soren Kierkegaard and was struck by the line “There is no lack of information in a Christian land; something else is lacking, and it is something one person cannot communicate directly to another.” This line became a text of sorts for the Beecher Lectures at Yale which were later published as Overhearing the Gospel.
Craddock helped us to respect the listener. While some have debated whether he removed too much authority from the preacher, we can probably all agree with his desire to create a dynamic conversation with the text. Craddock desired sermons to create space for preachers to ask questions and for listeners to respond with yay or nay. At the very least, this is a realistic place for a sermon to be. He believed that in order for the listener to have a genuine response, yes and no must be real options.
We can also appreciate that he never removes authority from the text. The dynamic conversation insists on the text having a say. In his book Preaching, he states that though he starts with attention on the listeners “If one wishes to begin with the text, no objections come to mind. The two will meet on down the road anyway, with neither one claiming to have had a head start.”
His legacy certainly includes preaching, but also teaching preachers. Upon retirement from formal teaching, he started The Craddock Center. Preaching workshops are among the core programming of the Craddock Center. The workshops are offered at no charge for active preachers who serve small churches in Southern Appalachia.
I recall reading somewhere that he considered all of his preaching to be “semiautobiographical.” I suspect the same is true for all of us. The final paragraph of his Reflections on My Call to Preach says, “As for me, I believe God called me to preach; or, to put it another way, I decided to be a preacher. Or, as Paul might put it, ‘I seek to lay hold of him who has already laid hold of me.’” We are grateful and listeners to our sermons are as well.