Preaching the New and the Now

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Preaching the New and the Now

  1. Review

    In his book, A Captive Voice, The Liberation of Preaching, David But trick stated: "In the future, we will make a move from psychological personalism to social consciousness. We are beginning to sense that we wrestle with principalities and powers and not merely with phobias, depressions, and anxiety neurosis." In his new book, the Professor of Homiletics and Liturgics at Vanderbilt Divinity School, declares that the time is now when we must make the move to refocus the Church’s preaching. Today. "Jesus is your personal savior" is the almost exclusive subject of preaching, with salvation solely understood as individual transformation and fulfillment. The Kingdom of God, which was the primary focus of the preaching and teaching of Jesus, is seldom the substance of sermons. Therefore, refocusing preaching would involve proclaiming the salvation Jesus announced, taught, lived, and died for – the Kingdom or Realm of God. Buttrick is convinced that, "If a social vision of the Kingdom of God could captivate the common mind of the church, then the excitement of a venturing faith would once more animate us all."

    The author sets the stage for his proposal by giving the reader an historical and theological perspective on how the vision of the Kingdom of God was lost in the twentieth century .The consequence, evident today, is that the Kingdom is "reduced to Jesus Christ who came among us once-upon-a-time in something called holy history that happened in a past-tense ‘biblical world’. But guess what? Somehow the future of God disappeared." It is therefore vital that we recover the vision of the Kingdom of God. For if we do not, Buttrick predicts, "the future of the church can turn either to a nostalgic triumphalism or to despair." One can hear a note of ‘nostalgic triumphalism’ when ‘church growth’ defines the mission of the church. One can also sense a mood of despair in the "frantic orthodoxy" which drives the proliferation of sectarian groups in the church.

    Buttrick devotes two chapters to rehearsing biblical material that is the basis of the vision of the Kingdom or realm of God as a socio-political order. He finds the origins of the Kingdom in the Sinai covenant and its continuing development in the history and prophetic tradition of Israel. In the Hebrew scriptures, "God’s realm is the earth we live in and the rule of God is here and now." Jesus, in continuity with this tradition, made the Kingdom of God, central in everything he said and did. But trick writes, "the notion of kingdom underlies the unity of the bible, conjoins the testaments, and, incidentally, is absolutely indispensable for the forming of faith today."

    The author then explores how the Kingdom of God is here and now among us, echoing the consensus of recent biblical scholarship that most of the proclamations, teachings and actions of Jesus posit the Kingdom in the "present tense." But trick writes, "Jesus seems to have preached a gospel of God’s emerging new order, but with a kind of apocalyptic intensity: ‘today’, ‘now’, ‘here and now.’" It was primarily in his parables that Jesus gave shape to the strange, new, socio-political world of the Kingdom of God. Buttrick devotes a chapter to the nature of parables and stresses that parables "directly or indirectly, disrupt our world, our cherished values, our own cultural scenarios. They force us to deal with the half-grasped shape of a very different world and, perhaps, a ‘God beyond God,’ or at least beyond the God of conventional religion."

    The primary work of the Church, But trick reminds us, is to announce the Good News of the Kingdom of God, to seek to be a sign of the Kingdom in its community life and to invite people to join God’s new humanity. A concluding chapter explores the task of preaching the vision of the Kingdom of God. He suggests the kinds of language that are appropriate and homiletic strategies that might be helpful. If we are to preach the coming of God’s new order, he suggests that "From a vision of the future, we pick out happenings within our contemporary scene that seem headed in the direction of God’s purposes in Christ Jesus." If we are looking for signs of the Kingdom coming, we will find them "where God is drawing people together and doing new things in the world." I was surprised and dismayed that But trick did not use any of Walter Wink’s exposition of the Kingdom of God in his book Engaging The Powers ( 1992) or in his new book The Powers That Be (1998). Wink’s translation of the Kingdom of God as "God’s Domination-Free Order" has opened up a new understanding for many people and enabled them to see "signs" of the Kingdom coming every day.

    Reading this book and one of the above books by Wink will help in the arduous task of refocusing the preaching of the church. But trick reminds us that "’Personal salvation’ is a misnomer because we are not isolated beings but always beings-in-relationship." The question of a relevant evangelism today is "Have you accepted Jesus as your personal and social savior?"

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