Monday, November 06, 2006

How to speak?

I had dinner with two friends last week who don't regularly attend a church but do care about words. For them the two go together. How can a fallen human craft words that speak to the full range of the world? Can the depths of God find adequate measure in mere words? Can truth really come off of the tongue of a preacher?

Lischer has a lot to say to my friends. So many factors lead to the end of words in our culture. I've written about some of the same ones that Lischer enumerates including technological changes that shape the way that we understand the world. As well, words, any words, seem an inadequate response to the death count of the 20th century. The list goes on.

Lischer plays with the meaning of his title to make the end (as in terminus) of words into the end (telos) of words. Calling preachers to preach, read Scripture, narrate the Biblical story and point to reconciliation, Lischer follows a pretty standard direction. The beauty of the book is in the words. The destination is predictable, the journey delightful.

Preaching, with its incessant regularity, forces preachers to make hermeneutical decisions that they don't necessarily want to. Don Juel once said in a class on the death of Jesus that come Sunday morning we needed to stand in the pulpit and say something. We couldn't equivocate or avoid. Our papers could do hermeneutical gymnastics but come Sunday, all of our ruses to avoid the truth must stay in the office. We must stand and say why Jesus had to die.

It is that imperative, that must stand, that Lischer captures beautifully. Words will never cover the breadth of the world nor adequately measure the depths of God. Nevertheless, the preacher has an obligation to stand and become a vessel for God to speak some word to God's people. Hopefully, next time my friends hear me preach, they won't hear me but God.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous glen soderholm said...

". . . all of our ruses to avoid the truth must stay in the office. We must stand and say why Jesus had to die."
Why indeed! I'm reminded of Robert Farrar Capon's 'The Foolishness of Preaching' where he presents two scenarios on Jesus being a lifeguard. In the first, when he sees the girl drowning, he swims out and brings her back to shore. After everyone has breathed a sigh of relief, they then start to moralize about how she shouldn't have gone out so far from shore with such a strong undertow, and she should have waited at least an hour after eating, etc.. He says that's how we usually preach the gospel story, with it ending up in moralisms.
In the second scenario, Jesus swims out to the girl . . . and drowns with her. A camera zooms in on the lifeguard's chair with a note on the clipboard: "It's all okay, trust me, she's safe in my death." Of course, Capon does this in greater detail, but the point is that one of the ruses that many (most?) preachers rely on is the moralism route, which offers no linguistic/rhetorical alternative to the world's formula, but only, as TF Torrance says "Throws people back upon themselves". Imagine your friends (and mine) hearing words about God told with imagination and free of the expected outcome - "you'd better get your act together!" Imagine our friends hearing transformative words that say, " It's all okay, trust me, you're safe in my death".

3:47 PM, November 09, 2006  
Blogger blair said...

Thought a lot about this comment when preparing my Remembrance Day sermon. How can we help people escape self help? Not by offering more self help which traps them in subjective, sinful cycles. How to have God's word break into the world, transforming reality?

10:57 PM, November 18, 2006  

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