Remembering Fred Craddock
Fred B. Craddock, who served as Candler School of Theology's inaugural Bandy Professor of Preaching from 1979 to 1994, died on March 6, 2015 in Blue Ridge, Georgia. He was 86 years old. He is survived by his wife, Nettie, and two adult children. The funeral was held Monday, March 9 at Cherry Log Christian Church where Craddock was Minister Emeritus. There will be a memorial service for Craddock in Cannon Chapel on the Emory University campus on Thursday, April 9, at 4:00 p.m., followed by a reception in Brooks Commons.
Described by some as “one of the most important homileticians in America for the last forty years,” Craddock appeared on many lists that marked his impact. In 1996, Baylor University named him one of the 12 most influential preachers in the English-speaking world, and in 2010, his 1985 book, Preaching—widely used as a textbook in seminaries around the world—was ranked fourth on Preaching magazine’s list of the 25 most influential preaching books of the past 25 years. When Craddock came to Candler in 1979 as the first Bandy Professor of Preaching and New Testament, he was already a world-renowned preacher, but he was also a scholar, at a time when it was rare for a teacher of homiletics to be both. His advocacy of an inductive style of preaching, in which the congregation is led on a participative journey toward the conclusion, was groundbreaking in the field of homiletics. Craddock’s innovative approach continues to influence countless pastors in the pulpit today, three decades after its introduction in Preaching.
In the spring 1994 issue of Connection magazine, Thomas E. Frank, Candler's former professor of church leadership and administration, wrote the following tribute to Craddock upon his retirement. Frank now serves as university professor and chair of the history department at Wake Forest University.
When I came back to Candler to join the faculty in August 1987, I was startled to discover that the office to which I was assigned, in the corridor known as the Rollins Center for Church Ministries, was right next door to Fred Craddock. The Great Craddock, I should rather say, for that was the sense in which I knew him at the time. A preacher of national repute, I had heard, a man in great demand.
Expecting an imperial presence, I moved faintly through the suite in which we soon shared the secretarial skills of Janet Gary and the good graces of a coffee pot. I listened with care to long conversations in the hallway, thinking to pick up startling biblical insights, homiletical tips, and nuggets of university wisdom.
Deafened by my stick figure image of the stentorian pulpiteer, I was slow to hear, slow to hear. These were stories being told outside my door, tales of a morning spun out over hot coffee. Most days our office group would gather to listen. One day we were in the hills of Tennessee, another in O’Hare Airport, another in arid Texas. We traveled with Fred to meet the characters that people his remembered land. And sometimes in the pauses, he would let us hear the voices speaking to our lives.
Fred traverses the landscape of imagination with the wit and grace of a seasoned scout. He takes us up slopes we have feared to climb, opens out vistas we never thought to explore. ...Fred can evoke a world in print or in person with a few choice words.
Many homiletics scholars seem to have grouped Fred under “narrative preaching” and by so characterizing him, have vastly diminished his contribution. From what gets written about Fred’s ideas on preaching, you would never in the world recognize the diminutive man who fills not pulpits, but whole sanctuaries.
“Craddock” is not about storytelling sermons. Fred Craddock has the gift of making space for imagination and hosting his listeners there. If it were only telling stories, we would always be hurrying toward the punch line and the narthex and the “real” world we think we need so much. But since it’s about being there and letting the images lead us where they will, we find ourselves waiting and expecting a gracious new space for our faith.
All of us at Candler struggle to make space in our lives for fresh imagination. ...In every classroom and encounter we want a place for new learning and insight.
Thus our astonishment that so much time could have passed as to bring Fred to retirement. We were so flourishing in his capacious words that we lost track of the years. But then again, the thing about Fred is, where he takes you, you can always go back, and what he gives you, you can keep.