Friday, July 01, 2005

preaching as the engaging of multiple stories

I was interviewed about how I prepare to preach today and I suddenly realised how different my preaching preparation is now than say 4 years ago. I have also been following chris erdmans blog, and been increasingly uneasy about the text centred approach being advocated.

Today clarified some things. But first, some of my unique context
1. I’m by nature a theologian. (Update. It’s a discipline that works in a matrix of text, experience, tradition, culture, reason, revelation). It’s in my training and perhaps its in my personal makeup and approach to life. So I do a lot of reflecting.
2. I’m fairly busy. I used to put a lot of time into exegetical preparation. I just don’t have that time now. But that need not mean I am not preparing, for ..
3. I have done quite a bit of study and reading in the last few years, doing a masters and a PhD. So could their be some opportunity to draw on the theological reflection and resources of the last few years? And …
4. I work in multiple job/s, as pastor and lecturer and speaker. So I am constantly in multiple conversation with people and spirituality and life. So could these engagements in fact be gifting me reflections and insights?

So it is my sense that one of the spiritual disciplines of this season of my preaching journey is to trust God by doing less preparation and spending more time intuitively drawing on the learnings from the past few years and from multiple conversations. I don’t find this easy. It requires a greater need for inner centredness and willingness to trust my creative intuition.

What does this mean practically?
Tuesday I sit with the text. Without commentary or exegetical rationalisation I contemplate the Spirit of God among the text.

Wednesday-Friday I sift stories; in the lives of people, in my life, in the culture, I search for the stories that challenge, amplify, de-stablise Tuesday’s text. This is based on the belief that the Spirit of God is among the people of God. If this text is a-live by the Spirit, then I dare to believe that the a-liveness is not just with my individual preparation, but is among the community and in the world. I contemplate the angles and the jarring juxtapositions.

Saturday I write. Often I am surprised by what I have written, as if from deep within something has opened. This is not a mindless process, but somehow the written words capture a more intuitive knowing.

Sunday I speak. I don’t take myself too seriously, but offer some stories, some reflection on a week of sitting with text and people.

I dare to believe that the gospel might be for all people, inside and outside the church, that all people are broken and talented, busy and searching and that the gospel will engage with all of life. It is a text for all, offered not only for me, or for my community, or for society, but freed among many stories and entrusted to the ongoing resonnance to the goodness of the Spirit.

Posted by steve at 09:08 PM


  1. I’m inclined to agree with you , Steve, from several points of reference. I pastor a smaller church with limited resources which calls for me to work others jobs so time is limited. Also, whether we agree with his theology or practice, Joel Osteen (Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas)is getting pretty popular in the US & around the world. When his dad, John, asked him to preach the first time (The week before John died), Joel said, “But dad, I don’t know how to preach…” John replied, “Preach from the overflow.”

    Good advice I think. Jesus said something about the connection between the overflow of the heart and the outflow of the mouth. Although I believe that preaching should be theologically correct, I think that for it to have the transformational impact intended, it needs to come from a place of passion down deep within. This comes from the connecting process you describe — connecting the word with the world and reflecting on where it fits/doesn’t and what needs to be done. Thanks for your post. If nothing else, it helps me feel better about myself amidst my “exegetical bretheren” 🙂

    Comment by mike — July 2, 2005 @ 2:58 am

  2. Steve, I resonnate with a good deal that you’ve written and value very much the freedom you practice. Too many preachers are enslaved by performance and rules and get all bound up and have no “overflow” as Mike puts it from which to speak among the people. You are uneasy about my text-centered approach, and you’re not alone. That said I’m very uneasy about an uncritical untext-centered approach. This is a matter of epistemology, but we cannot be untexted. The issue here is what text forms or scripts us. I happen to choose this text of scripture and have chosen to believe that we must take it more seriously than we do the stories that our people really think they want to hear. The Nazis were rather embarrassed by this odd text of the Bible and so trusted that God’s revelation was among the people, most explicitely among the German people. To this appeal to natural theology Barth declared his “Nein!” That declaration was problematic, but it was uttered against the silly and dangerous assumptions that the Spirit was among the people and that Spirit didn’t need the angularity of these old and very, well, Jewish texts. I wonder what a Trinitarian theology may be urging upon us in terms of the texts we are commissioned to open among the people. But I’m quite sure that the Trinity, while taking seriously the place of the people, knows that this people must have a better text than that offered my consumer, military captilism or any other “ism” for that matter.

    Comment by Erdman — July 2, 2005 @ 9:36 am

  3. Peace Chris. Please understand I’m not in any way having a go at you. (However, I hope you’re not having a go at me and accusing me of being Hitler?).
    I did not explain it well, and will update the post accordingly, but as a theologian, I would understand faith to be a matrix of text, experience, tradition, culture, reason, revelation. Thus my preaching needs to align with that matrix rather than Sola Scriptura and I would argue that Sola Scriptura is in fact a theological matrix anyway.
    You use the Trinity and surely that is a case in point, Trinity is not found in the Biblical text, yet the hints and threads are there that make it a theological construct?
    I agree with you that we are shaped by our culture’s texts. Yet I value Certeau’s Practices of Everyday life (which I note you’re reading) and so am not in dispair, but trust the “making do” of people and the Spirit in that mix.
    In my post I also pointed out my unique context and who knows what I would do if I were in your’s and vice versa. Peace and grace as you work with the text this Sunday.

    Comment by steve — July 2, 2005 @ 9:58 am

  4. Steve, no I’m not having a go at you, friend. And would in no way accuse you of aligning yourself with Hitler. No, I am rather concerned,especially in my own setting with the way other texts eclipse the biblical text and are allowed to supplant it. Am I a biblicist and fundamentalist, dear God, please no. We must take very seriously the texts that form us. And I think you are doing that, concerned that the whole matrix is available to us and that we’re not simply reading the Bible and that through our own lenses and therefore myopicly and even idolatrously. In my own context I am faced with an American culture that believes in the superiority of its story, it’s texts. And our consumer, military, imperialistic agenda coopts the biblical texts and supplants it…all the while assuming that we are for the most part very Christian. This is a very dangerous matrix of meaning. How is it that a nation like Germany in the 1930’s, a cultural matrix broadly Christian…how is it tht a nation like Rwanda (60% Roman Catholic and 25% Protestant) could devolve into such barbarism? The Constantinian bargain hamstrung the church fromm being the church. It wanted to celebrate the matrix of meanings and became a slave to the state (don’t ever underestimate the power of political and economic power to blind the faithful) and when that happens it’s not hard to become an organ of the state even to the point of being willing to kill for the state and transgress the teachings of Moses and Jesus. Play too much to the matrix of meaning and I worry that we will create an anemic discipleship. In Rwanda, it was the Muslim community (1.5% of the population) that resisted engagement in the bloodshed. They refused to divide ethnically (Tutsis and Hutus) because they were so marginal that they bound together by their text which transcended the matrix of ethnic loyalties that tore apart the broader nation which was so thinly Christian.

    Your post and method do make it sound (to me and probably not what you intend to say) that the Bible is just one text among many and to be afforded not privilege above the others. I think you’re after involving the whole community in reading this text of ours. And that is the right path, but I would want to urge that it is the text of the Bible that must eventually read all of us. To do that it needs the whole people to bring themselves before it and help us all hear the ways it seeks to form us according to the ways of Jesus and not the ways of Caesar and Empire and …

    Comment by Erdman — July 3, 2005 @ 3:16 am

  5. Steve, also…I’ll not be reading this for a while because I’m taking a Sabbatical though mid July. So don’t take my silence should you respond and disinterest. Peace to you.

    Comment by Erdman — July 3, 2005 @ 3:17 am

  6. Chris
    thanks for the response. of course to say that “I would want to urge that it is the text of the Bible that must eventually read all of us” raises the inevitable interpretive questions of which text and how a text is read in light of other texts and is precisely the reason for my clamour about the theological matrix.

    my prayers are with you, enjoy your blog-bath.

    peace, steve

    Comment by steve — July 5, 2005 @ 9:57 pm

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