Henry ward beecher

Preaching style


        Henry Ward Beecher was not a typical minister. He would turn sermons into speeches and vice versa. There are many writers that think Henry Beecher was a public speaker first and a minister second. Halford Ryan wrote that "public speaking [was] the specialty of [Beecher's] life."19 This is not necessarily true because Henry Beecher spent his entire life developing a preaching style that was all his own. He was not afraid to break away from conventions of his day and change the style of preaching, which still influences preaching styles to this day. His style consisted of a new theology, humor, and current issues.

        During his early years as a minister the debate about New School and Old School theology arose. Part of the New School theology was that man had part in his salvation. Henry began to study the new theology and became a believer. He believed that the Presbyterian faith should be separate of the Calvinist faith and beliefs.20 When he was at his first church in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, he convinced his church to break away from the old theology and follow the new one, which they did.21 Henry believed, under the new theology, that man was not a hopeless cause and that there was no predestination. According to Ryan, Beecher believed that men could choose good or evil and ask for God's help at anytime in their life.22  Henry also believed that all people should try to follow the example set by Jesus. Ryan says that Calvinists of the time were more concerned with "intellectual religion" but Henry wanted "emotional religion" and people to rejoice in the love of God and Jesus.23 Since Henry did not believe in predestination, he felt it was his job to reach out to all of God's children. 

        One of the ways that Henry reached out to people was to make his sermons relevant to the current issues of the day. This is how some of his political ideas got mixed into his sermons.24 An example would be Henry preaching  against slavery from his pulpit. He was one of first ministers that would preach in such a way. Another way to reach out to the people was to move around during a sermon. Henry would not stand behind his pulpit because he did not want to hide from his congregation, which was odd because many ministers would read their sermons verbatim.25 Henry Beecher's preaching style was unique because he moved around and would look at his congregation while he was delivering the sermon. Today many ministers follow Henry's example. They move around while delivering their sermons and look at the congregation. Some ministers today memorize all of their sermon, while others make notes to follow instead of memorizing or writing the sermon out. 

        Another way that Henry had a unique preaching style was what he did to prepare for a sermon. Henry would practice his sermon several times. In one of his lectures to Yale students Henry told the class that to be a good minister that practice was needed and lots of it.26 Another way that he prepared for a sermon was to write out the sermon and keep working with it. Ryan says that an average sermon for Henry would be 40-50 pages long and have several words and sentences crossed out or in the margin.27 Henry also told the class that should not be afraid to preach a topic and do not be concerned with making every sermon a super-sermon.28 The great sermons will come he added.29 His preparation was not the only thing that made his preaching style unique to him.

        Henry Beecher also used humor in his pulpit. He was known for making funny facial expressions during a sermon.30 Of course there was a limit on the amount of humor. Henry told in one of his lectures that humor was good but that people should not turn sermons into "show-sermons."31 Many of the jokes that Henry made in the pulpit were at the expense of his opponents. Henry often picked on the rich. He did this in order to show the evils that there were in society. It was the rich, according to Henry, that gambled, drank, and danced the most.32 He made numerous jokes on the behalf of the rich. Using humor in the pulpit was one more way that Henry Beecher could reach out to his audience. Many ministers today also use humor in the pulpit. 


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        19. Ryan, Henry Ward., 1.

        20. "Philosopher's Corner Presents: Henry Ward Beecher," Interfaith Fellowship, n.d., <http://www.interfaithfellowship.org/oncourse/articles/philosophers/beecher.html>
(14 March 2001).

        21. Ryan, Henry Ward., 16. 

        22. & 23. Ibid., 19.

        24. Ibid., 18.

        25. Ibid., 8. 

        26.  Henry Ward Beecher, Yale Lectures on Preaching (New York: Fords, Howard, & Hulbert, 1881), 32.

        27. Ryan, Henry Ward., 18.

        28.  Beecher, Yale., 32. 

        29. Ibid., 32.

        30. Doug Adams, Humor in the American Pulpit: From George Whitefield through Henry Ward Beecher (Austin: Sharing Company, 1975), 2. 

        31. Beecher, Yale., 33.

        32. Adams, Humor., 210.