Preachers You Should Know: Mainline

Part 2: Conservative (Evangelical)

After conversing with a few folks who were interested in good preachers, I decided to make a few blog posts highlighting a few of my favorite preachers. Obviously, I could not include everyone, so please comment with more recommendations below.

To say social justice is an emphasis within mainline preachers would be an incredible understatement. All of the preachers hint in nearly every sermon on some kind of social justice, yet these preachers I have selected do not shy away from the reality of the gospel–they are Christians after all. Each preacher has individual strengths that I have tried to highlight below along with a brief introduction most of which was pulled from Wiki. Without further ado, here are the mainline preachers you should know.

Note: By mainline, I am referring to Mainline Protestants.


Who is he?

Dr. Fred Craddock  is Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament Emeritus in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He is an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) from rural Tennessee. He is the director of the Craddock Center, a non-profit service group which operates in rural Appalachia. It should also be noted that he is on Baylor’s list of “the most effective preachers in the English-speaking world.”

Why you should know him:

When I asked Haddon Robinson who his favorite preachers were, the first name out of his mouth was Fred Craddock. If you do not know Fred Craddock, you need to do all you can to listen to any sermon you can find. Craddock is the best storyteller I know. His Southern heritage is pervasive; he is down-to-earth while being intellectual all the while communicating the hope of the Gospel.He revolutionized preaching some years ago. He does not yell; he does not offer an outline; he is not deductive. His sermons are stories rather than explanations (though they are indeed explanations). In fact, he admits in several interviews that he did not believe he was built to be a preacher because he did not have the “thunder and lightning” of the other Southern preachers. I will agree with Barbara Brown Taylor when she mentions that his sermons are the very first time that either of us have heard a preacher say the words, “I do not know.” He often uses rhetoric in such a way that if you are not paying attention, you will wonder why he finds himself agreeing with the devil during the temptation of Christ or the rich man who argues against Father Abraham whilst in Hell. It is hard to nail down a favorite Craddock sermon, but I selected his sermon on Romans 16 because I have never in my life heard such a good sermon on a “list of names.” To keep you from searching longer, you’ll find another wonderful sermon given at Southern Baptist Seminary to prospective pastors and preachers. It is entitled “Though One Rise from the Dead” and it is found here The newest sermon I can find (“God of Hope,” October 2013) is available here:

Required Reading:

The Craft of PreachingCollected Sermons of Fred B. CraddockCommentary on Luke

(Please forgive the audio quality of this sermon. It is rather old)


Who is he?

Frederick Buechner (pronounced “BEEKner”) is an American writer and theologian. Born July 11, 1926 in New York City, he is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the author of more than thirty published books. He is best known for his works A Long Day’s Dying (his first work, published in 1950); The Book of Bebb, and Godric, a first person narrative of the life of the medieval saint, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

Why you should know him:

Because he spent so much time in the atheistic and universalist New England, he provides a window into the way to speak to and offer spiritual guidance to those who do not even acknowledge a spiritual existence. He is quite intellectual, referring often to the philosophers, literary geniuses, and artists. During a time of revivalism and anti-intellectualism, he offered a reasonable, beautiful voice, speaking a prophetic word into a culture who did not even acknowledge his voice. Not many sermons are available online, so you will need to pick up one of his many books. But first, you need to listen to his voice.

I cannot link to the sermon I have chosen, but you will find it at this link:

Update: As soon as I posted this, the Buechner Center announced the release of several more sermons on their website, including a sermon on the 250th anniversary of Princeton and an interview with Christianity today on preaching. Find them on the audio page here or their Facebook page.

Required Reading: 

Telling the TruthSecrets in the Dark: A Life in SermonsGodric


Who is she?

Barbara Brown Taylor is the Butman Professor of Religion at Piedmont College in rural northeast Georgia. An Episcopal priest since 1984, she is the author of twelve books, including the New York Times bestseller An Altar in the World. Her first memoir, Leaving Church, met with widespread critical acclaim, winning a 2006 Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. Taylor and her husband Ed live on a working farm in the foothills of the Appalachians with wild turkeys, red foxes, two old Quarter horses and too many chickens. (bio from her website)

Why you should know her:

When Baylor polled seminary professors, pastors, and parishioners, Barbara Brown Taylor was the sole female representative on this list. She was not included to meet a diversity quota, but because she helped radically change the art of preaching from scientific to poetic and artful. As you listen to her preach, you should note a strong influence from Buechner and Craddock. If you missed it, read any of the three’s books, and you will notice that they have continually written recommendations and forwards for each other! Dr. Taylor’s wonderful, artful prose is enhanced by excellent rhetoric. Like Craddock, she is well versed in philosophy, art, and literature. She emphasizes storytelling in her sermons, but her stories are different style than Craddock. See if you can point out the similarities and differences. In the sermons I have been privileged to hear, she is unparalleled in her ability to emphasize unity within diversity, especially within a pluralistic, multi-religious context. See her website for more.

Required Reading:


Who is he?

Dr. Gardner Taylor was born in 1918 in Baton Rouge, LA, the grandson of former slaves, and grew up in the segregated South under Jim Crow. Dr. Taylor was a close friend and mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. and played a prominent role in the religious leadership of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. He co-founded the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) with Dr. King in the 1960s. Taylor was also Bill Clinton’s favorite preacher and preached the pre-inauguration sermon in January 1993. Taylor received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on August 9, 2000.

Why should I know him?

Gardner C. Taylor is perhaps the only preacher that has effected as many preachers, ministers, and congregations as Billy Graham. He is often referred to the “Dean of American preaching” and the “Dean of Black Preachers.” One cannot begin to speak of African-American preachers or preaching styles if Dr. Taylor is not in the conversation. His rhetoric is unbelievable.I’ve posted part one below, but part two is found at this link.

Required Reading:

 Words of Gardner TaylorHow Shall They Preach?


Who is he?

Dr. Thomas G. Long is the Bandy Professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He has degrees from Erksine College and Seminary (BA & MDiv) and Princeton (PhD). He began his career as a preacher at McElroy Memorial Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church near Atlanta, GA and since that time has taught at a number of seminaries, including Erskine, Columbia, Princeton, and Candler.

Why you should know him:

Whoever takes over for Fred Craddock had better be good. Tom Long does not disappoint. He follows in Craddock’s footsteps well, invoking a narrative preaching approach. Long does not forsake rigorous exegesis, often tying in facts that would normally bore folks to death in ways that enlighten the listener. While Long is undeniably influenced by Craddock, you may hear bits and pieces of Haddon Robinson in his style. It is no surprise that Dr. Long is also on Baylor’s aforementioned list. More sermons can be found on iTunes. See his page on Emory for more.

Required Reading:

The sermon below begins around the 38:40.


Who is she?

Anna Carter Florence is the Peter Marshall Associate Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and holds degrees from Yale College and Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div. and Ph.D.)

Why you should know her:

Anna Carter Florence studied under Thomas Long, which should be quite apparent when you listen to her preach. She emphasizes metaphor and irony very well and has perfected the use of humor in sermons as well. I must imagine her theatrical background has helped her delivery style, but it is not overshadowed by the excellent exegesis of which she is quite capable. She is a huge advocate of expressing your own culture and consequently your own voice in preaching. Her book on preaching is a must read. The sermon entitled “Wind and Fire and Galileans” below begins at the 45 minute mark.

Required Reading: 

Preaching as Testimony


Who is he?

Brian K. Blount is president and professor of New Testament at Union Presbyterian Seminary (PC[USA]) in Richmond, VA, and Charlotte, NC. He is a graduate of Emory (PhD), Princeton (MDiv), and the College of William and Mary (BA).

Why you should know him:

While his exegesis is always excellent, his rhetoric particularly shines though. His style is reminiscent of the great Gardner Taylor; though I am sure he would dislike being compared to Dr. Taylor. He shows an amazing ability to incorporate wordplay and alliterative phrases to catch your attention all the while bringing application to the forefront. Unfortunately, I could not find any video that I could embed. Below you will find two fine sermons by him. The first is a video recorded sermon entitled “The Bystander Effect.” The second is perhaps his most popularized sermon entitled “The Exorcist.”


 or in iTunes

Required Reading: 

Commentary on RevelationPreaching Mark in Two VoicesCan I Get a Witness?


Who is he?

Dr. William Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at the Divinity School, Duke University. He is recently retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church. For twenty years prior to the episcopacy, he was Dean of the Chapel and Professor of Christian Ministry at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. Dr. Willimon is a graduate of Wofford College (B.A., 1968), Yale Divinity School (M.Div., 1971) and Emory University (S.T.D., 1973).

Why You Should Know Him:

Willimon is one of the best storytellers I know. He is artful and poetic as the others, but he is blunter than the other preachers. I imagine this could be because of his Southern heritage, but I do not know if he would agree. He has a blue-collar voice with a mainline vocabulary. Though he is mainline, he is not afraid to speak on the problems of the mainline churches bluntly. He is more conservative than many mainline preachers, but he is more liberal than many conservative preachers. As you can imagine, he can challenge even the most moderate Christian in a positive way.For more sermons, see his regularly updated blog:

Required Reading:

 Conversations with Barth on PreachingWorship as Pastoral CareCommentary on ActsCollected Sermons of W. Willimon

Honorable Mentions: William A. Jones | William Sloane Coffin 


One thought on “Preachers You Should Know: Mainline

  1. Pingback: A Post for Seminary Graduates | Variegated Christianity

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