Greatest preachers of the twentieth century

Published 06 September 2013  |  
As an occasional web surfer I came across a list of great preachers of the twentieth century which sounded interesting as I have the distinction, like millions upon millions of others around the world, as a listener of sermons.

I've heard some very notable sermons, and some not-so-notable sermons too. I noted in my searches that Michael Duduit who published in "Preaching" some years ago the most outstanding list of Christian preachers of the twentieth century. John Mark Ministries web site was a huge help in my searches:

These three made a significant impact on countless lives, on the church, and on their fellow preachers.

James S. Stewart (1896-1990)

The gifted Scottish preacher taught New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, was Chaplain to the Queen in Scotland, and served in 1963-64 as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Stewart was committed to expository preaching, and preached with an earnestness and energy that was warmly received by his listeners.

There was this: "'I, yet not I, but Christ.' To be thus taken command of, so that our testimony, when we go out to speak of Christ, is not ours at all, but Christ's self-testimony - this is our vocation and the hope of our ministry. It is God's great promise and demand to every preacher of the Word. Here, in all reverence and humility, the disciple may take upon his lips the saying of his Lord: 'To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world.'"

Born in 1893, the son of a popular Bible teacher in the YMCA movement, James Stewart was an acclaimed preacher both in his native Scotland and also in America. He served as Pastor of three Church of Scotland congregations, and then joined the faculty of New College, the divinity school of the University of Edinburgh.

He was a preacher's preacher, possessing gifts most of us can only dream. His sermons were thoroughly biblical, erudite without being stuffy, eloquent though not ornate, moving but not cheaply emotional, eminently practical, often conscience-piercing, and above all, God-exalting.

In his own preaching he did not hesitate to call men and women to personal faith in Christ, and he challenged his students and others to do the work of the evangelist. In his Beecher Lectures in 1953 he declared with characteristic directness, that there is "no place today for a Church that is not aflame with the Spirit who is the Lord and Giver of life, nor any value in a theology which is not passionately missionary" (A Faith to Proclaim, p.12).

Billy Graham (1918- )

A dynamic preacher and evangelist, Billy Graham - through the televising of mass crusades - has proclaimed the gospel to more persons than any other preacher in history. In the process, Graham has become a "national chaplain" for Americans and a world citizen and ambassador for Christ.

Graham's preaching is simple and straightforward, filled with illustrations drawn from the day's headlines. And each sermon is focused intently on a single purpose: to draw men and women to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Over a ministry about to enter its seventh decade, God has blessed Graham's preaching and has used his faithfulness and integrity to draw hundreds of thousands to respond to the call of Christ.

Through his long life and ministry, Graham has built a remarkable organization which today reaches far beyond sponsoring mass evangelistic crusades. Through television and movies, radio, books and magazines, and a network of related activities, this anointed preacher has faithfully proclaimed Christ across America and around the globe.

"The numbers speak of greatness and complexity. He has preached in person to more people than any human being who has ever lived. While his pulpit started in white-frame churches, trailer parks, and circus tents it rapidly moved to cathedrals, stadiums, and other arenas which are among the world's largest public gathering places.

He's been called "America's Pastor" and has ministered personally to several American presidents. Over 100 million people have listened to his sermons. Almost 3 million of those people have responded to his famous "invitations." But when all is said and done, Billy Graham is just a simple man with a simple message.

Raised on a North Carolina dairy farm, Graham's pious parents were old-fashioned enough to believe in corporal punishment, mandatory daily Bible readings, and regular lectures on clean living. And while numerous icons of morality have come and gone, for 50 years Graham has endured both criticism and applause with humility, integrity, and genuineness.

Simplicity truly characterizes his message. Through all the accolades he has presented a strong Christianity with a big God, a loving Savior, a hot hell, and a glorious heaven. Yet his message has remained incredibly simple: every person is sinful before God, a predicament that can turn to forgiveness only through faith in Jesus Christ. He has communicated it through simple phrases like "The Bible says . . ." and "You must be born again" that have riveted themselves into our hearts and minds. His delivery has been even more simple, characterized by crispness and clarity that even the youngest of listeners is able to grasp.

Thank God for a preacher who takes Jesus at His Word. Thank God for a simple preacher. Thank God for Billy Graham." (Jim Shaddix, Professor of Preaching, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary)

George Buttrick (1892-1980)

An English-born Congregational preacher who served nearly thirty years as pastor of New York's Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, Buttrick succeeded Henry Sloane Coffin. From that distinguished pulpit Buttrick began a teaching career at Union Theological Seminary, then as Preacher to the University at Harvard.

Buttrick exerted a profound influence on a generation of American preachers. He wrote many books and articles, and twice delivered the prestigious Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale. In his preaching, Buttrick sought to lift up Christ, and he believed only that preaching which was centered on the cross would impact eternity.

His brilliant career in homiletics was not free of all handicaps. He was considered not to have the dramatic sort of voice that generated pulpit electricity. In fact, he said of himself that he had an "odd sandy voice, the voice of an old nurse" (Alphabet of Grace, 1970, p. 44). Nonetheless he was forceful in the pulpit and became a master at sermon construction and orderly, powerful discourse.

His most popular courses had to do with the outlining of sermons. He believed that a sermon's architecture should render the sermon pleasing, beautiful, orderly and useful. His love of literature and the arts informed his clean, simple sermon outlines that intersected all of life. His sermons abounded with literary quotations.

And that's only three …..

Chloe Pryor is a young adult living in Auckland New Zealand. Studying a Bachelor of Dance, in her spare time she teaches young children dance, ballet and jazz, whilst volunteering hours in the youth ministry of her local church. Chloe has a passion for God and serving the local church with a defined heart for women.

Chloe Pryor's previous articles may be viewed at


More News in Comment

  • Love your neighbour as yourself

    I was born and grew up in central China where I was taught to believe in materialism and atheism. Even though I'm fond of reading religious histories and stories, I was quite cautious about converting to any religion.
  • More water, more love

    It's not every day that I give an honest answer to the usual "How do you do?" of my polite society. But this was a day when at any time the straw which broke the camel's back might have appeared.