The Bible and The New York Times

Review & Commentary

One thought on “The Bible and The New York Times

  1. Review

    Karl Barth, one of the giants of the renewal of Christian theology during the first half of the twentieth century, said that sermons should be written with a newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. It is clear from the title of her book that Fleming Rutledge, an Episcopal Priest with more than twenty-five years of preaching experience, has taken his counsel seriously in this collection of her sermons. Rutledge served as Rector of Grace Church, Manhattan, for fourteen years and is now involved in a national evangelistic ministry.

    The newspaper the author holds in one hand is The New York Times. Like any newspaper, it not only reports the news, but also reflects the construction of the economic, social and cultural world, which is the context of our lives. It is an icon of our world. In contrast to many preachers who seldom, if ever, deal with problems and issues in the world outside the walls of the church, Rutledge knows that the Christian message is irrelevant if it escapes into the narcissism of mere spirituality and does not engage the world in which we live our lives. She uses the newspaper to point to problems and issues that raise existential questions and concerns to which the Biblical tradition speaks.

    In her other hand, Rutledge holds the Bible. She has an exalted idea of preaching in contrast to many clergy who discount the importance of sermons or homilies and many laity who have little idea of the nature of preaching. In her initial sermon, she states, "When the Word of God is read and expounded in common worship, it has the character of an event." She emphasizes that preaching is unlike any other kind of public address because "in the preaching of the Word of God, the risen, reigning, living Jesus Christ has promised to be present in power. He is present in the Word, because he himself is the Word. God’s speech, God’s self-expression, is Jesus himself"

    Given the author’s understanding of the nature of preaching, it is not surprising that her collection of sermons, which revolve around the Church’s liturgical year, are expository in nature. The focus of her preaching, using one of the appointed readings for Sundays, is an exposition of a text and its relevance to the lives of her hearers. It is obvious that she spends considerable time planning, organizing, and crafting her sermons. She wrestles with the Scriptures. In illuminating and relating the text she uses public events, personal anecdotes and literary references. And she is not afraid, from time to time, to share her perplexities and doubts about the meaning of a text. The result is a collection of eloquent sermons of theological depth.

    Rutledge recognizes that we live in a biblically illiterate and theologically ignorant age. So she frequently explains the meaning of a Biblical word or theological concept. For example, she recognizes that the meaning of the Ascension "is not that Jesus went up into the clouds . . . " but "that Jesus the Son of God reigns over all things." To cite another example, she is clear that the Book of Revelation is "not a Rand-McNally map of heaven. It is not a timetable for the end of the world."

    On the other hand, she frequently uses words such as salvation, redemption, resurrection, and eternal life, as if she assumed they have a commonly shared meaning and therefore can be used without definition or explanation. Such an assumption, which in my experience is shared by many clergy, may be justifiable if you are preaching to ‘the choir.’ But the problem today is that most congregations have very small "choirs."

    Rutledge speaks out of a conservative evangelical theological perspective, which I do not share. But anyone with the awesome responsibility of preaching or hearing "the Word of God" does not have to agree with her theology to appreciate this timely collection of sermons, and if the reader is a preacher, learn something of the art of expository preaching.

or, use the form below to post a comment or a review!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>