Friday, July 04, 2008

Lessons in preaching with Walter

As part of my sabbatical reading, I've been tackling Walter Brueggemann's new book The Word Militant: Preaching a Decentering Word. I thought I ought to read at least one text that will help me in my day job.

In fact, I'm also reading Chris Haigh's new book The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven, an investigation of the nature of belief in post-Reformation England, which as well as being fascinating (and beautifully written) is also offering considerable insight into the formation of disciples in our context (not sure this could possibly be Chris' intention!)

This afternoon I read Brueggemann's essay 'Preaching as Reimagination' which consists of 16 theses about where preaching currently finds itself. It's truly stimulating stuff.

In particular, I really appreciated his insistence that we need to preach the text that's given and not our theology (and how the text informs it). I was always taught at college that we need to preach what the text says (a pretty obvious lesson) rather than what we want to say. And we need to avoid at all costs makiing the text fit our systematic theology by bringing in caveats from elsewhere that flatten the meaning of a text or lesson its impact.

Brueggemann offers an even more nuanced take on this. 'the preacher, if taking the text seriously, does not sound the whole of "biblical truth" in preaching but focuses on one detailed text to see what it yields.' This is crucial, in his view, because the text constantly questions our theology, what he calls 'the long term stabilization of a larger reading.' I agree.

The essay as a whole suggests that preaching should be helping listeners to reimagine the world in the light of a particular text. Such reimagining happens as listeners are taken into the narrative world of the text being read, encounter God as a character in that story (and respond to him in one way or another) and then reflect on how encountering God as that character in our story in the context we live it out would change the way we see - and even construct - our world as followers of Jesus.

I wonder if this would work? I wonder how you do it? I'll have to see when I get back in the saddle...

In the meantime, I'm loving the Fleet Foxes eponymous first album - a sort of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young meet Fairport Convention in post-grunge Seattle. It's quite lovely - though I haven't got a clue what any of the songs are about (I'm just marvelling at the wonderful harmonies they achieve).


Angela said...

Yes! I listen to lots of sermons, and preach some - but I despair of those times when I know, three sentences in, that the preacher is going to turn the text into proof of his particular theology. Our task [in the pulpit at least] is to expound the text which is before us in Scripture, not use it as defence for our particular argument. My other concern is preachers who read a passage, and then conveniently omit to deal with "the difficult bit at the end when they come to preach." e.g sermons on Psalm 137, which ignore v. 9 and do not even make reference to it. I want to heckle from the pew "Oi, you missed a bit!" [but I never have the courage]

Anonymous said...

I too feel a bit like Angela does and want to shout out, 'Oi, what about...?' I'd be interested to know (without reading the book) how Brueggemann views a metanarrative here. From what you say Simon, it sounds very individualistic. Can you shed some light here?