‘Overhearing the Gospel’ by Fred B. Craddock

A Book Review for Story, Pop-Culture, and Worldview

The Bible records what is known in the Christian community as “The Great Commission.” Jesus issued this edict just before His ascension to heaven. He directs His disciples to go, seek out, and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20). God, the Creator of all things, chose to share His message of redemption to people through other people, and it has been that way for centuries and passed down from one generation to the next. The problem seen in many churches across the United States today is a lackadaisical mindset among Christians to go out and share the gospel. The reasons given for not doing so are far-ranging, but the most common excuses are “I don’t know enough yet” or “I just don’t have the gift of gab.” Others prefer to only share the gospel by living the Christian life, i.e., to set the example for others to see and emulate, but that is not enough. Christians are called to do both, to show and tell the good news of Jesus Christ. In other words, we are called to communicate the gospel to the world. In Overhearing the Gospel, Fred B. Craddock speaks on the subject of sharing the gospel from the vantage point of the teller and the listener as well as the story.

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The Illusion

In the first of three parts, Fred Craddock (2002) drills down to the core problem with the church and what some would call its cavalier approach to sharing the gospel. He asserts the point that many churches have preoccupied themselves with exploring the question “what,” i.e., what is the truth or what do we believe. This preoccupation has drawn the church away from the more critical role it plays when it comes to sharing the gospel, which is “how,” i.e., how do we minister to the sick and the weary. Craddock wrote, “How has been made to stand out in the hall while what [is] being entertained by the brightest minds among us” (p. 4). People are more comfortable with asking questions that begin with “what” because the engagement is more of an academic exercise. People are less satisfied to ask a question that starts with “how” because the answer will, more often than not, require an action of their part, and it is the action of going that Jesus commands His followers, not to sit and think about it, which seems to be the position of many Christians today.

Craddock moves on to examine the purpose of the teller and the listener. The role of the teller or preacher is not limited to the pastor who stands in a pulpit, but it applies to anyone who proclaims the word of God. He keys in on the importance of recognizing the thirst of his listeners for the word of God. There are people with a genuine hunger and a thirst to know God, and tellers of the gospel need to recognize those signs to feed that hunger and quench that thirst with the truth of God’s word. In response to this, Craddock points to the model preacher of the New Testament who is not the apostle Paul but Jesus, who turned chaos into order and ambiguity into clarity; He was a teller of compassion and love. So much of the so-called preaching across the country today clings to misguidedness and falsehoods, which range from prosperity preaching to miraculous head-thump healing. These forms of motivational speaking and staged performances only serve to dilute the true strength and message of the gospel, which is love and for good reason because God is love (1 John 4:8). Craddock stated it this way: “The act of communicating the gospel is in its very nature an act of passion” (p. 39).

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Attack Upon the Illusion

 In part two of his book, Fred Craddock (2002) refers to the indirect and direct methods of communicating the gospel by Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard asserts that the direct method is nothing more than the transfer of information suitable to the fields of history and science. The indirect method, on the other hand, is for drawing a response from or an action by the listener (p. 70). In other words, the direct approach often speaks to one’s reason or mind, whereas indirect speaks to one’s compassion or heart.  The preacher does not merely share the information that Jesus died on a cross, but he instead tells the story as it is was seen through the eyes of those who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus first-hand. Craddock furthers this by noting that what a preacher truly does is a form of artistry. He wrote, “Art implicates and involves the reader, listener, or observer in ways more complex than agreeing or disagreeing. One’s world, one’s values, one’s lifestyle can be confirmed or called into question by art when plain prose descriptions would pass as information, leaving life untouched” (p. 83). 

It is important to note that God is the artist of the gospel, and so when a preacher is proclaiming the word of God, it is God who is speaking “indirectly” to the listener, not the preacher. Craddock also explores the experience of the listener and the method of the teller. He notes the importance of having both the listener and teller together, which places them at the same place, at the same time, and for the same purpose (p. 89). However, Craddock quickly points out that the distance created by indirect communication yields optimum results. He suggests that Kierkegaard teased us into seeing “the communicative values of distance, of privacy, of a kind of anonymity that gives us the freedom to reflect and decide out of public view, of trusting form and content rather than personality and social pressure to achieve the desired ends” (p.90).

The Sermons

In part three, Fred Craddock (2002) sets his focus on three select sermons based on New Testament teaching. His first sermon focuses on the crucifixion of Jesus and how His disciples all abandoned Him in His hour of suffering and the spiritual experience of those who attended the death and burial of Christ and His resurrection (p. 126). Craddock then focuses on the teachings given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount for his second sermon and specifically that we are to love one another – even our enemies. He zeros in on man’s drive for justice at the expense of forgiving and loving towards those who practice lawlessness and that it was Jesus who said, “Do both,” i.e., seek justice as well as be forgiving and loving (p. 134). His third sermon draws from the parable that Jesus told about a rich man and Lazarus and centers on how life is in the lower, middle, and upper economic class of our time.  Craddock makes an outstanding closing point where he wrote: “I have learned that you should never compare yourself with anyone else in terms of goods. Anyone below you can make your arrogant. Anyone above you can make you envious” (p. 141).  

Summary

Overhearing the Gospel by Fred Craddock is an in-depth look at how Christians should communicate the gospel to a lost and dying world. He leans on the teachings or philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard and draws some interesting conclusions about the communication methods one chooses to do so. Many Christians today tend to believe they are sharing the gospel by merely living the Christian lifestyle, which is a good start but it is only half of the gospel. Seekers, non-believers, and those who have strayed all need to hear the word, not merely see it in action, and one must give it in love and with a heart full of compassion. Craddock perhaps best summarizes it this way. He wrote, “A truth spoken in subdued tones and embraced inwardly could become false when roared and shouted” (p. 71). 


References
Craddock, F. B. (2002). Overhearing the Gospel. Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press


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A Faithful Sower Publishing is a limited liability company that is dedicated to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and help guide people into a relationship with God and grow in that relationship. The publisher, editors, and authors achieve that end through prayer and the careful exposition of the Bible to best explain and illustrate Scripture in a meaningful engaging way so others can apply its truths to their everyday life. The mission of the the A Faithful Sower ministry team is to carry out the Great Commission issued to all who choose to follow Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Jesus commands us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

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