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The Future of Preaching – Geoffrey Stevenson

April 30, 2013

TFOPPreaching isn’t dead

 It argues that the age of the monologue is not yet dead – Tony Blair earns thousands for after-dinner speaking and people pay good money to hear stand-up comedians.

It’s not how preachers preach so much as the content.

This book is a series of essays by members of the College of Preachers, whose conference I enjoyed last autumn.

Women have a distinctive role in some ways. Men have modelled preaching for generations and some women think that they fail to measure up unless they emulate them. Not true – their intuitions and insights are need to reach the parts that others can’t.

p. 1 gets off to a bad start when it talks of a ‘homily before mass’. Wrong place – it is always after the Gospel.

p. 11 has a stupid and ignorant suggestion: Consider periodic news stories about controversy over the headdress of Muslim women, especially the burka, once described as ‘a mark of separation’: Set these alongside 2. Corinthians 4.3-6. You could then say, ‘God chooses not to wear a burka.’ The burka is thus a metaphor for self-concealment. To say that a burka conceals the wearer’s face is not the only thing to be said about the burka. To say that we see God in the face of Jesus is not the only thing to be said about God. However, the burka as a metaphor is, it can be argued, fresh, relevant and reveal­ing when this particular issue in the news encounters this particular text in a sermon.



The understanding of the preacher moved from that of teacher of the doctrines of the faith to that of a herald, proclaiming the good news that in Christ God has entered history in a new and decisive way, humanity to himself. This model of the preacher as herald does not ex­clude catechetical instruction, but this becomes a secondary objective rather than the primary aim of the homily.


Theology and biblical studies are crucial to the interpretation of the texts, but the preacher is less concerned with explaining the texts than with interpreting them as ‘real words addressed to real people’


Common Worship affirms that ‘the “sermon” can be done in many differ­ent and adventurous ways’ (2005 p.27 ) and proposes that this ‘includes less formal exposition, the use of drama, interviews, discussion, audio­visuals and the insertion of hymns or other sections of the service between parts of the sermon’ (note 7, p. 27).


Preparation is perhaps the best grounding for inspiration and oracular utterances. It is accepted that preparation is the best guarantee against foolish preaching.

As Douglas John Hall’s analysis suggests: ‘Our churches do not need managers, they need thinkers! They need people whose knowledge of the Scriptures, tradition and contemporary Christian scholarship is more developed than has been required in the past’

Thus there is a need for a contextual theology of dislocation (see Brueggemann, 1997), to redescribe specific experiences of dislocation in terms of experience recorded in biblical texts; a theology that helps to answer the question, ‘How can we look at this experience differently and therefore live through it differently?’ The Bible has much to say about dislocation and with it relocation. In the Old Testament, God’s people were dislocated from the security of slavery and relocated in the wholly different reality of the wilderness (Exod. 17.3, 4). Later came the funda­mental and formative dislocation: from homeland to exile (for example, Lam. 1.10, 15). In the New Testament comes the dislocation of the cruci­fixion followed by a relocation in the new world of the resurrection (for example, Luke 24.13-35; 2. Cor. 5.17; Eph. 2.11-13).

The need is for a theological perspective that enables the building of hermeneutical bridges between biblical and present experience of disloca­tion. This could be a perspective that utilizes the metaphor of ‘exile’. The function of the metaphor is to enable dislocated people to reconstrue real­ity as they see it, to learn to live with uncertainty and to find a new ‘home’ and purpose in a world looked at differently in the light of the gospel (Jer. 29.4-7; Eph. 4.17-24).

As long as there are news stories that revolve around dislocation the news preacher needs to be able to answer the question, ‘So how are we to live in Babylon?’ The answer is twofold. The first part is practical, almost comically obvious: ‘build houses and live in them’ (Jer. 29.5). The second is theological: ‘seek the welfare of the city; in it you will find yours’ (v. 7). The question is about a particular place and time. The answer both re­sponds to the question on its own terms and goes beyond it.

You can see the same pattern at work in z Corinthians I.I5-20: the im­plicit ‘news story’ is discontent in the Corinthian church with Paul’s leader­ship style, in particular his apparently vacillating travel plans. The response is the text of Paul’s letter. In this he seeks first to justify himself, directly answering the complaint, then goes beyond self-justification to make a dis­tinctive and profound theological affirmation about Christ (v. 20), an affir­mation that emerges directly out of the context of acrimony over the event.

Again, the same pattern is at work in Mark 10.41-5. The event is the disciples jockeying for position, like politicians bidding for cabinet posts after their leader has won the election. Jesus deals directly with the bid for power. Then he reframes the whole business of power in the context of his own forthcoming death, powerlessness as service.

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