Preachers Dare is a book that grew out of the Beecher Lectures I was scheduled to give this fall at Yale Divinity School. Drawing on my decades of preaching thousands of sermons, it’s a theology of preaching that begins at Barth’s maxim Deus Dixit, God speaks. For the next couple weeks, I’ll be running a series of excerpts selected by my minion Carsten Bryant, a recent Duke Divinity grad and Methodist preacher. Here’s the third on the freedom of submission to the Word:
Originality can’t be a chief concern of a preacher. We are servants of and advocates for the text, not its masters. Polls show that contemporary Christians want “authenticity” or “sincerity,” as if the value of preaching resides in the disposition of preachers and the judgment of the hearers. The demand that we be authentic or heartfelt in the pulpit is yet another means of listeners trimming divine discourse to suit themselves, as if preaching is self-display by the preacher for self-improvement of self-interested congregations. (How would either listeners or we know when we’re inauthentic? Better just to demand that we not screw up the text.)
To be forced by Scripture to be servants of the demanding Word, rather than servile to our congregations, is true pastoral freedom. We are free to speak not out of personal preference, existential concern, or desperation to preserve intramural relationships, but rather to offer what we have received in our encounter with Scripture. The text hoists pastors out of the mire wherein congregations sequester us, demonstrating that “we don’t preach about ourselves” (2 Cor 4:5) but rather what we have been told to preach, obedient to the voice on the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” (Matt 17:5).
I’m sure that’s the reason many preachers testify that they are less constrained while preaching than in any other act of ministry. Burdened by demands that they have a properly pastoral and emotional disposition, in the pulpit they are free to enjoy the sheer objectivity of Scripture, the way Christ comes to us rather than arises out of us. Carefree, assured that God will say what God wills, to whom God wills, as God wills, regardless of the fragility of preachers or listeners, they are free calmly to say to the congregation, “Having hung the drapes in the parsonage, this is not necessarily what I would have chosen to say to you but I do think it’s what the text says. It’s my God-given responsibility to say it to you as best I can.” That women preachers were recognized and affirmed first in Pentecostal churches shows that “God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes” (John 3:8), descending upon, authorizing, and working through women in the pulpit, listeners ready or not.
Interested? I recorded this promotional video to introduce what I’m up to in Preachers Dare: