Preaching Justice: The Ethical Vocation of Word and Sacrament Ministry

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Preaching Justice: The Ethical Vocation of Word and Sacrament Ministry

  1. Review

    The premise of this book is that whatever the church may be doing educationally and programmatically, "It is the church’s preaching that defmes its message and its mission." Building on that premise, the author shares his conviction that "preaching justice is at the core of the church’s gospel proclamation" and seeking justice to "ensure the common good of all people" is the heart orits mission. The author is Joseph A. Sit tIer, Professor of Theology and Ethics and Academic Dean at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio.

    His concern in the book is to deal with questions such as "How does God’ s call for justice become a vital part of our preaching? and, What do we discover about justice when we attempt to preach it? How do ",.e incorporate justice concerns into the basic Christian message? How do we engender commitment to justice among the people of God through preaching? or, Do we?" And if the answer to the question, "Do we?" is "Yes," how do we go about the task of proclamation?

    Professor Childs lays a biblical and theological foundation for his concern, which has, throughout Christian history, drawn a varied and uncertain response which H. Richard Neibuhr, in his book Christ and Culture, characterized as "the dualistic struggle between otherworldly destiny and this-worldly responsibility.;’ In the first half of the twentieth century, theological "giants" such Reinho1d Neibuhr, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer helped the churches toward a "lively commitment to social justice." In the second half of the twentieth century, Childs points out, many mainline denominations have made, through their national judicatories, a commitment to social justice.

    However, on the level of the local church, the "other-worldly destiny" pole has triumphed. The main text of preaching is personal salvation. The question in traditional language is "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal (meaning individual?) Savior?" or in contemporary language, "How can Jesus help me realize my spiritual potential?" In whatever language, contemporary preaching is focused on what theologian Joseph Haar has called "individualistic, self-serving redemptionism." Can you remember when you last heard a sermon (homily) that dealt, even indirectly, with an issue of social justice? There are churches, which are exceptions. One he describes is the ten thousand member Windsor Village United Methodist Church of Houston, Texas, where educationally and programmatically, "the life of the congregation is a concrete expression of our contention that justice is central to gospel mission."

    Pointing out that all preaching as well as all "good" theology is contextual, Childs devotes four chapters to preaching justice in dialogue with current realities in 21 sf century America. ( 1) Preaching needs to confront the persistence of racism in church and society. (2) In our religiously pluralistic and multicultural society, preaching must deal with a wide variety of religious and secular perspectives. In this context we must recognize and guard against our tendency to assume that our own "modes of thought are universal to the exclusion of others." (3) Preaching must address the injustices inflicted upon people by the misuse of our economic system by people driven by insatiable greed and demand that economic life "be integrated into the larger range of values that constitute the good of the human community." (4) preaching justice extends to the world and the whole of God’s creation, which involves concern for such issues as the environment and economic sustainability .

    He suggests that although the proclamation of justice is a "Word of God to be proclaimed, a divine demand and a divine promise" it is appropriately and faithfully pursued by the way of dialogue between the Word and the Christian community and between the Christian community and the world around us.

    This is a seminal book for those engaged in the vocation of Word and Sacrament ministry .One hopes it will be read and discussed not only by clergy but used in adult education programs. It could change the focus of the message and mission of the church.

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