Preaching as Theatre

One of the tributes to Arthur Miller on his 80th birthday came from fellow-playwright David Mamet. After watching Death of a Salesman Mamet said he felt as if he had been watching his own story — 'that you had written the story of my father and me — don't you think that strange?' Then Mamet continued

'I saw a small courteous smile on his face that told me he did not find my remark strange at all — that, on the contrary, he had heard it from the vast majority of men who had seen the play and offered him a comment on it — that our response to a work of genius on the stage is, "That is my story — not only did you write it about me, but I could go up on stage right now and act it." Audiences in China said the same. "That is the story of my father and me. We all stole the fountain pens. None of us won the football game. It was our story and we did not know it until we heard it. (Italics mine).' 

Increasingly many people around the world are reading the Bible and finding it is their story too. So how can the preacher tell the story in such a way that the same thing happens? That is the question that set me off on this book.

I wrote this book because I have always believed in preaching. Most Sundays I have preached twice over the last 50 years. Preaching has always had an unfailing attraction for me and I regard it as the single most important aspect of Christian ministry. But over the last 20 years or so something changed as I stumbled on this missing dimension. Drama.

Too much preaching is cerebral, not necessarily learned, and indeed sometimes simple or even trite, but a matter of brain to brain. Afterwards the hearer is expected to make a decision or go and do somethingabout it. On the other hand, when the great human, biblical ort heological dramas are played out in the theatre the response of the audience is an essential part of the action. Something happens there and then — or it doesn't, as the case may be!

So why not the same with preaching? Why not make something happen (the original title of the book).

From then on preaching became more concerned with the perception of familiar facts than the presentation of new knowledge, information, or exhortation. It was more an attempt to increase awareness tha to present ideas — more a way of touching achord rather than stimulating a will.

What this means in detail for the art of writing a semon lies at the heart of this book.There are suggestions for preaching beginningwith the Bible, preaching beginning with life, and preaching beginning with literature. Some sermons are discussed in detail. Some are nothing more than a few ideas as 'starters'. starters for others.

The book ends with surveys of current trends in preaching and in theological study.


An undoubted strength of the book is the way Gilmore weaves his own reflections for preaching into his presentation. Every preacher will be stimulated by what he writes. It would be a splendid book to use in a homiletics seminar. I found myself frustrated on two counts. One, I wished I could talk with the author. Second, I wanted to hear the author preach. His descriptions of how his mind worked on text, life experiences and literature were often fascinating. Not every book on preaching makes me want to hear the author preach. This one did. (Brian Haymes, Principal, Bristol Baptist College).

Gilmore has a flair for seeing theatre and reading literature which is stimulating and contrasts sharply with much ill-read and unimaginative preaching. (Michael Quicke, Principal, Spurgeon's College).

If this book is not bought, it needs to be borrowed for enough time for its valuable lessons to be mulled over and to sink in. If that happens, sermons could be transformed. (Alan Dunstan, Associate Fellow, College of Preachers).

£9.95 could be well spent on this slim volume to be slipped into the vestry under plain cover for your minister to discover. (Premier Radio).

Thoroughly recommended. (Baptist Times).

. . . stimulating, challenging and well-illustrated. Sermons and outlines full of seed ideas, and any preacher who reads this book will be challenged to explore how real communication actually happens. (Epworth Review).

© Alec Gilmore 2021