This is the second 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).
A few books all smashed up into one post. Not because they were all the same but because…well, maybe because they were somewhat the same. I read Chris Altrock’s Preaching to Pluralists, a volume edited by Scott Gibson entitled Preaching to a Shifting Culture, and Dennis Cahill’s The Shape of Preaching. Each of these books is written from a more traditional, conservative, Western evangelical perspective and, in one way or another, speaks to what it means to be faithful to the task of preaching in a culture that is changing.
First, a positive thought. These books exist because there are people who are passionate about what it means to communicate the good news of the Christian faith across whatever hurdles may be encountered. The questions that are asked are good ones and important ones, questions like: What does preaching look like in a culture that is suspicious or downright rejecting of authority? How does cognitive communication fulfill the experiential demands of a postmodern audience? Asking questions, and particularly asking good and difficult questions, is an important step.
And some of the answers are good. There was talk of revitalizing the importance of telling the grand sweep of the biblical narrative, of demonstrating and modeling – and not just speaking – the words that one proclaims. Some really good thoughts on the richness and wisdom that is left untapped in the scriptural story. Yet, on the whole, I did not find myself resonating with many of the answers offered in these books. I think there are important conversations to be had about different models and forms that a sermon can take, but I do not believe the future of preaching lies in discussing the strengths and weaknesses of deductive versus inductive preaching. Suggestions that we light candles to set the mood and/or use PowerPoint to increase the experiential quality of a sermon do not, to me, seem like serious or helpful responses to the questions that the increasingly secular Western world is asking.
It may or may not be telling that two of these books start with the words “Preaching to.” From the start, these titles indicate some kind of lines being drawn, distinctions being made between the preacher and the listeners, the static/traditional culture of Christianity and the unsteady worldly culture, et cetera. While there are differences and disconnects between the gospel and culture that need to be recognized, I am not convinced that it is helpful for preachers/pastors/communicators to start by locating themselves “outside” of culture, seeing their role first and foremost as “us” or “me” preaching to “them.”
What do you think?
Is this a generational thing? Do I raise the questions I do because I’m a generational “insider” of postmodern culture rather than someone “outside” this culture? Am I missing something – or giving up something – that should not be missed (or given up) when I imply through my questions that preaching might require more reshaping than these authors suggest?