Illustrating Well: Preaching Sermons that Connect, by Jim L. Wilson. Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2022, xv +184 pages, $19.99, paper.

Sermon illustrations are important because they help explain and apply the truth, assuming they are done well. But how can a preacher improve this aspect of his preaching? One tool that has recently helped me is Jim L. Wilson’s book Illustrating Well: Preaching Sermons that Connect. I would like to recommend it for several reasons.

First, Wilson shares the homiletical consensus on how to illustrate well. Having studied most of the books he cites, and a few he does not, I can attest that he reliably synthesizes what has been learned over the years. By pulling together the best advice from the majority, he saves the reader time. Moreover, Wilson shares thoughtful dissenting opinions, which provide nuance and guardrails for the good advice of the majority.

Second, Wilson categorizes sermon illustrations into eight types. He shares examples, necessary qualities, and best practices for each. For instance, one type is personal illustrations. Good personal illustrations should be authentic, ethical, proportionate, and suitable. Illustrations drawn from contemporary culture should be familiar to the listeners. Fictional illustrations are another type. These should rarely be used and never represented as true; turning them into a hypothetical illustration, a third type, is a good practice. One has to dig into the text to really benefit from the advice in this section; it is worth doing so. This section also helped me recognize which types I am over or under using.

Third, Wilson provides a tool for evaluating sermon illustrations no matter which type they are. Wilson argues that all worthy illustrations have four qualities. They must be familiar, clear, interesting, and appropriate. He explains each of these and provides a rubric for quick evaluation where each quality is given a green, yellow, or red light. These four qualities of a good illustration may seem obvious, but it is worth reading the section because the grading for each may not be what is expected. For example, one might assume that a green light on “interesting” means the illustration is very interesting. But it does not, because “it’s not enough for an illustration to be interesting; it must create interest in the text.” Also, if something is so interesting that it upstages the main point, it actually gets a red light, which means one must avoid or modify the illustration. In evaluating each quality, Wilson’s rubric is insightful without being complicated and hard to use. In fact, with just a little bit of practice, I improved my evaluation skills quite a bit.

There are several other helpful tips in this book, like how illustrations function differently in deductive and inductive sermons, or how one should “secure permission to use illustrations that involve other people.” In one particularly insightful section, he uses the metaphors of bridges, windows, lights, and pictures to show the different things sermon illustrations are capable of doing in a sermon. In another place, he discusses secondary functions of illustrations. I think most preachers will find, as I did, that they have an overly narrow conception of what sermon illustrations are for.

Illustrating Well convinced me to use a wider range of sermon illustrations, showed me why, and told me how. Other preachers wanting to improve in this area of their preaching would benefit in similar ways.

Christopher Chelpka is pastor of Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona. Ordained Servant Online, April, 2023.

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Ordained Servant: April 2023

Public Aid?

Also in this issue

Christians, Churches, and Public Aid, Part 1

The Voice of the Good Shepherd: The Primacy of Preaching: A Biblical Overview, Chapter 3 [1]

Commentary on the Book of Discipline of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 4B

Letters to a Younger Ruling Elder, No. 4: Prayer Work

Can Biblical Exposition Be Beautiful and Powerful? A Review Article

Poetry of Redemption: An Illustrated Treasury of Good Friday and Easter Poems, by Leland Ryken

Death Is but a Comma

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