Late Term Additions to Introduction to Preaching: Pastoral Imagination in Preaching, BUSTH Spring 2010, Robert Allan Hill
TC 715: Introduction to Preaching (“Pastoral Imagination in Preaching”)
BEECHER LECTURE # 3 – Jean Halligan Vandergrift, TA Presenter
Text: Brueggemann, Walter. Finally Comes The Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation.
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989.
I. Who is Walter Brueggemann?
Old Testament scholar and author. Ordained in the United Church of Christ. Professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia. He is known for his exploration of Old Testament theology through rhetorical criticism, with an emphasis on the relation between the Old Testament and the Christian canonical works, and the dynamics of Jewish-Christian interactions. He is a prolific author, having written over 58 books.
He is also known for speaking about preaching. Mark Thiessen Nation quotes an unidentified, famous American preacher who said: “I would go so far as to say that if there is any one author every preacher should have in his or her library, it should be Walter Brueggemann. Any preacher who does not use Brueggemann as a companion in preparation of sermons is cheating himself or herself and their respective congregations.” According to R. Albert Mohler Jr., few biblical scholars have been chosen to present the Beecher Lectures. Walter Brueggemann was the lecturer in 1988/89.
II. What was happening in 1988/89? The context of these Beecher lectures.
A. In the world: U.S. support for the Nicaraguan Contras was on the wane. Desmond Tutu was arrested with 100 clergypersons during Anti-Apartheid demonstrations in Cape Town. Other Anti-Apartheid events. Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Baaker scandals. The Iran-Iraq War. Soviet Red Army begins withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Surgeon General announces the addictive qualities of nicotine. NASA resumes space shuttle, grounded after the Challenger disaster. Gorbachev named head of the Supreme Soviet. Chile votes “No” to Pinochet. Sega Megadrive released. George H.W. Bush elected. Benazir Bhutto elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan. Terrorists bombed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Exxon Valdez oil spill. First GPS satellite placed into orbit. Time Warner merger. Tiananmen Square Protests in Beijing. Voyager 2 passes Neptune. Hurricane Hugo. East Germany opens checkpoints in the Berlin Wall for citizens to travel freely to West Germany. El Salvadorean death squad kills 6 Jesuit priests. Velvet Revolution in Prague. Operation Just Cause, U.S. troops into Panama to overthrow Noriega. Dictator Ceausescu of Romania executed.
B. In homiletics: In the early 70s, hermeneutics became open to encountering God in the literary dynamics of the biblical text over the reconstruction of the history behind the text. This led to rhetorical approaches to interpretation. Paul Ricoeur and others emphasized how language was dynamic and relative, not static, that language could perform and intend, which eventually led to valuing how the form of the text has a vital role in shaping the form and function of sermons. One way to sum this up is that there was a shift from a rational to an aesthetic hermeneutic, which affected homiletics. Another way to describe this “revolution” is that by the mid-80’s, it had three main concerns:
1. Rhetoric – particularly narrativity, imagery, embodiment, as well as original oral/aural setting
2) Imagination – juncture of human spirit and Holy Spirit, divine creativity channeled
3) Social analysis – influence of feminist and liberation theology, the social reality of the text and the contemporary world, sermon as a social act.
Brueggemann fits into all three aspects of this new approach to biblical scholarship and homiletics, and this is why he is sometimes referred to as a postmodern biblical scholar. (Wardlaw, Don M. “Homiletics and Preaching in North America.” Concise Encyclopedia of Preaching. Willimon & Lischer, eds. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.)
III. His general thesis for these lectures
Preaching is experiencing a crisis of interpretation in which the biblical text is either dismissed or controlled. It must interpret, which involves exegesis and the realities of society. Societal ideologies tend to silence us all. (Preface) We argues that we exist in a “prose-flattened world.” “Prose” refers to a world organized in settled formulae. Other characteristics of this world are that believers take the gospel for granted, we are all influenced by technical thinking and utilitarian aims, and embrace managed, social ideologies that leave no room for newness. “Reduced speech leads to reduced lives.” (Introduction)
Therefore, preaching needs to be daring and poetic. This is the kind of counter speech that can shape new life. “Poetry” means language that moves and breaks open old worlds. Indeed, preaching is poetry: “the ready, steady, surprising proposal that the real world in which God invites us to live is not the one made available by the rulers of this age…a poetic construal of an alternative world.” The preacher needs to be a poet in this sense. The title, “Finally comes the poet,” is a line from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass:
After the seas are all crossed, (as they seem already cross’d)
After the great captains and engineers have accomplish’d their work,
After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist, the geologist, ethnologist,
Finally shall come the poet worthy of that name,
The true son of God shall come singing his songs.
Also in his introduction, Brueggemann describes worship is a “speech meeting,” between four partners:
1. the text – though we have domesticated it, we want to remember it, and hope that there is a word for us today.
2. the baptized – come to be shaped by the text, which requires an artist to render it in fresh ways.
3. the specific occasion – all attention is on this speech/sermon moment.
4. the better world – the alternative way is revealed and by it truth and life are disclosed.
IV. The four lectures
Brueggemann’s lectures are each shaped by the frame of this thesis. He first describes the characteristics and longings of listeners in this prose-flattened world and then contrasts these characteristics to those that the biblical text projects for listeners, along with the way in which interpretation and preaching poetically leads the listener to that new place. I can’t take time to trace it here, but he does a great deal with scripture itself in these lectures. This is one of the strengths of this book.
A. First lecture
A prose-flattened world of numbness and ache concerns the “powerful reality of guilt,” (13) in which there seems to be only either strict retribution or soft grace. We truly yearn for healing. This only occurs when God enters into every bit of the process. So he offers a taxonomy of guilt from the old and new testaments. (18, 33) He argues that evangelicals must break out of a conservatism that makes God function mechanically and liberals must break out of believing we can do it on our own. (36) Preaching poetically, as with these taxonomies, should move this way: 1) that guilt is a reality, God is serious, reparations required, residue to be dealt with, 2) God’s pathos and gift of Self, and 3) social reparations and blood atonement. “The preaching conversation is the only meeting in town where these realities will be enacted.” (39)
B. Second lecture
A prose-flattened world of alienation and rage concerns the lost and longed for communion with God. (43) This takes two forms: 1) a “subjective consciousness” – that the only reality is us, which leads to anxious alienation, (45) and 2) “uncritical objectivism” – that the only reality is God, which leads to a deep rage. (46) And there is no real conversation between us and God. The hoped-for end is doxological communion. This requires that we see God as both Sovereign, though one that yields, and Suffering love, though one that demands much. (44) Preaching poetically, then, as with laments, leads listeners to this by: 1) speaking for the worshipper, breaking the silence by expressing his/her lament, protest, and pain, 2) speaking for God, by not remaining silent, but responding with “God’s intervention, rescue, and transformation.” (66), and 3) speaking for Israel/listener his/her praise, celebration, and doxology. This is a poetic conversation that lets life begin again. Indeed, the biblical text itself is “a long-standing conversation.” (76)
C. Third lecture
A prose-flattened world of restlessness and greed concerns having more than we need and yet being uneasy and wanting more. This state makes it hard for us to obey the commandments of Sabbath-keeping (participating in God’s rest) and not coveting (land tenure systems without economic exploitation). In fact, in this condition, we view obedience as only a personal virtue or a dreaded burden. (80) Listening to God becomes very difficult. (83) The aim, however, is a kind of obedience that provokes missional imagination, that is, an urgency to share, to yield, to die to self, to relinquish and embrace God’s will. Preaching poetically to this end is speaking the command by sparking an alternative imagination, which will motivate obedience (85), for “we are not changed by new rules,” (109) but to imagine our lives and our world differently (97), as God does, for “God does not practice greed toward us nor toward the world.” (106)
D. Fourth lecture
A prose-flattened world of conformity and autonomy concerns a reduction of our identity and a depersonalization, in which we are seduced into the false notions of self that we can succeed through conformity (exiles) or, if we are in power (Nebuchanezzar), that it is really ours. We seek true freedom. To experience this, preaching poetically will interpret texts like Daniel, who resolved to practice his faith and dare resistance to the Empire. In his nonconformity to the system, he became truly free. Nebuchanezzar also experienced transformation when he acknowledged the surprising dream, asked Daniel’s interpretation, yielded to God’s sovereignty, and practiced doxology. Both characters opted for an alternative way in the world. (139) This is a “story designed to break the system.” (140) Such preaching will speak new possibilities to both Daniels and Nebuchanezzars who listen, resist and relinquish, producing faithful, free selves. (112)
V. His conclusion
There are many pressures to quiet the text, to silence it, but the way that people begin again is by being “speeched” (not “scripted”). “We have only the word, but the word will do.” (142)
VI. Is there a question of clarification?
VII. Two questions for group reflection
A. Do you think that we are still in a prose-flattened world? If so, how? If not, why not?
B. What difference does thinking of yourself as a preacher/poet make in your goals and aspirations for your preaching?
Potential critiques of Brueggemann’s text:
1. How does one write a prose sermon manuscript poetically? These lectures are more about hermeneutics than they are about crafting poetic sermons. He gives no sermon examples.
2. This text locates preaching in congregations and assumes that the listeners are the baptized. Why don’t we and where do we speak to the unbaptized?
3. This text seems to view the listeners of sermons as discreet individual selves over communities or a body. What of collective consciousness (Buttrick)?
4. When Brueggemann is speaking of a prose-flattened world in which there is an organized, settled formula, believers who take the gospel for granted, etc., isn’t he speaking to the white western world? Does his approach adequately address or incorporate African American culture and experience?
When God Is Silent by Barbara Brown Taylor
Barbara Brown Taylor
- Born in 1951. Teaching religion at Piedmont College, GA and an adjunct professor of spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary, GA. Episcopal priest. When God Is Silent was her Lyman Beecher Lecture delivered in 1997, originally titled, “Famine in the Land: Homiletical Restraint and the Silence of God.”
Chapter #1: Famine
- Taylor believes that there have been three kinds of assault on our word that lead to discrepancy between the word and the world: Consumerism, Journalism, and Proliferation of words/Democratization of Words.
- Church is not exception from such separation. i.e) The sign at the lawn of chruch that says, “Our doors and hearts are open to everyone.” Do they really mean it or should it be changed to “We do the best we can.”
- We are currently living in a land of famine, famine of word. Did Amos predict such famine in his time? (Amos 8:11-12)
- The words that preachers speak at the pulpit may be compared with an overchewed gum that has lost livelenss in it.
Chapter #2: Silence
- What would silence mean? Tranquility, awe, manfunction, or death.
- In The Disappearance of God, Richard Elliot Friedman argues that God gradually retreated from God’s people. The last person to whom God revealed Godself was Samuel in the temple at Shiloh.
- Silene of God is present everywhere in the Bible: Abraham’ sacrificing of Isaac (Genesis 22:2), Job, and Jesus.
- What do discern about God’s silence to God’s peoplpe? Taylors argues, “Only an idol always answers. But the God who keeps silence, even when God’s own flesh and blood is begging for a word is the God beyond anyone’s control.” (80)
Chapter #3: Restraint
- “So, how does one preach without profaning God’s silence, without getting between that silence and those for whom it is intended?” (99)
- Taylor suggests three tips as follows;
- 1. Economy: choosing the fewest, best words that will allow them to find one another and then to get out of the way. Saying only what we know to be true, to say it from the heart, and to sit down.
- 2. Courtesy: respecting the autonomy of the hearer, his/her ability to make meaning without too much supervision. Jesus used stories and images to leave room for his listeners to take part in the makingof their meanings.
- 3. Reverance: rather than compensating by talking more, we do our best but acknolwedging our limits in doing it. Divine silence is not a vacuum to be filled but a mystery to be entered into, unarmed with words and undistracted by noise.
Introduction to Preaching: Final Exam
Please Choose Three Essays From This List
The Exam is Meant to Last about 90 minutes (30 minutes per question)
You May Stay Though Until 4:30pm
Boston University School of Theology
Robert Allan Hill
April 26, 2010
1. Describe and explain your own current understanding of the authority of Scripture, as it impacts and influences your own preaching.
2. Reflect on the preparatory practice of exegesis. What have you learned and appropriated in this course? What are your own areas of strength and weakness?
3. Write your own creed, your own brief affirmation of faith.
4. Analyze and criticize the work on ‘moves and structures’ in our Buttrick text.
5. How would you define your call to preach or to pulpit ministry?
6. Identify and reflect upon two sermons you have heard this year (class, subgroup, chapel, tape, other) that you remember fairly clearly. What made them stand out for you?
7. We have emphasized excellence in preaching with attention to pastoral imagination. How do you understand pastoral imagination in preaching?
8. One major point of annual reflection on preaching is found in Yale’s Lyman Beecher lectures. What aspects of these lectures, as summarized in class, have stayed with you, challenged you, or found influences in your preaching?
9. Another aspect of preaching we have explored has been through our guests (Miles, Schol, Weaver, Fisher). Can you identify three or four highlights from these which have provided important insights for you?
10. The arts of listening and receiving feedback deserve and require lifelong attention. How have your practices grown this term in these areas?
11. Describe your preaching ministry as it will (by the mind’s eye and imagination) be in April 2030.
What in the work of crafting a sermon did you find most difficult and most rewarding