Tag Archives: homiletics

Theologians in the Pulpit

Where Theologians Belong: Behind the Pulpit.

This list was long overdue. I offer it both to beginners and to the more seasoned. If you’re new to theology, sermons can be a great entry point, and more immediately nourishing. If you’ve already been around the block once or twice, you may find that retaining sermons in your reading diet goes a long way toward keeping your focus on the one thing needful. Here are some favorites, and more. Most are fairly contemporary theologians. I’ve tried to draw from a variety of traditions.

Austin Farrer on homiletics and theodicies

The Word of God brings upon human pain and strife the consolation of eternal love. It is often thought that the Christian preacher is called upon … somehow to prove that the intolerable evils which ravage the earth are only the price of greater good. But the answer naturally provoked by such explanations is that of the suffering woman: ‘That makes it no better; it hurts just the same.’ Or even: ‘If that is what God’s love does, then for God’s sake let me have a taste of his wrath.’ No, God does not give us explanations; we do not comprehend the world, and we are not going to. It is, and it remains for us, a confused mystery of bright and dark. God does not give us explanations; he gives up a Son. Such is the spirit of the angel’s message to the shepherds: ‘Peace upon earth, good will to men … and this shall be the sign unto you: ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.’ A Son is better than an explanation. The explanation of our death leaves us no less dead than we were; but a Son gives us a life, in which to live.

from The Essential Sermons, (SPCK, 1991), 204.

Robert Jenson on the homiletic implications of justification

I

The Reformation doctrine of justification is not a new attempted description of a process of grace—and when it has been taken for such, sometimes also by would-be champions, the difference between the Reformation and the standard tradition has always promptly become obscure. The doctrine is rather an hermeneutical instruction to preachers, teachers, and confessors: so speak of Christ and of the life of your community that the justification for that life which your words open is the kind grasped by faith rather than the kind constituted in works. […]

The instruction is not to induce, or manipulate, conversion by our discourse; the hearer’s conversion is to be accomplished as the act of gospel-speaking itself. Conversion is a change in the communication situation within which every person lives; a proper sermon or baptism liturgy or penance liturgy just is that change. Using penance as the simplest paradigm, when the confessor says, “You have confessed cheating and coveting. Now I forgive all your sins, in Jesus’ name,” these words do not seek to stimulate conversion as an event external to their being said. Rather, this utterance is a conversion of the penitent’s life, from a situation in which the word he or she hears and must live by is “You are a cheat and a coveter,” to one in which the word he or she hears and must live by is “You are Jesus’ beloved.” […]

When someone speaks to me the promises made by Christ’s resurrection, that event is the event of God’s choice about me. […]

It is indeed the human Christ’s temporal address to us that is the event of God’s eternal choosing about us, as the Lutherans and Barth have said. But the eternity of this moment must be established not by the prefix “pre-” but the prefix “post-”: it is in that the man Christ will be the agent and center of the final community, that his will for us is the eternal determination of our lives. The Trinitarian dialectics can be the appropriate conceptual scheme of predestination only if the whole scheme—of Father, Son, and Spirit—is used and only if the Spirit’s metaphysical priority is affirmed. The speaking of the gospel is the event of predestination in that the gospel gives what it speaks about, but this eschatological efficacy of the gospel is the Spirit. We must parody Barth: the Holy Spirit is the choosing God.

From Christian Dogmatics, Vol. II., (Fortress, 1984), 130 134, 137, 138.

II

A faithful sermon … will not be a sermon about [for example] predestination; it will be a predestining sermon. One may even imagine a pastoral dialogue:

Seeker: Am I among the elect?

Pastor: Yes.

Seeker: How do you know?

Pastor: You are elect because in Jesus’ name I now promise that you are.

Seeker: But it’s plain that I am barren soil!

Pastor: When Christ comes sowing, all things are possible.

Seeker: When will that happen to me?

Pastor: I just told you. This is it.

From Canon and Creed, (WJK, 2010), 61.

 

Robert Jenson on the preacher’s task

“It must be our apologetic and liturgical and homiletical task to reclaim such abstractions as ‘love’ and ‘peace’ and ‘empowerment’ and so forth to their proper meaning as mere slogans for the concrete person of the risen Christ. A great deal of our preaching and teaching is exactly backwards. So, for example. The preacher will say that what a text from one of the Gospels, about a miracle or parable, ‘is really about is acceptance of people in all their diversity.’ A true sermon would go just the other way: ‘What our talk of acceptance and diversity etc. is really trying to get at is Jesus.’

“And there is an apologetic possibility here also. It is easy to show that the roster of slogans that make up abstracted Christianity is incoherent except as slogans about this person, this risen crucified first-century Palestinian Jew. Can peace and justice really kiss each other? All experience says not; but Christians add, except as characterizations of what this man did and suffered and does.”

Robert Jenson, “What is a Post Christian?” The Strange New World of the Gospel: Re-evangelizing in the Postmodern World, Eds. Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson. (Eerdmans, 2002), 31.