Review of Preaching on Your Feet

I post my seminary writing here to be most helpful to those who are considering reading these books.

#1 – Fred Lybrand, Preaching on Your Feet: Connecting God and the Audience in the Preachable Moment. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008. 171 pages.

I. Summary of Content
Fred Lybrand, in his book, Preaching on Your Feet, begins with an appeal to preachers.  He wants more passionate, engaging speakers in today’s churches, but it becomes quickly apparent that Lybrand’s desire is not motivated by the glory of God but by the felt needs of man.  He more often appeals to man’s needs than God’s stated glory in His written Word.  Indeed, his very first definition of preaching, “preaching is about connecting a message from God through the preacher to the audience in the moment,” exposes his love for human experience over the Word of God.
Lybrand spends the first four chapters of Preaching on Your Feet explaining his theory in various ways.  Here, he focuses on practical needs and benefits, sprinkling a healthy helping of quotes, especially from his heroes Charles Spurgeon and Charles Finney.  In the next three chapters (ch. 5-7), the author targets the Bible and historical records to support his position.  These chapters attempt to undergird his view with more concrete and academic evidence.  The next five chapters (ch. 8-12) return to Lybrand’s form – pure practicality.  They give small bites and large chunks of advice on how exactly to “preach on your feet.”  Finally, the last two chapters of the book (ch. 13-14) offer Lybrand’s final observations in the form of a question-answer dialogue and a hopeful outlook for the future.  These parts of the book again highlight the author’s man-centered focus and his preconceived, unbiblical notions of preaching.
From the first page of the first chapter, it appears that Lybrand is unable to evenly weigh the manuscripted or outlined approach evenly against his own brand of extemporaneous preaching.  Time and again, he proves himself incapable of giving fair assessment to any brand of pre-scripted preaching.  He simply doesn’t believe it is true “preaching,” and he makes that a law unto itself.
On page 47, Lybrand even asserts that one cannot be “led by the Spirit” unless he practices “preaching on your feet” !  The reader must wonder from where the author gains this evidence, because it certainly doesn’t come from the Bible.  The Scripture says in 2 Timothy 2:7, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”  Since thinking often involves writing, and the enlightenment of the Lord is always through His Spirit, it would be safe to assert that God’s Spirit does in fact work through written notes.  After all, the Bible is God’s Spirit-breathed, written document.
On page 158, Lybrand is even clearer about his hatred of written notes, “The fact is, however, that this book demonstrates, supports, and hopes to convince the reader that notes are unnecessary and in most instances actually harmful to connecting the message in your heart to the need and understanding in your listener’s heart.”  As an author and pastor, Lybrand has allowed his experiences as a listener, rather than the definitive Word of God, to define his methodology, and that example is what is most harmful about his content.

II. Strengths and Weaknesses
Fred R. Lybrand’s book boasts a few strengths.  First, it has a wealth of classic and contemporary quotes about preaching with earnestness, clarity, and Bible saturation.  Second, it does illustrate the author’s passion (pathos) about the subject (although his logos and his ethos are conspicuously absent). Third, it also makes a well-researched and truly experienced argument for a kind of speaking that would be better termed, “being always ready to give an account,” but that – in our day and age, at least – is better left to use outside the pulpit and church education classes.  This leads us to the book’s many weaknesses.
The author seems to believe that, in modern evangelical America, the greatest crisis in Christian preaching is that it has too much substance and not enough style.  Nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, Lybrand is further wounding the church with his backwards understanding of our disease.  The problem is not that Christian preachers have too much Bible and not enough personality!  It is exactly the opposite!  If many pastors were to imbibe Lybrand’s preacher-centered approach, the problem would only get worse!
As the Christian church, we need to hear more of God and less of man.  We need to be fed more of Christ and less of self.  We need to experience more work of the Holy Spirit and less of our own wills.  Lybrand’s approach does not help these problems in the least.  Quite the contrary, Lybrand’s book would much sooner produce more men like Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes than Mark Dever and John Piper.
The second great flaw of Preaching on Your Feet is anticipated by the first.  Lybrand’s false diagnosis is founded upon his misguided theology.  As already illustrated, Lybrand brings to the table several preconceived, unbiblical notions about God’s work in preaching.  Beyond that, though, he seems more at ease to make his points by quoting Charles Finney (after whom no preaching should ever model their ministry) and appealing to Socrates than by expounding Holy Scripture.
Lybrand’s final flaw is that, in a book about how to best explain God’s written revelation, he absolutely fails to explain God’s written revelation!  It seems odd that a book by a Christian preacher for Christian preachers should fall so miserably short in carrying out the aim of Christian preaching.  “Preaching Becomes an Act of Faith” gets only a paragraph on page 49, and God’s glory by grace through faith in Christ is the aim of the whole Bible!  Lybrand only devotes a mere seven pages (pages 67-73) to explaining what God’s Word says about his theory!

III. Lessons to Implement
It was truly difficult to take away many positive lessons from such a poorly founded book, but several things are worth noting.  First, the negative example of this book reminded me to always build my reasons and assertions on Scripture.  This book is, rather paradoxically, a very good argument for manuscripting!  If Rev. Lybrand wrote this book “on his feet,” then he should have first studied the Bible and written out his findings!
The second lesson worth taking home is that, in preaching and teaching, I must always aim and strive to explain and enjoy the glory of God in Christ.  For the Christian, there is no other aim.  There is no other worthy goal.  It is not about making connections but about enjoying glory.  It is not about meeting needs but about treasuring the need-less One.  The time spent reading Lybrand’s book would be better replaced with reading The Supremacy of God in Preaching, or, better yet, reading the Bible.
The third lesson I learned from Preaching on Your Feet is that theology must always serve methodology.  As some have said, “Right doctrine drives right practice,” and, when my practice is somewhere in the realm of darkness, I need to see the light of God’s holy truth.  Again, Lybrand’s book, in its misuse and un-use of the Bible, shows me all the more the worth of God’s Book.  I can’t imagine trying to navigate all the various pitfalls of my heart, my life, my family, and my ministry without it!

IV. Top Five Quotes
In the order they appear in the book, here are my top five quotes. On page 2 of the book, Lybrand writes that “the most obvious biblical fact regarding preaching” is that “preaching is about connecting a message from God through the preacher to the audience in the moment.”  This is a terribly man-centered, anti-scriptural view of preaching.  Against Lybrand, we must assert that preaching is explaining the Word of God about the Son of God to thrill the people of God for the glory of God.
The second poor quote of the book is on page 5, where Lybrand writes, “If I preached on Sunday something I concluded [writing] on a Friday, it’s plagiarism because it was written by another person (that is, who I was on Friday)!”  This is some of the most imbecile preaching logic that could be written.  If Lybrand’s understanding of “being a different person” were true, how could God ever judge sinners on that final day?  They would all be “different people” from those who committed sins on earth!  Much less, even, how could Lybrand write a book and put his name on it, if right at this moment he is a different person?
Third, on page 13, Lybrand gives us this theological gem,
“Is it any wonder that the Natural Church Development researchers have found “pastor as theologian” to be a negative correlation with church health and growth?  Specifically they have found that often the more education a pastor has the less health the church enjoys.”  There are at least two giant problems with this one.  First, we are not how exactly the NCD measured “church health.”  It could  have been in man-centered, unhealthy ways indeed.  Second, though, in our mindless, amusement-centered, alliterate church society, we should never deride the study of God through His Word.  We need more pastor-theologians, not less.  The gospel is perishing in our churches, even as numbers may rise, because pastors don’t know the gospel well enough, and Lybrand would have that continue in honor of man’s pride.
Fourth, on page 20, Lybrand writes that, “Preaching on your feet is a relationship between hearts.  In preaching, there is the heart of God, the heart of the preacher, and the hearts in the audience.”  Again, this leaves out the all-important Word with its all-important Christ for God’s all-important glory.  Lybrand is wildly romantic in his man-centered idolatry.
Fifth and finally, on page 38, Lybrand writes about personality, “When a preacher is free from notes and a written manuscript, the greatest possibility arises fro his true personality, borne along by his true zeal, to allow for a persuasive message to be poured out through his soul.”  To which we must again ask, “Why?”  Why must it be that “true personality” is best displayed to an audience “when a preacher is free from notes and a written manuscript”?  Who says that it can’t be communicated just as well, if not better in the Spirit of the Lord, in writing?  Lybrand’s manifold assumptions here are bewildering.

V. Conclusion
Because of its lack of biblical exposition and theology, Fred Lybrand’s book on preaching simply isn’t worth reading because it doesn’t explain the only aim of Christian preaching: explaining the Word of God about the Son of God to thrill the people of God for the glory of God.  Further, Lybrand harms the church by placing the style of delivery over the substance of the Bible.  His example of assuming the Bible and assuming the gospel and assuming good theology, without stating any of them, is violent to the health of the church.  God must be central in everything we do, and we must think biblically (think ahead of time) about how to most glorify Him.  We must not leave Him out of our books on preaching methodology, and our time would be better spent reading books like The Supremacy of God in Preaching, or, better yet, the Scriptures.

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About B Treece
loved by God before I ever loved Him, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone by the authority of the Bible alone to the glory of God alone, made to enjoy Him forever, happily married with wonder-filled children.

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