Thursday, March 12, 2015

Have You Ever Heard Fred Preach?

My friend George sent me a brief email on Sunday: “Don’t know if you’ve heard but Fred Craddock died a couple of days ago.”  That’s a name that probably means nothing to you.  That’s a name and a man that means so very much to me.  Craddock is one of the four great influences in the way I go about preparing and preaching a sermon.

One of Craddock’s well known sermons is about John the Baptist.  The title?  “Have You Ever Heard John Preach?”  Well, I did when I heard Craddock’s sermon.  Have you ever heard Fred preach?  If you did, you’ll never forget him.  I know I won’t.

Fred was small in stature—think Zacchaeus.  I read where Fred often called his son, a much larger man than he, “a block off the old chip.”  But when he stood to preach he must have been nine feet tall.  I first heard him at the Hester Lectures on Preaching when I was a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in either 1979 or 1980.  And though he didn’t “preach” in those lectures, the preaching he described lit a fire in my soul.  I’d never been content with typical Baptist preaching: three points (alliterated if possible and forced if necessary) and a poem.  Within each point offer explanation, illustration, and application.  Tell ‘em what you’re going say, say it, tell ‘em what you said.  Every Sunday every sermon sounds like the Sunday before.  Pardon me while I yawn.  I’m not saying that such preaching is not biblical, nor am I suggesting that God doesn’t inspire and use that kind of preaching.  God has used that style for centuries.  A lot of preachers do it well, and a lot of Christians profit from it.   

But for a preacher like me, that style was like wearing Saul’s armor.  It didn’t fit who God wired me to be.  So Craddock, without knowing it, sort of gave me permission to be the preacher God was calling me to be.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not claiming to preach like Fred Craddock.  Nobody preaches like Fred Craddock except Fred Craddock—the man was in a league of his own.

But some of the things that drove his preaching are the things that drive mine: humility, kindness, image, story, everyday life, subtle humor, a respect for words, a respect for the congregation, a desire to bring the Bible to life in ways that leaves the hearer engaged, occasionally surprised, and thinking, “Why that Bible story is my story.”  Craddock’s preaching reminded me that the Bible is a story before it is a book of principles, propositions and points, and that maybe, for at least some of us, we’d rather leave worship with a full heart instead of a full notebook.

Craddock was sometimes criticized that his sermons were weak on “application”—he believed it wiser to leave that work to the Holy Spirit and to the listener.  (I hate to admit that he probably trusts both more than I do.)  Yet I never heard or read one of his sermons when I wasn’t moved to respond in some way.  When I heard Craddock preach, God always got a little bigger for me and I wanted to be a better Christian.  Tell me what’s weak about that application.

Fred Craddock didn’t know me from Adam—never had a one-on-one, face-to-face conversation with him in my life.  Still, I feel like I’ve lost a friend.  Thankfully, he will continue to live on my bookshelves, in a few recordings of his sermons, and in the way I think about preaching.  The kingdom of God has lost a giant.  I’m just thankful that while he strode the earth, a little bit of his shadow fell on me.    


  1. Sounds like you have a lot more of Fred Craddock than you realize John. Wish I could have known this man of God.... Blessings <><

  2. Thanks, Charles. You know how some preachers just connect with you at levels other preachers do not. Craddock was that kind of preacher for me. Grady Cothen, the old Sunday School Board president was another back in the day. Who have been your influences in preaching or preachers that you connected with?

    1. Adrian Rogers has always been an influence on my life. My daughter and grandchildren were members at Bellevue Baptist in Memphis and he spoke many times when I was in Seminary at Mid-America Seminary. Got to meet him personally while in Seminary. J. Harold Smith was another inspiration in my life. Had him in revival at Leonard Street Baptist when he was 84 yrs. old. Was an answer to my prayer. And following your ministry at FBC, Hot Springs since 1996 has also been an inspiration to me as well as so many others in seeing your faithfulness and love for your people and for the Word... Continued Blessings my friend :)

  3. This got me to thinking about my mentors through the years, and I only came up with two: the first is my father-in-law, who provided me with wise council and the example of how to live like a true man, faithful, kind, and (again) wise. The second is actually a group of people where I used to work (Lockheed-Martin in Ft. Worth) that taught me many life lessons through the 32 years I was there. Among them are:
    1. Once when I was complaining to a lead engineer about the constant changes in the requirements we were trying to satisfy, he said "Mike, if there weren't any changes made, we wouldn't have jobs." Taught me that work is not just about solving the problems before you, but it is the attitude we bring to that work.

    2. A leader's main job is to make sure his team knows that he has their backs, to eliminate road blocks to their work, and to trust them to get their work done (with reasonable checks and reviews). I learned that from a few good leaders I had, and from the ones that didn't really understand that concept.

    Thanks for sharing, John!

  4. Thanks, Mike. Sounds like you had some good mentors through the years.