Biblio-file Archive

Brief Reviews of Nearly New Books in Homiletics from 1997 to 2001

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 partner.

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 terms.

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. Smith’s 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 Smith’s 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: Abingdon, 1999.
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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