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Darrel Manson

On the death of Fred Craddock

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For all the saints who from their labors rest… Alleluia!

 

The past few days my Facebook feed has been filled with people saying things about Fred Craddock, who died on Friday. I expect a few of you may know of him. He was certainly well known among the Disciples of Christ and United Methodists, but people of many other denominations were blessed by his words. He was named by Time as one of the ten best preachers in America. He gave the Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale one year. By training he was a NT scholar, but he had the heart of a pastor.

 

He did his undergraduate work at Johnson Bible College in Tennessee, because he could pay for his tuition by working on the farm there. Because he was small and had a high pitched voice, they told him he’d never be able to be a preacher because he’d never be able to have a strong enough pulpit presence. Yet for many who have heard him through the years, to see him in a pulpit causes you to shut out whatever else is going in in the world for the next several minutes.

 

When he was teaching at Phillips University, they asked him if he could teach a course on homiletics. This was at a time when many seminaries were dropping the course from the curriculum or bringing in a retired pastor to give a few hints to would be pastors. Some have credited him with revitalizing the field at a time it was dying. The mimeographed thoughts he shared with the class eventually became As One Without Authority, a book that sets for the idea of inductive preaching. He also authored (besides biblical commentaries—he was after all a NT scholar) Overhearing the Gospel (from his Beecher lectures) in which he reflects on the homiletical task in terms of Kierkegaard.

 

I was blessed to have gone to seminary at Phillips while he was there. (He left a couple years after I graduated to go to Candler.) I only had the preaching course with him, but I got to hear him preach often. His preaching style is based in his ability as a story teller. One day I was in the student union with a friend when Dr Craddock and another student arrived. This was their weekly meeting as a special seminar on preaching. They had an assignment each week, and they gathered to share. Dr. Craddock would do the assignment as well. They graciously let me stay and listen. This week they were supposed to tell about something insignificant. I have no recollection what the two students talked about, but I remember very clearly how he recounted one morning having coffee with his wife and noticing the line of sun/shadow creeping up his cup. How important he made that sound.

 

But beyond all the stories of his scholarship or his sermons, I celebrate the man that he was. He was exemplary not only of a scholarly or pastoral life, but of what it means to be a Christian—to live by faith, to love God and neighbor, to proclaim good news.  A couple weeks ago, his work in retirement was the cover story on The Christian Century. After retiring from Candler, he moved to rural Georgia and started a new church. He then founded the Craddock Center, which serves rural poor children both with a Head Start program and supplementary program of early grades. He also continued to teach preaching, but his classes were now designed for preachers without seminary education—country preachers whom God raised up to minister to rural churches.

 

I you want a sample of his preaching, one example is at https://vimeo.com/70325537

 

 

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I had never heard of him until last week. I was writing a paper on television and preaching for a class and came across his work. I liked his ideas on how a sermon could be a communal activity.

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