Rev. Fred Craddock, a ‘Preaching Genius’ Who Revolutionized the Art of Preaching, Goes Home to Heaven at 86

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The Rev. Fred Craddock, the pulpit giant who was “like no other preacher you have ever heard,” has died, his church announced.

Craddock, who redefined the art of preaching, died Friday in Blue Ridge, Georgia. The cause has not been disclosed. The 86-year-old had been in declining health due to Parkinson’s disease in recent years, according to the United Methodist Reporter.

“Fred Craddock was a national treasure and a devoted servant of the church and Jesus Christ. His impact on preaching — in terms both of scholarship and practice — is incalculable,” said the Rev. Thomas Long, a friend and a pastor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

Craddock faces his toughest convert

Preachers studied classic Craddock sermons such as “Have You Heard John Preach?” and “Grace and Disgrace,” much like aspiring jazz musicians listened to saxophonist John Coltrane and amateur boxers studied tapes of Sugar Ray Robinson — for clues to greatness and inspiration.

Craddock elevated preaching to an art. He was often called a preaching genius. Rather than deliver a sermon like a lecture — an intro, three main points and a conclusion — he developed an “inductive” conversational style of preaching.

His sermons unfolded like a short story — there was foreshadowing, plot twists, dialogue; language of startling beauty and surprise endings.

The way he ended his sermons was as memorable as what he said. He would abruptly stop, turn from the pulpit, and quietly sit as the audience sat in silence. People didn’t applaud or shout hallelujah after his sermons. They were too busy absorbing what he had just said.

The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, an author and world-renowned preacher, once said of Craddock: “He spoke of Kierkegaard as easily as he spoke of the Indianapolis 500. He quoted Kafka as helpfully as Corinthians… but he was also someone who noticed a lot about ordinary human life on earth.”

Craddock, who taught preaching at the Candler School of Theology until his retirement, was selected as one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world in a poll of 341 seminary professors and editors of religious periodicals in 1996.

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Source: CNN | John Blake