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Interview: Dr. William Wagner on Homiletics

February 14, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.--At the start of spring semester, Olivet Theological College & Seminary (OTCS) interviewed Academic and Faculty Dean and OTCS Professor Dr. William L. Wagner, about his experience teaching the graduate course MS600 Homiletics.

OTCS: You taught a course on Homiletics last semester. Could you briefly explain the study?

DR. WAGNER: There are many definitions of the word "homiletics." A longer one is "The science and art by which the meaning and relevance of the Biblical text are communicated in a preaching situation." A shorter definition is simply "the art of preaching."  I feel that the study begins in the text of the Bible.  We help students to use the knowledge gained in Biblical studies and the Biblical languages to transfer what they have learned to others by means of preaching the Word. 

(Preaching has always been a main source of communicating the Gospel of Christ to others.)
OTCS: One of the course requirements is to preach your own sermon. What are your observations from this exercise?

DR. WAGNER: Yes, in this class each student preached at least two sermons before his or her fellow students.  The reason is that many who have never preached are somewhat intimidated by standing before others and speaking.  We try to help them by giving them encouragement in a controlled setting.  Though it's a difficult task for the class, everyone I've seen participate improves their preaching skill from the experience.

OTCS: What advice do you give to the students on the timid side?

 DR. WAGNER: This class is really for beginners. Some people are good at drama, others are good at academics, but almost all have to yet develop their own styles. Within a certain amount of time, however, each person will use his/her own God-given gifts to communicate the Word. 

It's also true that different ethnic groups have different styles.  For instance, black churches in the U.S. typically have a very lively style, while Asian churches, for the most part, have a more subdued style.  I want each person to apply his/her own talents in the context of the church where they will be preaching.  This is an important lesson in this class. 
OTCS: Do you think there is tension between delivery and content of the message?

DR. WAGNER: This is a difficult question.  A good sermon has both good content and good delivery.  It is hard to see which is the most important.  In our class we try to help our students with both parts of this equation. It is, however, true that an academic person tends to have better content, while the evangelist might have a better style.

OTCS: You're an accomplished preacher with experience delivering messages in a variety of settings. What is your advice for students that wish to follow in your footsteps?

DR. WAGNER: In 1 Corinthians 9:16, Paul states "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel."  Even with the advent of the internet, the standing in front of people and proclaiming the Gospel is still very relevant today. The most important part of learning how to preach for a young person is practice.  I recommend that those who desire to preach to spend many hours outside or at home in front of a mirror just preaching. The old saying is true: "practice makes perfect." If a person does this, he/she will be amazed as to how many opportunities arise to preach.  The world is in need of good, exciting preachers today.  I hope that Olivet will help fill this need.