Preachers Dare: Excerpt III

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:

The cover of Preachers Dare

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.

(p. 70-71)


Interested? I recorded this promotional video to introduce what I’m up to in Preachers Dare:

Preaching Advent 2020: Recording Posted

Rick Lischer and I talked tonight about what possibilities open up for Advent sermons this year. After reflecting on what makes Advent distinctive, we considered some of the lectionary texts, watched and critiqued a portion of a sermon I gave during Advent at Edenton St UMC last year, and took some questions. You can watch the conversation on YouTube.

Good News!

My “Telling the Good News” webinar with Paraclete Press is today, starting at 9:00AM EST and finishing this afternoon at 3:00PM.

In this workshop, I will reflect upon the claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ, how the good news of Christ is distinctive and demanding. Then we will explore some of the challenges of sharing that news, in our witness and preaching, in our contemporary context. Some of my preaching will be presented and participants will have the opportunity critically to reflect upon the substance of the gospel as well as the means of sharing the gospel in our time and place.

Hurry and sign up before it’s too late!

This coincides with Paraclete’s republication of The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything. Paraclete’s Rachel McKendree recently recorded a book launch video with me to talk about what I was up to in this book.

Telling the Good News Webinar

It’s not too late to sign up for my Telling the Good News webinar with Paraclete Press! The event is this Friday November 13 from 9:00AM to 3:00PM EST. If you sign up with a group of five or more people, there’s a 30% group discount available.

This is the schedule:

9:00 AM
Session 1: What’s the Good News? 
— Health Break —
   
10:25 AM
Join us for a Tai-chi Virtual Warm Up
10:45 AM  
Session 2: Who Needs the Good News?
12:00 PM    
Lunch Break 
 with Visual Presentations from Paraclete Press 

1:30 PM    
Session 3: How Do We Say the Good News?


In conjunction with Paraclete Press’ upcoming republication of my early book The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything, I’m hosting a webinar with them called Telling the Good News, talking about why the Gospel is good news, who needs to hear it, and how to get it to them.

The webinar will run from 9:00AM to 3:00PM EST on Friday, November 13. For more information, see their Eventbrite, and contact Rachel McKendree at rachelm@paracletepress.com. I look forward to seeing you there.

-Will

Preachers Dare: Excerpt II

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 second on the wildness of revelation:

The cover of Preachers Dare

Christ’s identity makes preaching in his name dangerous in its consequences and cosmic in its intentions:

Jesus comes to his people in the middle of our storms, yet his saving work is not limited to us. To be the church is to deal with our pain and tragedy but at the same time to be pushed to respond to someone else’s hurt beyond the bounds of the church. Jesus calls us to venture forth with him into the storm, and then he entrusts to us a mission that doesn’t end in the boat. The boat (navis, ancient symbol for the church, insignia of Duke Divinity School) is not Jesus’s sole concern.

Much of systematic theology is an attempt to systematically stabilize, to housebreak and bind this free and living God. We can’t, because Christianity is a revealed religion. Dealings between us and God are up to God. If you have a taste for adventure, are willing to be out of control of the communication, it’s a great way to make a living, watching Jesus elude the church’s smothering clutch and go his own way.

When we preach Christ, we refute Feuerbach’s charge that when Christians say “God,” we are projecting our pietistic feelings about God, naming our dreams and feelings “God.” Really, Feuerbach, if we were merely casting our desires out into the cosmos and calling the echo “God,” would we have come up with Jesus as Son of God? Would we have devised poor old dilapidated church as Christ’s presence in the world? We are capable of projecting gods easier to get along with than the Trinity, I assure you. Revelation is an event whereby God lifts the veil and enables us to discern and then to speak about God.

(p. 18)


Interested? I recorded this promotional video to introduce what I’m up to in Preachers Dare:

Preaching Advent 2020

My longtime colleague Richard Lischer, professor emeritus of preaching at Duke Divinity School, and I are hosting a Zoom webinar November 18th at 7pm on the particular challenges and opportunities associated with preaching during Advent this year. We’ll consider examples and take questions. You can register for it here at this link. The Zoom room is capped at 300, so register soon!

A Post-Election Call for Confession

Prayer of Confession for Trump Enabling Pastors

Dear Fellow Evangelical Pastors:

As increasing numbers of Trump’s buddies jump his sinking ship, I’m sure that his evangelical allies are afflicted with buyer’s remorse.  Even though many of you are in churches that don’t have prayers of corporate confession, we all know that confession is good for the soul, that you are all busy people with mega congregations, and that it may be as hard for you as it is for Trump to admit to wrongdoing. I offer this efficient means of making your belated–but I’m sure still graciously welcomed by our Lord–admission of sin.

Dear Lord:

Even though, as you well know, The Donald has rarely attended a church, knows little of the Christian faith, and brags that he will never, ever confess or even apologize for his sin, I

(check one or more)

  •  confess 
  •  bewail 
  •  decry 
  •  regret
  •  am embarrassed by
  •  sort of feel guilty
  •  wish I hadn’t got caught

I disregarded minimal standards of Christian belief and behavior and, in a four-year lapse of good judgment, and in reckless disregard for the spiritual health of my flock, supported and defended Donald Trump.  

There, I’ve said it.  Please don’t make me say it twice.

And Lord, though I’m sure you know there’s no excuse for me–a Bible-believing Evangelical — to consort with a lying, misogynistic, racist clown like Trump, I humbly submit for your gracious consideration my trumped-up excuses:  

(check any that apply)

  •  have a bad drinking problem.
  • was intimidated by all the Trumpers in my congregation
  •  did not attend a seminary where the Ten Commandments were stressed
  •  feel some of the same things Trump feels for Putin and Kim Jong Un
  •  possess an AK-47 (but only use it as self-defense from my congregation)
  •  believe that our Lord made too big a deal out of serial adultery
  •  feel the same way as Trump about tax collectors 
  •  like Trump, made a few mistakes, assaulted a few women, and stiffed some creditors in my twenties ( ), thirties ( ), forties ( ), fifties  ( ), sixties ( ), seventies ( )
  •  Would, like Franklyn Graham, say or do anything, and sacrifice any principle for an invite to a fancy dinner at the White House
  •  am on my third marriage too

Therefore, I promise to cease making dumb statements like

(check any that apply)

  •  “Lincoln lied too” 
  •  “Bone spurs are no joke”
  •  “Our Lord had a soft heart for prostitutes too”
  •  “Though there’s no evidence for it, maybe he’s changed”
  •  “Abortion, while not mentioned in Scripture, is the only sin that’s actually a real sin”
  •  “My children are not the brightest candles in the box either.”
  •  “Lots of people in the military were suckers and losers.”
  •  “It’s not a lie if you think it’s not.”

Lord, if you can forgive some of the stuff I did as a teenager (remember, that was before I got saved), if you could forgive a thief on the cross (who, for all I know, stole more than my former political hero), then surely you can forgive me for my political indiscretions. I’ll admit I’m not the best person in the world, and you know I have my faults, but, Lord, at least I’m not as bad as Trump. Please keep that in mind when separating sheep from goats.

Your faithful servant,

___________________________________________________________

Christian Name Date

Preachers Dare: Excerpt I

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 first on the difference between most of the sermons I hear and the “Gospel of God”:

The cover of Preachers Dare

Mainline, liberal preachers in my part of the world preach mostly from the Gospels, rather than the earlier letters of Paul. Is that because the Gospels, replete with Jesus’s words and deeds, couching Christology within narrative, appear to encourage human agency? Christ, the great exemplar of goodness, hanging out with the good country folk of Galilee, giving them a gentle nudge to love their neighbor as themselves; Christ, the beloved teacher who told stories that brought out the best in us; Christ, of use in our projects of the moment.

Maybe Christ as exemplar of good behavior is a First World problem. Paul, at work in 1 Corinthians 15, is strikingly disinterested in details of Jesus’s birth, life, and death, as if the sheer, luminous identity of Christ overshadows his deeds and words, as if in his resurrection, Christ—bodily presence of God’s eternal benevolence—needs no bolstering. God raised crucified Jesus. God raised crucified Jesus. God raised crucified Jesus. This, the sermon Paul was dying to preach, is news that propelled Paul all over Asia Minor, planting churches where nobody knew they needed a church. Is Paul’s “Gospel of God” (Rom 1:2-4) too hot for accommodated, well-adjusted-to- decline-and-death, self-help, bourgeois, progressive Christianity to handle?

Years ago, the errant Jesus Seminar caused a stir by attempting to isolate and identify the few “authentic” words of Jesus, only to be surprised that Christians don’t worship the words of Jesus; we worship the Word. While it’s fair for preaching sometimes to offer helpful hints for persons in pain, therapeutic advice for the wounded, a reason to get out of bed in the morning, a spiritual boost for the sad, or a call to arms for social activists, human helpfulness can never be preaching’s main intent because such concerns are of little concern to Jesus. Besides, why get up, get dressed, and come to church at an inconvenient hour of the week to hear what is otherwise readily available anywhere else. At least Rotary serves lunch.

(p. 12)


Interested? I recorded this promotional video to introduce what I’m up to in Preachers Dare: