Category Archives: Definitions

The Function of Sermons

I am currently writing a text A Turn towards the Listener. The following is an excerpt from the section entitled, “Changing the Function of the Function.”

In homiletics, the terms “aim,” “purpose,” and “function” are often been used to describe what the preacher intends the sermon “to do.” Preachers intend that sermons accomplish certain ends; realize particular consequences. Preachers intend to persuade hearers to become and consequently to act. The most oft used definition of a function statement comes from Tom Long, Witness of Preaching. Quoting David Kelsey: “Part of what it means to call a text ‘Christian scripture,’ is that it functions to shape persons’ identities so decisively as to transform them … when it is used in the context of the common life of Christian community.”[1] Advocating that biblical texts say things that do things, and the sermon is to say and do those things too. Content and intention are bound together (focus and function), and no expression of proclamation is complete without them. Long writes, “A function statement is a description of what the preacher hopes the sermon will create or cause to happen for the hearers. Sermons make demands upon the hearers, which is another way of saying that they provoke change in the hearers. … The function statement names the hoped-for change.” [2] Function statements raise the question of how the preacher’s words will be taken up, acted on, or become embedded in the practices of the congregation.

For a pragmatic sermon, let me propose that all function statements only use behavioral or affective verbs. I’m not against cognitive acts. Let’s assume that what we are doing makes sense. We are using clear and meaningful language. Let’s assume that our words communicate content in clear and logical ways that increase congregational understanding. Let’s assume that our words will “remind,” “clarify,” “teach,” “analyze,” “enlighten,” “illuminate,” “investigate,” “examine,” and a host of other words that are appropriate for thinking people. And for Peirce, understanding a concept is the same as belief that will lead to practice. After the congregation understands, then what? Select a strong verb that reflects the answer to the question, “So what?”

Affective and behavioral functions go beyond feelings and reactions and become a way of being for people. Let’s use active verbs like “affirm,” “exhort,” “warn,” “challenge,” “encourage,” “delight,” “inspire,” “support,” “promote,” “hearten,” “stir,” “motivate,” “arouse,” “provoke,” “aggravate,” and a host of other words that prompt the hoped for change in people’s lives. Only then does the message have “meaning” in a peircian sense. Subsequently, the function of sermons will be judged by their transformative effect “over time” in the life cycle of a church.

People can have bad habits that they sustain for a surprisingly long time. These habits are funded by “inadequate definitions, misleading theories, and other bad interpretations.”[3] Since bad habits die hard, our function statements must activate intentional and concrete practices. If our aim is to “fix” belief so that people are prepared to act, then our functions must be effective and affective from the outset and our teaching must become proclamation.


[1] In: Thomas Long, The Witness of Preaching (Westminster John Knox, 1989), 106.

[2] Ibid., 108-109.

[3] Lyne, 87.

 

 

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A Metaphor for Preaching

Philosophy of Teaching

My pedagogy emerges from my practice of teaching preachers to preach, especially as it relates to their professional and personal identity formation. Good preachers pay attention to the rubrics governing exegesis, interpretation, and communication. But knowledge of exegesis, hermeneutics, and rhetoric do not in themselves produce good preaching. Some unschooled people seem to “know in their bones” what preaching involves, while some educated people seem never to learn and are a pain to endure. How do you move from “knowledge about” to “knowing how”? How does the novice become an expert? My philosophy of teaching preaching reflects a constructivist perspective and I often employ “midwife” as a primary metaphor.

In the literature, various models and metaphors exist for a teacher’s theological activity. For example, Bevans identifies six models of contextual theology. While I recognize the interplay that occurs through the porous boundaries of any taxonomy, I identify most with Bevans’ “The Praxis Model” or “action-reflection-action” activity that is in process. In that model, the student functions as a resident contextual theologian who is initiating ministry within a particular context in order to address critically various situations and to encourage the community to continue its journey of becoming like Christ for the sake of the world. Dissecting that last sentence leads me to a four-fold paradigm for understanding the theological nature of my practice, namely, (1) teaching as a communal activity — faith relating to others, (2) teaching as a formative activity — faith shaping personal and professional identity, (3) teaching as a critical activity — faith seeking understanding in practice, and (4) teaching as a public activity — faith expressing itself in the marketplace.

Teaching as a Communal Activity
Theology is often defined as “faith seeking understanding.” The community of faith seeks to understand itself, its local theology, and its calling in the world. Sometimes, only one voice reverberates for the whole community. However, the church needs to listen to the many voices that make up Christ’s body. MDiv graduates have the opportunity to encourage theological conversations that are inclusive of all members. Some teachers might be fearful that including the voices of the students will lead to a watering down of the gospel or to a cacophony of voices. However, a diverse inclusion of voices signifies that the classroom is engaged, living, and vibrant. Others are fearful that a diverse conversation leads to fragmentation. However, if a group locks into its own sub-world of reality and abides by its own standards of judgment, then division, isolation, or implosion will occur because conversation is stifled. Instead, my teaching seeks to avail itself to the open inquiry of the community that utilizes informed judgment that emerges from various theological resources.

Practical theology prospers in the arena of community discernment. Teachers who foster collaborative learning styles, problem solving, and consensus making through community discernment will enable successful future congregational leaders. Teachers should not be about cultural reproduction or reaffirmation of time honored beliefs. Instead, the classroom should encourage community development and foster dialogue. The teacher sets the stage for dialogue. The dialogue needs to include a multiplicity of perspectives and a diversity of voices; otherwise, the conversation will only talk about the same old things in the same old ways.

Neither theology nor the practice of teaching can remain in a laboratory. Teaching is not a “solo performance” or a “spectator sport.” Teaching occurs within the social realities of communities and articulates God’s dynamic word so that the students’ collective voice may affirm and confess faith. The dominant point of view in society, the hegemony found in culture, is often what teaching needs to call into question. Faithful teaching seeks to express the voices that have been suppressed and marginalized in order to celebrate community. Teaching that isolates the teacher from the classroom does a great disservice to God’s Trinitarian activity in this world.

The communal character of theology is rooted in the nature of a triune God. Teaching will reflect God’s triune nature by connecting personal stories with God’s story. The teacher’s story intersects with the students’ stories creating an environment of dialogue. A learning community is established not just to ensure dialogical processes, but also to provide relationships crucial to the formation and nurture of the students’ identities. When the classroom values the variety of gifts represented, students feel freer to risk, discover, and experiment with their own voices in the life of the church. Therefore, teachers who engage heterogeneous and cross-cultural classrooms consisting of groups mixed in terms of gender, marital status, denominational, racial, economic, and cultural representations will cultivate God’s character within the life of the church. Community-oriented learning recognizes that students and teachers alike are part of the people of God rather than an individualistic religion in which each person seeks his or her private place. The church becomes a collective story and a vision of wholeness.

Matthew Lipman describes converting the classroom into a community of inquiry “in which students listen to one another with respect, build on unsupported opinions, assist each other in drawing inferences from what has been said, and seek to identify one another’s assumptions.” Teachers will want to develop a community of inquiry that knows and respects every student who comes through the door. As the classroom engages in supportive and meaningful dialogue, needs and interests are met. Such engagement fosters cooperation and collaboration, values diversity, and creates an inclusive and supportive climate. Treating students as individuals requires recognition of the different presuppositions a student brings. The teacher needs to appreciate their different backgrounds, be receptive of their varying contributions to the class, and be empathetic with whatever disadvantages that have hindered them in the past.

Although each student in the classroom is an individual, each new classroom is a group with its own dynamic. A student in one cohort may respond differently in another. Each classroom will develop its own personality. Therefore, teachers cannot let the activities of a past semester influence how they see this group. By allowing the group to ponder, inquire, test alternatives, and synthesize responses, peer learning takes place. Through synergy, the collective mind influences individual development, for humans were created to be communal beings. A classroom’s awareness, flexibility, and openness to these ever-shifting possibilities will invigorate the students and their future ministries.

The teacher shares her personal journey by becoming a mentor, facilitator, and fellow-struggler who converses with students who are presently experiencing the journeys. Students are encouraged to follow their journeys of imitation and experience as they forge their own personal theology and story within community. The teacher becomes a midwife, a catalyst, and a contributing author of the student’s story. In this way, students join the teacher as a collective discourse community.
The dialogic nature of a practical theology classroom allows the students to co-author their future stories. Teaching involves being reflexive and autobiographical; therefore, when the teacher shares some of his story, the community will have a sense of where he is coming from, where his heart is, and what are the influencing factors are for him. Some of the students have been involved in church life a long time while others have not. Engagement in the classroom will facilitate a forging of their Christian identities into the larger Christian story of God.

How is the teacher supposed to foster communal activities? Good teaching has always relied upon models and mentors. Students begin to “figure out” the process by watching ways in which it is done (models) by different ministry artists (mentors). Ornstein recognizes the value of “exemplars” that not only model good practice but also attitudes and feelings, values, and virtues. How teachers care, reach out, build trust and mutual respect, and encourage their students to reach their maximum potential is teaching more than facts, skills, and techniques.

Teachers who desire to exercise their craft as a midwife will facilitate and catalyze the situation so that students can become what God has called them to be. Teaching is a communal activity—the faith of a teacher inter-relating with students for the sake of the world.

Teaching as a Formative Activity
A formative activity is a reflective and cognitive engagement for transforming religious identity. However, when theology is separated from the community, identity will not form. Each society must reflect upon its ritual practices and forms that have religious and moral dimensions. If structures and languages are adopted due to a former generation’s adherence to them, the gap between what is believed and what is practiced will widen. Therefore, it is essential to begin with community, the previous category, in order to progress to the next category of formation.

To understand teaching theologically is to understand it as a medium that facilitates relationship between God and God’s people and not as a platform to communicate objective information or to explain ideas. Theology is a relational language. Community takes precedence over the individual throughout a theological discourse. Although biblical texts and Christian tradition address individual transformation into the image of Christ, predominately those theological resources emphasize the communal nature of Christian formation. Therefore, it must be remembered that even when talking about the teacher’s development or a particular student’s maturation, that the individual parts are all contributing to the building up of the whole body of Christ.
Teaching is an art with an aesthetic aspect. Art incorporates the nature, charisma, and gift that the students bring to the classroom and the practice of ministry. Great art hides the technical ability of the artist and draws little attention to itself. The teacher is tempted at times to dwell on the externals of the art of ministry or the techniques of practice and neglect the internals of the ministry of prayer and other spiritual disciplines. An integral relationship exists between a student’s devotional life and character development and identity formation. Time and attention must be given to spiritual matters so that all students have opportunity to personally witness an incarnational relationship with Jesus.

Character and craft are woven together. Style is rooted in personality. Authentic teaching is rooted in who one is. Good teaching will create an alloy of art and craft. So as teachers engage the classroom as an exercise in pastoral leadership, their own maturation as a Christian leader must be nurtured.

Teaching a student to exercise pastoral ministry within the life of the church is like teaching an artist to paint. The classroom provides the student a focused opportunity not only to paint, but also to show others how to paint. As the teacher engages students in the classroom, she will mold their giftedness by mixing in some craft along the way. She will guide, encourage, and allow students to continue the process of becoming who they are and to reflect the incarnate Word within the larger community. The teacher’s pastoral leadership will foster students to become distinct voices within community, witnessing to their experience of the gospel and their maturation in Christ.

The teacher must remember to treat students in the classroom with care and respect. Each student starts somewhere. If the student begins with the ABC’s, the next step is D, not XYZ. The teacher is not an outsider who remains neutral and objective (a myth of a positivist perspective) but help students begin the journey of becoming all that they are called to be. No matter how shallow or deep a student’s roots are, the teacher nurtures growth. That task is not accomplished by forcing students into a preset mold. Instead, engagement in the process activates the student’s knowledge and experiences to move the conversation to broader and deeper stages of development. An invitation is offered to students to interact in order to open new possibilities. The teacher does not impose her views upon the group, but facilitates the students’ composition of their own views. Often this is done not by providing answers but questions. In this encounter, the teacher must maintain the attitude of flexibility in the midst of contingency and openness to the possibility of change.

In this way, students grow in their passion, conviction, and character. Maturation does not emerge overnight or through a set of classes arranged in the curriculum. The classroom process is not sufficient to carry the weight of their maturation in Christ. Formation began a long time ago with the parents in the home and has continued in collaboration with the Christian community, the church. But through leadership, the teacher will contribute at this particular time and place to their growth by encouraging them to develop spiritual disciplines and practices that will mold them into people of character. The teacher, therefore, functions as a midwife, facilitating the process of students’ transformation into the image of Jesus.

Maturation does not stop with a diploma. Engaging in the habits of research, exploration, and innovation within a changing culture continues throughout live. The life-long journey of becoming a minister remains an unfinished work that requires continued construction. Becoming a minister will continue long after the classroom’s conclusion. Successful teachers catalyze life-long learning. Like a midwife, a teacher is not fully responsible for the process, but, for a concentrated time, she is as close to it as possible. By being present, she plays a role by activating maturity. She spurs the formative process forward (activation, maintenance, and direction). She shares an enthusiasm for learning when she believes and demonstrates that pastoral activities, similar to the classroom, have value and make a formative difference in the life of the church and in society. Theology is a formative activity; the faith of a teacher desires to fan into flames the faith of the students, and subsequently the faith of the entire church.

Teaching as a Critical Activity
Teaching is a professional discipline containing practices, tools, and techniques. Teachers critically reflect on what they do and why they do it as they engage in their practice. Arbitrary engagement in the teaching craft leads to banal and ineffective service at best and only occasionally stumbles upon healthy acts. Therefore, astute teachers articulate the standards according to which they make their inquiries into their practice. Analysis of past practices function to mold their understanding of why they do what they do in the future.

The basics of hermeneutics, theology, rhetoric, and other ministry skills can be taught. For some teachers, the classroom remains the primary and only source of application in the field. These teachers employ a behaviorist model to teach methods and techniques, formulas and paradigms. For teachers using the behavioral model, good teaching is seen when the student successfully demonstrates skills and communicates content. These teachers rely on learning skills from other disciplines that may or may not involve theological reflection (e.g., communications, counseling, management, supervision, ethnography, and other social sciences). Blind acceptance of any content or practice should be frowned upon no matter how time-honored.
Older paradigms often reflect a positivist mind-set that has dominated western philosophy since the seventeenth century. Knowledge is acquired passively as the teacher writes on the clean slate of the student’s mind. Inquiry follows the scientific method of careful observation of facts. Practice in such environments has two principal aims: to transmit all of the important knowledge that has been acquired by those who have preceded and to make sure that the students’ minds remain accurately aimed and receptive of the orthodox tradition. Teaching is functionally seen as a form of technology rather than a relational theology between people and God and the relational concern between people and neighbors.

On the one hand, hermeneutics, theology, rhetoric, and skills—the nuts and bolts of these disciplines, the how-to-do-it methods seen in traditional manuals of ministry which all students need to know—can be taught. On the other hand, teaching is more than the details of techniques. There is something more imitative and creative about practical theology. An action reflection model relies on models and mentors and leads to experimentation, discovery, and adventure. While technical approaches may give competence, I desire classrooms that are open opportunities for the fostering of presence, talent, and even genius.
Garnering a ministry degree resembles a process more than product. How students think and relate takes precedence over performance. Teaching engages in dialogue, listening, and interacting with others. Due to the relationship with the students, a transaction occurs. Students do not naturally assimilate the various areas of study that include biblical theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, rhetoric, social analysis, ecclesiology, virtue formation, and speech communication. Most students need help (a midwife, a catalyst) to think about these classical areas of the churches catechesis and practices in order to become what God has called them to be and fully realize in their lives the wholeness of the body of Christ. N. Frye states,

The teacher, as has been recognized at least since Plato’s Meno, is not primarily someone who knows instructing someone who does not know. He [or she] is rather someone who attempts to re-create the subject in the student’s mind, and his [or her] strategy in doing this is first of all to get the student to recognize what he already potentially knows, which includes breaking up the powers of repression in his mind that keep him from knowing what he knows. That is why it is the teacher, rather than the student, who asks most of the questions.

The classroom is not a lecture, an examination, or a debate. The classroom becomes an opportunity for dialogical inquiry that follows a question wherever it may go. This is a process of “critical correlation.” The teacher correlates the gospel to the contemporary experiences of the students in a mutual and critical manner to foster a more honest encounter with God. Conversation that creates critical correlation allows for the possibility of change.
Students need to become active inquirers, co-teachers, and contributors to the emerging theology of the classroom. The active inquirer consistently considers any belief and/or fact in light of both the grounds that support it and the consequences to which it leads. Therefore, students utilize self-reflective, self-directive, and self-corrective habits. Mature reflection analyzes activities and practices from multiple perspectives so that implicit knowledge translates into new practices even under varying and new contexts.

Teachers stimulate reflection through verbatims, papers, field notes, and peer interaction teams. Analysis of documents, transcripts, questionnaires, and other qualitative methods increases critical activities in a disciplined way. Throughout a critical reflective process, students learn to make their own theory. Teachers foster intellectual freedom in the classroom by awakening students to the realities of a world that has a possibility of becoming other than it is. They empower them to think, to share meanings with others, to creatively conceptualize new realities and possibilities, and to make sense of the world.

Good teachers encourage exploration and adventure. The art, skills, and models are brought into relationship with one another as students experiment and explore their own styles and try out their own leadership wings. They adapt, assimilate, modify, grow, and see their own potential and future. The classroom (whether in or outside of four walls) allows such adventure within a safe environment. Students gather and analyze data in a controlled and disciplined environment so that they can navigate informed modifications in their practices, beliefs, and attitudes.

The classroom’s design should foster a climate that allows students to utilize different ways of knowing in the learning process. Learning has cognitive, affective, visual, mechanical, intuitive, aesthetic, ethical, and logical characteristics. This is similar to how Lazear has summarized Howard Gardener’s seven ways of knowing as verbal linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, body/kinesthetic, music/rhythmic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Subsequently, as students interact with their peers in these classrooms, their diversity is appreciated and utilized. No approach is dogmatically held as superior to another. The students are asked to stretch, experiment, and risk in order to experience, to become, and to develop their potential. The teacher joins them on the journey and the theological process takes precedence over product.

By engaging in guided research, students assimilate knowledge into existing structures and accommodate new categories of meaning. Students enter the classroom with a concrete orientation of reality. Often this orientation for the young student is dualistic in its dynamic. By creating third alternatives, other perspectives create disorientation to the status quo. As the student resolves and/or accepts the tension, then a new orientation has the potential to emerge. Orientation, disorientation, reorientation is evident in the life of the student that engages in the pedagogical process. In other words, a deconstruction sometimes is necessary to allow the student to reconstruct identity, theory, and practice. If such a process occurs within the classroom, then the potential exists for the process to happen again in the life of the church.

Teachers help students cultivate and harvest (to give birth to) what God has planted in them through genetic inheritance, personality, life experience, the Holy Spirit, and church background. Students do not come to the school as blank slates who need to be taught how to be Christian as if they know nothing about it and have no equipment for it. Rather, they already know much of what they need. Students come as whole persons with innate abilities, thoughts, feelings, experiences, doubts, hopes, anxieties, expectations, and histories. They know about ministry through their previous lived experiences. They continue to learn about ministry as they hear their own voices articulate their understanding of the gospel in the midst of the classroom. They have already blended their story with tradition, community, and God’s story. Now they engage from the classroom with valued and holy gifts useful for the achievement of the classroom’s purpose. Teachers who respect the identities of their students will not begin the teaching process by setting a standard pattern of the ultimate product before the students have had the opportunity to contribute and influence the outcome.

Declarative, procedural, conceptual, analogical, and logical knowledge are identified and explored with cognitive processes. Four related reflective strategies are: talking, displaying, coaching, and arranging the classroom environment in such a way that the critical reflective contributions of all are facilitated. Since there are diverse ways to view the world and knowledge, the teacher should employ different ways of learning to allow understanding and application to occur. A pluralistic approach to teaching is necessary. Likewise, the teacher considers the giftedness of students in order to determine how they best contribute.

Subsequently, a constructivist approach that fosters interaction between students’ personal knowledge and the subject matter is best suited for the basis of designing and implementing curriculum. A constructivist approach will respect what students bring to the table.

Successful classrooms enable students to think about thinking by engaging students in discerning, writing, and speaking that demonstrate cognitive strategies such as summarizing, classifying, comparing, contrasting, and analyzing. Teaching gives students new and varied experiences and creates environments in which students are encouraged to build their own theories and contribute to constructing their own theology. Teaching is a continual process of assisting people in the reconstruction of their experiences in the life of the church and in the world. In this way, students become sense-makers. Therefore, the classroom becomes an opportunity to facilitate critical inquiry of the whole body of Christ.

Continuing education is not only a formative process but also a critical endeavor that supplies skills and concepts to facilitate further learning. The classroom enables students to learn how to become independent learners who discover knowledge for themselves. Equipping students to learn becomes a skill that enables them to rise to heights beyond where the teacher or the students can presently envision. As students gain conceptual understanding and theological wisdom, they will begin to apply, synthesize, and evaluate information and experiences in new and exciting ways.

The information age has overwhelmed academic studies. Ministers are expected to be gifted communicators, administrators, master of ceremonies, public relations experts, counselors, and all-round experts on every field. Teachers are wise guides (midwives) that help students become eclectic and critical thinkers. In this information glut, students need guidance to choose the essential. Students need to learn to understand, cope with, and positively influence the world in which they find themselves. They need to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Competent and relevant teachers must stay current in their academic disciplines in order to expose students to resources that help them experience learning and to begin processing and applying the knowledge gained. In other words, the teacher helps students experience learning so that they can translate what they encounter into their framework of being.

Teaching utilizes reason to engage tradition, experience, and culture. The process of growth continually reshapes understanding and identity. Teaching is a critical activity, a faith that seeks understanding in practice.

I have gazed at the communal, formative, and critical aspects of teaching. At this point, a shift from gaze to voice is essential.

Teaching as a Public Activity
Teachers are called to influence the common public reality of the church because their private attitudes and actions will have public consequence. When the public is not being affected for the good as anticipated, an examination of private commitments is in order. The teacher’s private world is shaped by theology. As teachers assess theology on behalf of the classroom, identity formation occurs and private lives are transformed. As teachers increase the intelligibility and accessibility of theology in the public arena, an impact will occur for the cause of Christ. For this reason, a healthy teaching ministry will advocate a theology of praxis.

How the teacher develops a theology that enables students to know their sense of identity and a sense of God’s presence is difficult. If one’s understanding of God, self, and community does not make a difference in the community of faith, if it does not hold up on the street, then the teacher needs to reevaluate. Similarly, if the classroom does not have a life beyond graduation, then the teacher needs to help the students reevaluate. The classroom is not merely an academic exercise. It must have public consequence for the glory of God.

If the teacher desires the student to master skills and acquire factual knowledge, then the theology in the church will be reflected in demonstrations of techniques, lectures on facts, and practice labs. The students will be indoctrinated with the history and theology of ministry and inculcated with an understanding of the basic techniques of Christian practice. However, if the teacher is more concerned with values, character development, integration of principles, and other fundamental aspects of identity, the classroom environment will foster a lifetime of learning, seen in a climate of mutual respect, trust, support, affirmation, nurture, and celebration. Subsequently, the work of the teacher and the students will have a life beyond the parking lot and will bring godly influence to bear in both the home and the marketplace.

If the MDiv degree achieves its purpose, pastors will stand before congregations and claim realities about God and provide leadership for God that is theologically informed. Likewise, their identities outside the four walls of the sanctuary will reflect coherence with their identities within the midst of the people of God. The theological, sociological, and pedagogical aspects of their development will be integrated into one cohesive and holistic way. Teaching is a public activity. The classrooms where they teach will also mirror the teacher’s example by being God’s missional people. God has called us all to a public ministry for the sake of the world. Together, a communal, formative, and critical theology of teaching engenders a faithful public witness.

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Definition of Preaching

My definition of preaching is: “Proclaiming the theology of a biblical text in the contemporary context in order to transform the present and future community of God into the image of Jesus.” Although each of these phrases may engender debate, let me simply unpack my particular perspective.

Proclaiming: Metaphors abound that describe the preaching event. The Bible allows for a rich diversity of options, such as herald, witness, watchman, ambassador, vessel, or aroma. To be bound by one metaphor delimits preaching in ways that exclude rather than include. Of all the words in my definition, this is the most difficult to choose. I am attracted to the word “witness.” I desire to share with the congregation my personal experience with God and God’s Good News. I want to tell anyone who will listen what I have seen and heard in the text and in my Christian experience with God. But I want to do more than just offer evidence. I want to announce, profess, and proclaim in order to persuade. As a believer, I have a stake in the game; a vested interest. The thin line between words like persuade and sell, testify and manipulate, and convince and indoctrinate, has been easily and frequently crossed. But in the marketplace of ideas, I do not want a timid voice that merely offers the Gospel as one viable option among a host of other selections. If the ship has been lost for days at sea, the lookout cries out, “I see land!” If my neighbor attended the inauguration of the President, I want to see her pictures and hear her say, “You should have been there! It was the best day of my life.” When my doctor comes with his diagnosis, I want him to confidently state the prognosis. Preachers should speak with confidence and boldness about what they have seen and heard. The preacher’s proclamation focuses the eyes and ears of the audience so that they too can behold, witness, and declare.

The Theology of a Biblical Text: Some definitions in the literature narrow the conversation so tightly that they stifle the variety needed in congregations. For instance, Augustine’s desire to use the Great Commandments as a lens for interpretation and homiletics will enhance preaching. If I applied the litmus test of loving God and loving neighbor to my sermons, my preaching would improve. What if every sermon in the land submitted itself to the scrutiny of Augustine’s assessment? The world would certainly be different. Likewise, the word “gospel” has been suggested as the screening tool for sermons. It is suggested that every sermon be a “gospel” sermon. Every sermon must be deemed “good” news. Again, I am convinced that the profession of preaching and the influence of the church would inherently boost the credibility and the efficacy of preaching if “good news” was adopted as the judicating criteria. Yet, although not necessarily so, some topics and texts might be diluted of their meaning and power if the vice of definitions squeezed too much of their life from their veins. For example, the imprecatory psalms might not only be watered down but also excised altogether. Some narratives that have troubled lectionary compilers for centuries and exegetes even longer will certainly be deleted from the canon if they could only be discussed as “good news” or through the lens of the Great Commandments. Consequently, I use the word theology. Theology is the big word. Theology allows for the range of options needed by congregations for the whole word of God.

In the Contemporary Context: What other option do I have? So much of the preaching I hear as a teacher of preaching and as I travel around the country falls into the category of “history.” Preachers are explaining what happened and what was said in the past. Somehow, the misconception has emerged that declares that all churches need is to understand the facts of archeology, history, exegesis, etc. and the bridge to the contemporary world will be easily traversed. My seminary training concentrated on how to unpack and explain the Bible. Once the “truth” was uncovered, my earliest lessons in preaching taught me to explain it, apply it, and illustrate it. The ancient debate between Plato and the Sophists, that recurred between the “Old” and “New” Homiletic, was one-sided. For me, this generated a host of past tense sermons that downloaded data. It took a while for me to figure out that I did not live back then nor had anyone sitting in front of me. I live in the here and now. I choose to live today. The folks coming to worship God on any given Sunday, come full of joys, sorrows, pains, anxieties, hopes, dreams, and fears. They have forces that are tearing up their days in awful and gut wrenching ways. They have blessings that are enriching their lives bountifully. They come with expectations to hear a word from God that speaks to them in their context. This is why it is important to make a turn towards the listener.

In Order to Transform:  Texts accomplish a variety of functions. They teach, affirm, remind, warn, urge, comfort, exhort, encourage, call, claim, challenge, correct, delight, rebuke, the list is endless. But the primary purpose of God in the world is to call people to be in relationship. God’s story begins in the fellowship of a trinitarian relationship. The eschaton begins a new chapter of God’s story where all who are reconciled are called to live continuously in fellowship with God. In between the prologue and the epilogue, is an amazing story of God’s love reuniting humanity to God’s creative intent. Nowhere is that articulated better than by Paul in 2 Cor. 3:18 when he says, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

In my definition of preaching, the phrase “in order to transform,” addresses intent. More specifically, “What is the purpose of preaching?” In my preaching classes, I press students to write clear and concise function statements that have strong active verbs that call for affective and behavioral changes. The Bible does inform. But the authors of the biblical texts do not write in order to download truths to their audiences. On the contrary, the authors write because the occasion demands a word from God so that problems and issues that are tearing up their days can be addressed. Through the eternal truths of God’s identity and God’s story, God desires us to respond, to be transformed, so that we can be in fellowship with God’s Self.

The Present and Future Community of God: We live between the times; between the advents of Jesus’ incarnation into our world and Jesus’ inauguration of a new age to come. The life God gives us between these advents has meaning. God is not just doing time. In between the times, God calls humanity to participate in God’s life through the process of continuing the reconciling work of Jesus. Preaching addresses the present tense because God desires to bless humanity in the life provided now. Preaching addresses the future tense because God’s story is heading somewhere. And God’s primary vehicle in history has been and still is community. Beginning with Abraham, God called Israel to be a people set apart from others so that all might have hope. In Jesus, God continues to set apart a community so that all peoples of the earth could be blessed. So often preaching addresses the individual in ways that makes church a self-help therapy club rather than the life giving fellowship of Jesus. Most of scripture addresses community. Preaching must restore that emphasis.

Into the Image of Jesus: In Jesus, God displays the fullness of divinity. Jesus demonstrates the intent God desired for all humanity in creation. Through recreation, all receive the fullness of God (Col. 2:9-10). The Gospels tell the story of Jesus so that we can not only behold his identity but also follow in his steps. Luke writes Acts to record the witness of the people continuing Jesus’ work as a community. The letters call churches back to the “mind of Christ” so that they will continue faithfully their life of imitation.

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