This is the first in a series of posts offering some preliminary thoughts based on a bunch of books I picked up from the library. I chose books from a range of perspectives with the common goal of contributing answers to the question of what preaching looks like in a post-whatever kind of world. There may not be a ton of original/constructive thought from me on the front side of these posts, but I hope to have some thoughts emerge as I continue to read and process all of this (and hopefully get into some good dialogues/conversations on the topic – which means that you should contribute some thoughts, either by commenting, e-mailing, texting, or grabbing coffee together).
Today I have a few quotes I found and a few thoughts I jotted down while reading Robert Farrar Capon’s The Foolishness of Preaching: Proclaiming the Gospel against the Wisdom of the World.
For Capon, one of the major problems with modern/Western Christianity is its dependence on religion in a narrow sense of the word meaning “works-based attempts to please God.” While few would claim that this is their understanding of the Christian faith, Capon argues that it is an implicit-just-beneath-the-surface reality in far too many expressions of Christianity. Here’s a thought on how that applies to preaching:
I think the reason why there’s so much poor preaching in the church is that preachers, by and large, are as addicted to religion as their congregations are. I don’t exclude myself, either. I can invent a new religion (or lapse back into an old one) as fast as the next Christian. We’re all druggies. We slip into the stupor of imaging there are things we have to do – some additive of religious works we have to put into the gasoline of grace – if the gift of God is to get its work done in us. (32-33)
Capon is convinced that preaching should emerge from a place of humility:
If death is the engine of life, then the sins of preachers – the naughtinesses for which they are despised and set at naught – are the choicest keys they have to the authentic preaching of life out of death by the Passion of Jesus. Unless we who speak the Word are willing to be utterly nothing – unless we’re willing to admit we’re sinners, and welcome the annihilation of our glittering images of moral success and clerical reputability – our words will be nothing more than the words of fakers, and we’ll never come within a million miles of that astonishment at grace which alone can make those words come alive. We must not despise our sins, or fear them as evidence of condemnation; we must relish them as the most impressive testimonials we have to our salvation. (20-21, emphasis mine)
While I did not find myself agreeing with every aspect of Capon’s theology, I loved and was challenged by his understanding of (and theology of) foolishness and brokenness and their place in preaching. In the book, Capon opens up his own failures in life, suggesting that coming to terms with his own brokenness was one of the keys to allow his preaching to move beyond mere religion and into the realm of communicating and exemplifying grace. He, in effect, recognized that he was nothing – that he was as good as dead (if not simply dead) – and that only through that nothingness/death, the life of the gospel can be preached.
In a world where, within the church, holiness is often projected onto those who stand behinds pulpits or wear certain collars and where, outside the church, accusations of hypocrisy and judgment often write off the relevance of any preached word, Capon’s reflections are valuable and insightful. Although he does not specifically seek to address the post-whatever culture (instead focusing more on the psychology of preaching), I found foolishness, humility, and true grace to be helpful to understanding what shape preaching might take to most effectively communicate the gospel in today’s world.
What do you think?