Fred Craddock’s Reflections on My Call to Preach

Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the Dots is Fred Craddock’s autobiographical consideration of his calling to be a preacher.  The book bears all the marks of a classic Craddock sermon:  accessibility, winsomness, insightfulness, honesty, and encouragement. I have come to love Christian biography and autobiography more and more, and Craddock’s ranks up there with the best of them.

Craddock is a preacher’s preacher, a masterful homiletician and teacher whose insights never fail to challenge and edify the reader. He is also an amazing story-teller. So when I saw that he had published this memoir (in 2009) I knew that, eventually, I’d spend some profitable time with it.

The story is precisely what it purports to be: a preacher’s reflections on the various peoples, places, scenes, and occurrences used by God to call him into the ministry. It is dominated largely by Craddock’s life as a boy. Having been called myself at the age of fifteen, I am always intrigued to hear others’ stories of their own callings.

A call is as unique as the person being called. This is vividly portrayed in ways moving and touching by Craddock. I was particularly touched by the dynamic of his parents: the tragedy of his father’s struggle with both fatherhood and alcoholism and the solid, persistent anchor of his mother’s nurturing faith. Unlike some sons’ takes on their less-than-perfect fathers (see Frank Schaeffer), Craddock’s depiction is charitable but honest without spilling into thinly-veiled vitriol. In fact, the story of his father pulling one of his own molars with pliers in order to pry out the gold filling to sell for Christmas presents for his children will remain in my mind as a powerful example of fatherly love (even as the stories of his alcoholism has reminded me again that the decisions we fathers make will affect our children all their lives.) I was also struck by Craddock’s revelation of his own perilous infancy and his mother’s offer of him to God should he survive (not least of all because I haved a similar story in my own calling).

Craddock tells his story with sympathy, introspection, humility, and a sense of reserve, but also transparency. I can tell it was difficult for him to write. I was moved by his account of the awkwardness of sitting with his elderly brothers trying to approach issues that haunted them into later life. I also appreciated his self-awareness in admitting that memories are tricky things and notoriously difficult to offer with exact certainty.

This book offers a moving account of one young man’s growth in a world of racial strife, social complexity, and poverty. The stories of the Craddock’s relationships with black friends and some of the tragic dynamics that living in a racially divided South introduced into their lives were painful reminders of our own scandalous, recent past as a nation.

Above all else, it is a story of divine calling. It is told without pretension or romantic mysticism. It is, instead, the cautious but sincere retelling of one man’s self-understanding of his own pilgrimage.

This is really a fantastic book.

Highly recommended.

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