Archive for January, 2010

In the coming weeks I will celebrate my one-year anniversary as Senior Minister at Redwood Church. At the one-year mark, I am reflecting a great deal on my emerging theology of preaching.

You’re likely saying, “Sean, you’ve been in ministry for a while now, don’t you already have a theology of preaching?” The answer is “yes” and “no.” “Yes,” in that I have long-held commitments about the preaching event but “No” in that each commitment must be localized in specific communities. Therefore, fresh theology emerges in each new proclamation in each new location.  For example, commitments materialize differently in a church filled with PhD’s than it does in a church choc’ full of GED’s, or a congregation in southern Georgia than one in South Africa or even Oregon.

My commitments spring from two texts: Nehemiah 8 and Mark 1. Let’s being with the later, Mark 1. Mark announces, “…after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news (1.14-15 NRSV).” There is a great deal here to unpack, but let me unload a few key items.

First, Jesus begins His proclamations “after John was arrested.” Preaching engages the midst of reality and is frequently captured amongst life’s trials. Too many preachers – or cultural architects, soul-leaders, communicators, or whatever other new-fangled titles we’re giving ourselves these days to give people the illusion that we are not “preaching” – paint a picture of the world they wished we lived in; something on the sort of Ozzie and Harriet. In turn, the logic seems to go, a right reading of scripture and application thereof leads to a certain utopian fantasy.

Because of this kind of imagination, churches have largely become burning caldrons of the unreal – unreal being different and distinct from unrealized, mind you. “Everybody’s fine, no one sins except those heathens who never come to church, church leaders are nearly perfect, and the last thing we want to hear or say is that we are broken people or doubtful,” – these are the Rockwelian suppositions of the unreal.

These suppositions stand precisely because so much contemporary preaching does not deal with the dirt of life. Yet we don’t get that from Mark’s gospel. When Jesus comes “proclaiming the good news,” the world was in a pretty tough state. Jesus Himself suffered under an oppressive governmental system, the religious leaders had compounded the yoke of the Romans on God’s people, and His cousin, John, had been arrested with the axe of beheading dangling above him. This is real life. And with all apologies to the pimps of the prosperity gospel, Jesus does not promise that any bit of John’s suffering would be alleviated and the forerunner of God’s Christ would receive a new Bentley for his trouble. Jesus’ preaching dive-bombs into the middle of life’s complications and struggles and so should ours. Proclamation that begins and behaves as if “I’M OK, you’re OK” misses the point! All is not well.

Preaching, to be anything, presupposes that the world is in terrible tumult and trouble. At the same time, we should stand guard against the easy nihilism that could be read into this prescription. Suffice my launching preaching commitment to this: Preaching should not pretend! But here’s the good news, while the world is in trouble, preaching naïvely believes that preaching can help.

That’s where I start.

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This is a review of ‘The Justice Project’ which I posted at Viral Bloggers.

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If you are looking for a primer on justice, then “The Justice Project” is a good place to start. Another entry from the “Emersion” partnership between BakerBooks and Emergent Village (which I heard was dead), “The Justice Project” props the megaphone against the mouth of faith practitioners who are deeply immersed in justice issues. Edited by lightening-rod, Brian McLaren, as well as Elisa Padilla and Ashley Bunting Seeber, ‘The Justice Project’ sets out to connect what Christians know about the gospel and what we practice.

In approach, ‘The Justice Project’ walks readers through six large sections; (1) The God of Justice, (2) The Book of Justice, (3) Justice in the U.S.A., (4) A Just World, (5) A Just Church, and (6) Conclusions. At root, the work is trying to light a fire under a slumbering church arguing both through theology and history. These large sections are broken down into shorter, smaller chapters – oftentimes simply too short – with individual authors adding their insight and theology.

The great strength of ‘Justice’ is it’s sheer breadth. In readable bursts, the authors take the reader on a global tour of justice and injustice through the dual lenses of the theology and contemporary culture. Here one finds all they need to (1.) form a glimpse of what justice is and how the church does and does not participate therein and (2.) have her or his heart quickened to the means and ways they themselves can become performers of justice in local and global context. This reading, should the young reader have a tour guide to navigate through peppered seminary language, would be wonderful for older high school and college-aged students. This work will challenge all those who are stepping newly into conversations concerning justice a great deal, while simultaneously deepening those who have more deeply engaged these issues.

The great weakness of ‘Justice’ – and this is sure to sound odd and opposing – is that the chapters are just too darn short. The reader gets the sense that individual authors hit her or his word count before they really got rolling, much like the preacher whose sermon never got out of the box because the clock-watchers were beginning to wiggle in their seats. I wanted to pull over to the side of the street and chat awhile – both about the portions I agreed with and the portions I suspected to be stretches of the text yet very imaginative. This, I argue, is the best writing can offer, to pace and lead and argue. ‘Justice’ does this well.

In the end, ‘Justice’ is well worth the time and dollars. I have deliberately been brief here because I am more desirous to prompt you to purchase and read ‘Justice’ than I am in having me recount its contents. Even in that, my ultimate aim is to lend a hand to a more just church, leading – as only it can – as to a more just world. You and me working for the justice of God, this, ultimately, is ‘The Justice Project’.