Preaching and Teaching with Imagination by Warren Wiersbe (Book Review)

2458620.jpgWiersbe, Warren W.  Preaching and Teaching with Imagination:  A Quest for Biblical Ministry. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994.  400 pp.  $23.99.


            Warren W. Wiersbe formerly served as Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary.  He also served as pastor in churches in Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois where he pastored the historic Moody Memorial Church in Chicago.   He also served for ten years as General Director and Teacher for Back to the Bible and is the author of over 80 books. 

Wiersbe writes this volume from the perspective of a pastor as well as a seminary instructor who aims to help preachers preach with imagination. “I have a concern to challenge our preachers – and those who train preachers – to move out of the academy into the marketplace and to start communicating God’s truth the way God communicated it to us in His Word” (9).  Wiersbe aims to help preachers and teachers use metaphors and word pictures as the Scriptures do to help their listeners grasp the principles of the Bible. 


            Wiersbe divides this work into three parts:  Imagination and Life (Chapters 1-8), Imagination and Scripture (Chapters 9-16), and Imagination and Biblical Preaching (Chapters 17-25).  

            Wiersbe begins Part I with the biblical story of Absalom.  Absalom had taken his father’s throne by force but had grown concerned about his father’s escape.  He needed good counsel, so he called on two men to help him with this dilemma: his trusted counselor Ahithophel, and Hushai, David’s former counselor.  Ahithophel gave correct instructions and communicated the bare facts of the matter, while Hushai deceived him with the use a number of metaphors and word pictures.  Absalom listened to Hushai and suffered defeat.  “In modern terms,” Wiersbe notes, “Ahithophel used a cerebral ‘left brain’ approach and Hushai, a visceral ‘right brain’ approach” (17).  Wiersbe notes that Hushai knew “three important areas of life:  people, the world, and words” (23).  While preachers often preach to deliver concepts and concrete principles, Wiersbe believes that people in general tend to think in pictures.  Wiersbe invokes Jesus’ method of teaching as well.  “Every Bible reader knows that Jesus used images from the visible world to teach truths about the invisible world” (35).  He warns against preachers taking “skeletons into the pulpit,” ending up with “cadavers in the pews” (60).  Wiersbe goes on:  “We and the people we preach to live in the kind of society that quietly defiles and destroys the imagination of the unsuspecting victim” (68).  Among those items in society destroying imaginations are television, pornography and other technological advances allow anyone at anytime to have any experience they so choose, thus assaulting the picture gallery of the mind.  Preachers must be all the more diligent in their use of word pictures to stimulate their God-given imaginations. 

            In “Part II:  Imagination and the Scripture,” Wiersbe desires to “walk leisurely … through the Scriptures and point out some of the more important images that are found there” (89).  This overview results in him extracting all the metaphors and word pictures found in each section of the Bible with the hope of the readers being “excited by the imagery in the Bible” (89). 

            In “Part III:  Imagination and Biblical Preaching,” Wiersbe takes the preacher through some practical exercises to help him extract the word pictures from the biblical text.  He encourages a thorough investigation of what the passage says and means.  By understanding the original intent, our imaginations help us connect that intent to today’s culture.  “Exegesis and analysis are launching pads, not parking lots; and it’s imagination that fuels the rocket” (221).  As a result, he cautions preachers not to fully rely on outlines since this is not how we communicate, not do the Scriptures communicate in this way.   Wiersbe then teaches how to preach with imagination in the realm of biographical preaching as well as bringing comfort to the listeners.  He deals with preaching imaginatively on special days as well as providing principles for evangelistic preaching — which of the latter he notes that “all preaching should be evangelistic” (279).  He also deals with the subject of humor by advocating its use, saying that this is “mark of a creative person whose imagination is function in a healthy way” (274).   

Critical Evaluation

            Wiersbe’s aim, as mentioned previously, is to “help preachers preach with imagination” (9).   He laments the condition of many pulpits, for the preachers simply communicate bare facts rather than stir the imaginations of their hearers. He certainly makes a strong case, for “imagination is the tool that helps us make the ‘connections’ needed to bring sinners and the Savior together.  Those who proclaim the Word are ambassadors who must know the language and mind-set [sic] of the people to whom they’re sent if they hope to be understood” (306).  He clearly defies conventional wisdom as an expository preacher who advocates use of imagination, but he rightly notes that the two need not be mutually exclusive.

            As one who holds this use of imagination, Wiersbe excels in presenting this information in imaginative ways.  His distinct writing style echoes his preaching style by his use of short and colorful sentences that keeps the reader engaged, making him one of the more popular authors and commentators in the evangelical world. 

            Wiersbe also uses a great amount of quotes from a wide array of sources to bolster his argument for the use of word pictures and metaphors.  One would expect Wiersbe to quote from Christian authors and preachers, which he does.  He quotes a great deal from conservative evangelicals such as A.W. Tozer, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham, as well as from more liberal preachers such as David Buttrick and Harry Emerson Fosdick.  Wiersbe also quotes from the secular world.  He quotes poets William Blake and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and even from Charles Darwin who notes that “the imagination is one of the highest prerogatives of man” (25).  While one may question him quoting those who do not hold to the Christian faith, Wiersbe excels in demonstrating how differing worldviews and backgrounds understand the benefits of tapping one’s imagination.

“Part II: Imagination and the Scripture” serves as an excellent reference section that displays all the metaphors outlined in Scripture from each of the genres.  Wiersbe dispels the notion of the critics who say that the Bible is a dry and lifeless book by showing the Bible as being full of imagery.  Wiersbe gives all of the word pictures present in each section of Scripture, thereby piquing the interest of all who read his book.  He shows the Bible is full of imagery.  This section also inspires the preacher to include these types of metaphors in their sermons, since God communicated in this manner as well. 

A few weaknesses exist.  Part I includes a compelling defense of the use of metaphors. 

The task of Christian ministry – preaching in particular – is to “weld together imagination and experience”; and metaphor is one of the tools we can use to accomplish this purpose.  This does not mean that the experience of “connecting” will occur every time we preaching metaphorically.  But [sic] this kind of preaching will give the Holy Spirit something to work with as He seeks to make the truth of Christ meaningful through our exposition of the Word (30).

A weakness exists with his understanding of the roles of metaphors.  He notes above that, “This kind of preaching will give the Holy Spirit something to work with as He seeks to make the truth of Christ meaningful through our exposition of the Word.”  Is Wiersbe saying that if the preacher does not engage in this type of preaching then he limits the work of the Holy Spirit?  This line of thinking treads on dangerous ground.  While Ephesians 4:30 instructs the church that Christians may quench the Holy Spirit’s influence in our lives, Wiersbe must not forget Isaiah 55:11

    [M]y word . . . goes out from my mouth;

        it shall not return to me empty,

    but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

        and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

This verse bolsters the calling bestowed on preachers to preach the Good News of Christ because they understand that God’s Word will accomplish all that He desires it to accomplish.  While preachers have no excuse to preach in a boring fashion, to say that using the method that Wiersbe advocates “will give the Holy Spirit something to work with” implies that he cannot otherwise.  Wiersbe must be careful, for God will use his word for his purposes regardless.

 Personal Reflections

I appreciate how Wiersbe promotes the preacher ability to possess a pastor’s heart.  “A pastor with a shepherd’s heart and a healthy imagination, one who knows his sheep and loves them, will do a better job communicating God’s love and truth than the ivory tower executive who, unlike Jesus Christ has no time for people” (30).  Good and faithful pastors will certainly connect their love for their people with their love for his Word. 

While I personally agree with his assessment, my concern grows when examining his faulty starting point.  He notes, “This is where pastoral work comes in — getting to know your people, how they think, what they need, and what they want God to do in their lives” (30).   While Wiersbe rightly notes in the same paragraph that “churches grow when people care, and that caring has to be modeled by the pastor, personally and from the pulpit” (30), the danger lies in having a misguided and misinformed starting point for one’s sermon preparation.   The starting point must remain with the Scriptures that deal with perceived needs but also expose unseen needs.   When one wants God to help them with their financial problems, they may want God to show them how to handle their money better, when the expositional preacher may come to a passage dealing with greed.  Unbeknownst to the pastor or the congregant, the Spirit uses this passage to cut to the deeper issues of unbelief manifesting itself as greed.  What the members “want God to do in their lives” must not be the starting point, but what God wants to do in their lives as expressed in his holy Word. 


            Wiersbe’s work certainly stimulates the mind and the passion of even the most seasoned expository preacher.  Having read this volume twice, I would highly recommend this work to every pastor, especially expositional preachers.  I am thankful for the great help this book has given me in my own preaching.  In implementing more word pictures, more and more members of my congregation comment on how the particular sermon touched them and affected them — regardless of the passage preached.  Pastors, take heed to what Wiersbe recommends.  Your people will thank you.

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