Brief Reviews of Nearly New Books in Homiletics from 1997 to
- Bond, L. Susan. Trouble with Jesus: Women, Christology, and
Preaching. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1999.
- In a recent issue of the journal Homiletic, preaching editor Paul
Wilson wondered whether the next great development in the field is a return
to theology. Susan Bond's new book actually executes the theological task
of homiletics with stunning focus on a single issue: the homiletical challenge
of women's revisionist Christologies. Bond identifies with great skill the
breadth of Christological options in revisionist and liberationist camps--including
feminist, womanist, mujerista, and other perspectives. Yet she does so not
merely to catalog them, but to ask ultimately the homiletical question: if
Christology is such an important theological problem, how will we who are
charged to preach talk about them? Indeed, our silence and befuddlement in
the pulpit and behind the altar represent a persistent and discomfiting "trouble
with Jesus." Readers will benefit from the survey of Christologies. Teachers
of preaching will be inspired by Bond's honest attempt to deal with their
challenges for homiletics and frustrated students, who grope for ways to integrate
what they learn in the theology and preaching classrooms. Preachers, however,
stand to benefit most. In offering a constructive "theology of salvage,"
Bond seeks to translate critically the gains of revisionist Christologies
for preaching and sacramental ministry in relation to the people in the pew.
While her language is occasionally demanding of the reader, Bond's brilliant
contribution to the field invites us all to take the relationship of preaching
and theology to a new level.
- Buttrick, David. Preaching the New and the Now. Louisville:
Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.
- Buttrick in his latest book is making a case for reappropriating the Kingdom
of God as a central metaphor for preaching. For those of us growing tired
of repainting the walls of spiritual inwardness from the pulpit in the late
20th century, such a reappropriation is welcome indeed. Preachers will find
the book helpful, however, not just for reasons of content. The illustrations
and images Buttrick uses along the well will also inspire preachers to go
and do likewise.
- Campbell, Charles L. Preaching Jesus: New Directions for Homiletics
in Hans Frei's Postliberal Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.
- Campbell's book is important for contemporary homiletics, but not in the
way the title might lead you to expect. Its strength is in its critique of
narrative preaching and homiletics as they have developed along overly individualistic,
therapeutic, and classically liberal lines. The problem with the book, however,
is that the cure may be worse than the disease. Although the presentation
of Frei's work is interesting, Campbell's dichotomization of an individualistic
liberal world of prelinguistic feeling and Frei's post-liberal, circle-the-wagons
world of Biblical language may represent a theological false choice. Still,
preachers and homileticians alike will need to consider Campbell's important
critique of the state of the narrative field.
Childs, James M. Preaching Justice: The Ethical Vocation of Word and
Sacrament Ministry. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity, 2000.
- James Childs, a theological ethicist and Academic Dean at Trinity
Lutheran Seminary in Ohio, has produced a book that helps homileticians think
more theologically about the task of preaching justice. Childs does so by
setting out a series of theses that structure the development of the book:
"Preaching justice is at the core of the church's proclamation,"
"Preaching justice is not moralizing about it," "Preaching
justice in America means addressing our racism," "Preaching justice
means just proclamation," "Preaching justice means exposing the
greed of our culture in light of the divine economy," "Preaching
justice is the voice of the Christian community in dialogue, seeking the will
of God," and "Preaching justice means living by God's promise."
While the ethical material in the middle theses does not break much new ground
(although Childs attends to liberation voices, his project is more reformist),
the frame provided by the first two and final two theses offers some valuable
help to homileticians in thinking through the theological issues surrounding
preaching justice. Moreover, although the text and notes a passing acquaintance
with contemporary developments in homiletics, the book would have been aided
by a greater familiarty with the field. Nonetheless, Childs' own winsome perspective
comes through with stories from his own life and from around the globe. For
those who wish to hold together their commitments to radical grace and the
centrality of justice to the gospel, Childs will prove a helpful conversation
Hilkert, Mary Catherine. Naming Grace: Preaching and the Sacramental
Imagination. New York: Continuum, 1997.
- Hilkert, a theologian at Notre Dame, does a great service for preachers
and homileticians alike with her book, Naming Grace. While it
is true, as Paul Wilson has noted, that Hilkert does not account for what
writers in homiletics have been up to of late (Homiletic XII:2,
16), nonetheless she draws a helpful distinction that accounts for some of
the tensions in and across representatives of the field. Central to her book
is her attempt to bridge what she calls "the dialectical imagination,"
a view of preaching that sees the Word as external to world and addressing
it, and "the sacramental imagination," which views preaching as
a naming of the latent Word already in it. True, the distinction when tested
against the work of actual theologians and preachers seems sometimes strained.
Still, Hilkert's work can serve as an invitation for a dialogue that goes
beyond homiletical methodology to include the theological commitments which
undergird preaching and our reflection on it.
- Kim, Eunjoo Mary. Preaching the Presence of God: A Homiletic
from an Asian American Perspective. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1999.
- Eunjoo Mary Kim's new book represents a fascinating attempt at contextualizing
preaching and homiletic theory. While her work takes the contributions of
the latest developments in homiletics with great seriousness, Kim also takes
up one of the great unfinished tasks of the revolution: thinking about the
relationship of cultural context to preaching. Consistent with the goal, Kim
starts with "the congregation." From there, Kim explores a theology
of preaching, a hermeneutic, sermon design, and a use of language that takes
the Asian context seriously: especially the spiritual, interpretive, linguistic,
and rhetorical traditions of Confucianism and Buddhism. Because Kim pursues
her questions with a "dialogical dialectic," the conversation does
not end there, but is only beginning. Overarching her whole approach is a
commitment to "spiritual preaching" that moves the community toward
eschatological vision. The book is capped off with a sermon which embodies
and illuminates her homiletical commitments. While Kim's theology of Spirit,
which undergirds her vision for preaching, seems at times to become a little
too split from her theology of the Word (and Christology) for my theological
tastes, her book is nonetheless important for thinking through the relationship
between preaching and culture.
Ourisman, David J. From Gospel to Sermon: Preaching Synoptic Texts.
St. Louis: Chalice, 2000.
- David Ouirisman has written a remarkably compact and helpful resource for
preachers of the synoptic Gospels. It takes with utmost seriousness the hermeneutical
principle of the relationship of whole to parts. This is to say, that the
smaller units of a synoptic gospel (say, a lectionary-sized pericope from
Mark) should be interpreted in light of that whole work, especially in terms
of its overall literary intention. Ourisman calls this hermeneutical principle
"stories-of-the-whole." He further exemplifies this principle in
the three meatiest chapters of his book by treating the same pericope from
each of the three synoptic Gospels: namely, Peter's Confession in Mark 8:27-30,
Luke 9:10-20, and Matthew 16:13-20. In the process, he also offers a sermon
based on each text. In many ways, the sermons demonstrate nicely his commitment
to giving each Gospel its due. While I am not convinced that Ourisman's hermeneutical
commitment to the unity of the whole work as a baseline literary presupposition
holds (a lot of literary theory after the new criticism and formalism would
seem to move in the other direction), the book is useful as a a practical
implementation of literary-critical exegesis for preaching.
Pelikan, Jaroslav. Divine Rhetoric: The Sermon on the Mount as Message
and as Model in Augustine, Chrysostom and Luther. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's
Seminary Press, 2001.
- Pelikan's book represents the attempt of an eminent historian of
Christian thought to grasp together the theological and rhetorical (including
the homiletical) work of three significant figures of the tradition: Augustine,
Chrysostom, and Luther. He does so by considering their varied treatments
of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Overall, Pelikan's work displays his
incredible range of knowledge about these figures and their relationship not
just to the history of thought, but the history of rhetoric as well. Homileticians
will especially benefit from the insightful way in which Pelikan tries to
show the synergy between the theological and the rhetorical in ways that many
theologians and historians overlook (the epilogos, "Questions
on Summa and Sermon" is especially instructive here). At times, Pelikan
seems a little heavy-handed on the rhetorical side (perhaps because of the
the implicit importance of Aristotelian rhetoric for the way he structures
his final chapters). Nonetheless, Pelikan offers important insights to those
homileticians who once again have begun to view their task chiefly in theological
Ramsey, Lee. Care-full Preaching. St. Louis: Chalice, 2000.
- Care-full Preaching is an important work to read because of its bridging
character. What is amazing about that, however, is not just that the book
bridges the gap between preaching and pastoral care, but that it also brings
the task of prophetic preaching (and by implication theological ethics) into
the mix. The range of this book makes it a most stimulating read and its synthetic
quality, drawing disparate aspects of preaching together, make it unique among
recent publications in the field. Ramsey suggests that preaching benefits
when it sees its task from a pastoral-theological point of view. Once that
is accepted, homiletical work should take seriously that it happens in a face-to-face
community (here Ramsey draws on Levinas and Farley) and that its tasks are
carried out in the name of a God whose concern for justice for the world is
of a piece with the ethic of care of Christian pastoral communities. While
I am not altogether convinced that such an ethic of care is capable of carrying
the freight of Christian faith in preaching (instead of reconciling the pastoral
and the prophetic as Ramsey seeks to do, he too often subsumes the prophetic
under the pastoral in my view), Lee Ramsey has made an important contribution
to the field of homiletics and to the task of preaching generally.
Smith, Christine M. Risking the Terror: Resurrection in This Life.
Cleveland: Pilgrim, 2001.
- Christine M. Smiths new book is a welcome addition to the libraries
of preachers and homileticians alike. Smith writes from her perspective as
a homiletician and preacher who is committed to justice and liberation. From
that perspective, she begins to articulate a vision for preaching that talks
about death and resurrection in new ways. Homileticians will see a startling
new way of envisioning the preaching task in light of the many challenges
that flow from Smiths commitment. Although the challenges read like
theses being nailed to a church door, they are by no means mere
debating theses. Her challenges impact the spirituality of preaching, our
practices as human beings, and our most basic commitments. Preachers will
not only gain from her challenges, but will witness the startling new ways
Smith talks about death and resurrection in her sermons at the end of each
chapter. The ways in which Smith uses her language in her sermons will help
preachers stretch into new modes of naming death and resurrection in our world.
While I wish that Smith had taken the possibilities offered by radical grace
more seriously in her work, her chapter and sermon on resurrection (chapter
4) will continue to help me envision my own commitments to grace and justice
in new ways. For that reason alone, Risking the Terror is both a challenging
and empowering read.
- Suchocki, Marjorie Hewitt. The Whispered Word. St.
Louis: Chalice Press, 1999.
- One of the best things to happen to homiletics, a field prone to lose its
moorings in other fields (rhetoric, performance theory, narrative theory),
is to gain the attention of significant theologians who remind us of our theological
home. In her new book, Marjorie Suchocki does this for those of us who preach.
Out of the perspective of process theology, Suchocki develops a theology of
preaching that God is already at work from creation on through a hidden, "whispered
word." Proclamation joins to this a "revealed word" which serves
to make the "whispered word" explicit. With the "received word"
in hearing proclamation, the word, through the applicative power of the the
Spirit, is made incarnate in the concrete lives of hearers. Suchocki then
concludes the book with a discussion of the importance of theology in preaching,
the usefulness of a homiletical "letting go" of the sermon at the
point of its speaking, and the place of preaching in the worship context.
The seven sermons, which complete the work, embody quite well her theological
take on preaching. The book is helpful and insightful because it seeks to
reflect carefully on the preaching task using a carefully thought out theological
perspective and a preacher's love for language. The beauty of her accomplishment
is that it helps preachers and homileticians to view preaching and theology
together as a productive partnership. Still, there are limits to the usefulness
of Suchocki's work. Those who, like me, find process theology inadequate for
dealing with the problem of radical evil as we emerge from the deathly morass
of the twentieth century, will feel some disappointment. The thought also
carries over to the optimism of individual agency that marks process thought.
While this is less a criticism of Suchocki in particular, the place where
this becomes most troublesome for her is in the sermons. Without exception,
they almost all end in a kind of "you can do it" exhortation. Still,
the contribution of Suchocki to the field of homiletics should not be gainsaid.
Sometimes it seems as though we homileticians have given up theology for a
mess of narrative pottage. Suchocki helps us to envision preaching theologically
in a way that may help us to reunite them, too.
- Turner, Mary Donovan and Mary Lin Hudson. Saved from Silence:
Finding Women's Voice in Preaching. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1999.
- Turner and Hudson's work represents for me a welcome shift in the field
of homiletics. First, the book foregrounds the importance of theology for
preaching. This represents, to my mind, one of the great unfinished tasks
of the revolution in homiletics over the last thirty years. Second, it takes
on the task with a view toward developing a feminist revisionist theology
of preaching. In other words, the book seems to be asking, how can we
revise a theology of the Word that can take account of women's experience
of oppression and hope for liberation as they relate to pulpit ministry? Their
answer to that question is to shift the question of a "theology of the Word"
to a "theology of voice." If the theology of the Word represents an attempt
always to recover a singular, historically-derived, transcendent Truth apart
from the preacher, a theology of voice sees precisely the plurality of perspectives
offered by women and others who are excluded as an occasion for truths to
emerge. Unfortunately, Turner and Hudson's lumping together of all
representatives of the theology of the Word as a unitary phenomenon levels
the very distinctions they hope to bring out with their revisionist work (Calvin,
Barth, and Luther? See pp. 53-54). Still, their book should help
to stir deeper theological reflection within contemporary homiletics and push
us to consider further how preaching might be liberating.
- Wilson, Paul Scott. The Four Pages of the Sermon. Nashville:
- Wilson's latest book should be help for both teachers and beginning students
of preaching. His four-page sermon model has the twin benefits of simplicity
and theological depth. The simplicity consists in the clarity of the four
pages. The first page deals with "trouble in the text." The second with "trouble
in our world." Page three then shifts to the good news in the text. Page four
then ends with the good news, or "grace in our world." Students will quite
readily grasp the four-page model. Theologically, the model corrects a problem
of much contemporary preaching: moralism. Wilson is rightly concerned with
the fact that too many sermons focus solely on what we must do and too little,
if at all, on what God is doing. Thus, the four-page model, while simple in
structure, actually opens up the possibility for renewed theological depth
in preaching. Readers will be thankful that Wilson's concluding chapter deals
with variations on the model. The four pages can be "reshuffled" as long as
God's grace in the text and in our world receives its proper weight. One critical
comment: experienced preachers will find Wilson's four-page model a little
wooden. However, all preachers should benefit from the many fine examples
of preaching sprinkled liberally throughout the book. I recommend the book
for introductory preaching courses and for pastors wishing deepen and strengthen
the way in which they preach God's grace.
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Last Updated: 25 September, 2008
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