Last week Dave Bland was recognized by the Academy of Homiletics with a Lifetime Achievement Award. He’s incredibly deserving, as he’s published four books (and edited many more) and over ninety articles and book reviews during his 28 years at Harding School of Theology. Those are great reasons for someone else to appreciate him. Not me. I love Dave because I had him not only as a teacher, but as a preacher. Hearing that he had received this award caused me to reflect on the preachers who have influenced me.
Rodney Plunket and Dave Bland are the two preachers who I’ve spent the most time around during my adult life. Rodney was White Station’s Senior Minister from 2004-2020. Dave served as a part-time preaching minister from 1997-2015, before a six year run leading Adult Education.
Rodney and Dave had many things in common in their preaching. Both of them came at their work from an academic background. Rodney did a Ph.D in Old Testament at Durham, while Dave earned a Ph.D. in Rhetoric (focusing on Wisdom Literature) at the University of Washington. They weren’t fooled by simplistic ways of reading the Bible or likely to take positions that weren’t supported by reputable scholars. They were the doctors of White Station, and we were in very good hands.
Both of them specialized in the Old Testament, which was fully in line with White Station’s history. Former ministers John Scott (Ph.D, University of Pennsylvania) and Jim Howard (Ph.D., Baylor) also specialized in the Old Testament. This is an incredible asset for preaching, not only because the Old Testament is essential for understanding the New (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Romans 15:4), but also because it opens up 39 additional books for the church. Preaching without the Hebrew Bible is like purchasing a big screen TV and then only having a few channels.
But Dave and Rodney’s sermons were unmistakably different. Rodney moved around the room. Dave stood still. Rodney raised his voice; Dave didn’t. Rodney was more likely to display his emotion, while Dave’s was implied. Dave was conversational when Rodney could be emphatic. Rodney was more likely to share stories from pastoral interactions in ministry; Dave packed sermons with details and notes he came across during his work at the School of Theology. Rodney was a prophet. Dave was a craftsman. They were different, but both highly effective.
The thing they had in common was what Aristotle called the ethos of persuasion. It’s the appeal to the character and integrity of the speaker. Dave and Rodney had mountains of credibility. This matters so much for preaching when you speak to the same audience each week. The message is rarely effective if people can’t trust the messenger. I always did. Every believer has a preacher in their life to thank. I’m thankful for Rodney and Dave.
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom. 10:14-15)