A few days ago I finished a book by J. Ellsworth Kalas entitled, Preaching in an age of Distraction (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014). While it’s not the best book on preaching I’ve ever read, it was still surprising and helpful. It was surprising because, while Kalas accurately assesses and decries the level and nature of distraction in our age, he also affirms the worth of distraction for human beings. In fact, he argues that distraction is a necessary part of life, one positive word for which would be “creativity.” After all, if we were never distracted we would always settle for the status quo and would never innovate. We would never invent. We would never improve ideas, mores, habits, products, and even relationships.
Indeed, distraction is a necessary part of being human, but we must learn to discern when distraction becomes destruction. Too much distraction keeps us from seeing and savoring beauty and all the best things of life. It diminishes our joy in life. It saps our energy. And it makes us poor preachers because we are less able to hear from the Lord, we are less able to creatively and passionately express what he’s given us to say, and we are less able to love others.
With this "scale" of distraction and destruction well in mind, Kalas goes on to write about preachers and distraction, congregations and distraction, and some specific benefits of distraction. He then encourages preachers to overcome the problems of distraction by committing to excellence in their preaching, for he feels that excellence still awakens the soul to the greater things of life no matter the level of distraction.
Next Kalas addresses issues of creativity and “packaging” in preaching, closing out the book with two superb chapters on the power of biblical and doctrinal content in preaching, and the “secret resources” available to preachers. With regard to content, Kalas writes, “However dull of interest the listener may appear to be, and however distracted by the uncounted voices that clamor for attention, the preacher’s claim was there first. The breath came from God. The soul bears the branding of eternity, no matter how transient its pursuits, no matter how trivial its ambitions” (135). Indeed, we must be sober about the age in which we live, and we must be filled with hope that the Word of God still has power in human lives because the God of the Word is still alive!
With regard to the preacher’s secret resources, Kalas writes of love for the people of God and passion for the truth of God. I greatly benefited from what he wrote in this regard, but I was surprised and disappointed that he barely mentioned the place of prayer in the life of the preacher. Be that as it may, the closing chapter is the crowning jewel of the book, and offers welcome wisdom from a seasoned preacher and teacher of preaching.
If you're a preacher or teacher, this book will help you to understand the nature of distraction, identify helpful and hurtful distractions in your own life, better understand helpful and hurtful distractions in the life of your church, and remember the power of the Word of God in any age or particular context. As I mentioned above, Preaching in an Age of Distraction is not the best book on preaching I've ever read, but it's worth the time and money. And, for what it's worth, it's an easy read.
Lord Jesus, may you make us better preachers and teachers by giving us eyes to behold your glory, minds to understand your Word, hearts to love your people, and creativity to preach your Word in a way that exalts your great name and stirs the souls of your people to greater and more eternal things. In your most excellent and captivating name we pray, amen.