It's been along time since my last post: A busy schedule at work, visitors at home, and two weeks' vacation on Puget Sound have kept me away from the blog. But I'm home and, once I'm settled back in, I'll come back with more.
For now, I urge you to consider these ten commandments for preaching, together with Pontificator's comments on them.
I think the principles are sound. But I tend to agree with Pontificator's quibbles with them.
For instance, I have suffered through enough untrained speakers' sounding forth from the pulpit to deny the importance of rhetorical skill in a preacher. It is something that can be taught and improved, and more can and should be done in that area. (I don't mean that preachers should be great rhetoriticians or orators -- that tends to gripe me, too. But I mean that preachers should be adept at the use of their voices and knowledgeable in the means of getting meaning across.)
I'm evidence of what good can come from serious attention to this point: At one point in my career, I was serving as an interim pastor in a congregation where I belonged. (It is a long and strange story.) After a couple of weeks of my preaching and presiding, I was taken aside by a member who was a drama teacher and director at the (Big-Ten) university. She explained, in an unsolicited critique, that I was using my voice in rather odd ways that made for a less-than-effective presentation. She then suggested what the issues were and how I might correct them.
Now, some of my friends think it was an audacious -- and less than gracious -- thing to do. But I interpreted it as an act of pure grace: Her criticism made me more self-conscious, for a time anyway, but it also gave me insights that I wouldn't have had and enable me to improve my skills in ways that enhanced my preaching and presiding. (I'm not claiming to be that good at preaching -- just better than I would have been without the intervention by my sister-in-the-faith.) I think how good it would be if preachers had someone like that to offer their assistance.
On another point, however, I'm not sure how to interpret what the Pontificator says. It relates to the preaching of repentance and forgiveness. He suggests that there are times when repentance must be preached "in order" for God to offer forgiveness. I'm not sure that's correct.
I'm convinced that repentance and grace exist in a dialectical relationship. When I am offered the love of God, I can only lay hold on it in faith, which includes repentance (turning around from my self-driven direction to move in God's direction). Does that mean that, ala Barth (and, I'm discovering, also Bonhoeffer), that the preaching of grace must precede the call to repentance? Certainly, I believe that "I cannot by my own reason or understanding believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him. BUT the Holy Ghost has called me through the Gospel." In other words, the preaching of salvation enables me to repent and to come to faith. Without meaning to impose a "pattern" on preaching, ought the Gospel be proclaimed first and terms of repentance thereafter? The Gospel enables me to repent, to participate in the amendment of my life, and to join in the communal existence of the Body of Christ.
In contrast to that, I understand some Lutherans to say that the call to repentance (or the preaching of Law, which may or may not be the same thing, depending on the theologian) sets the terms for hearing the good news. Must I be brought to a knowledge of my sin before I can be receptive to knowledge of my salvation? Frankly, in my most recent years, I have noticed that this kind of preaching tends to limit sin to a psychologized state. (Bonhoeffer was especially critical of that kind of preaching -- as was Karl Menninger, in his book Whatever Became of Sin?) That doesn't do much for me, I confess. It also posits the Gospel in terms of the sin/lack of reconciliation that is set out in the beginning of the sermon. Doesn't that tend to make salvation reactive, instead of proactive? (And I think the Gospel is not an answer to our needs until those needs are defined precisely by the Gospel.)
To be frank, I think not enough preachers take seriously the dialectic, capitulating to one model of the act of salvation or another. I think, too, that not enough preachers take seriously that their preaching IS an act of salvation. Salvation comes by hearing, and hearing by listening to the word of God -- yes?
But is part of this dilemma that preaching is too focussed on the individual? The Enlightenment gave us a new lens for reading life -- one in which I-me-my is the fundamental level of meaning. (I'm really quite delighted to echo others' critiques of the Enlightenment, but this is my own.) As a consequence of the Enlightenment (and of the liberalism it spawned in theology), "faith" has become a personal-individual thing. We have lost the basic, necessary, Trinitarian understanding of faith, salvation, the Church, ... .
Thus, there may be a need for an eleventh commandment (can there be 11?): Preachers ought, at least more than they do, preach to the community qua community and less to the community as aggregate of individuals. That would make for some interesting changes in emphasis.
Have I gone on too long again?