A Public Word – Part 3 “Reductionist Preaching”

Posted: February 10, 2010 in prayer, preaching, speaking, speech acts, spiritual formation, words

A few posts ago, I commented, “Preaching naively believes that preaching can help” this troubled world. What I mean by this is that preaching, the act of speaking to an audience who will likely soon forget what was said, on the face, appears to be fairly anemic, but the preacher believes it is not. Jesus seems to think that preaching does something that nothing else can do. As His cousin, John, sits in prison, Jesus chooses not to visit or set John free. Rather, Jesus preaches. And it’s important to pay attention to exactly what Jesus preaches.

In Mark, as Jesus begins His public ministry, the apostle tells us that Jesus announces, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” Again, each word here could produce a book in it’s own right, but I want to highlight a few things that I think are generally important for preacher’s (and listeners) to keep in mind as we examine how preaching can help.

  1. “The Time is fulfilled.” Jesus is announcing a present reality. This reality is associated with both His presence and person, as well as heralding an eschatological vision. Therefore, the faithful do not simply await a future occurrence, but a reality that is being inaugurated. For the preacher, this means drawing the ears of the listener to God’s activity in the world today, rather than merely encouraging them to hang onto earth until we enjoy pie-in-the-sky. Weekly preaching needs immediacy! In short, the end has begun; we are caught between the now and the not yet.
  2. “The Kingdom of God has come near.” Christ announces a new system of both politics and living. We are invited, then, to live within this kingdom and assuage the narrow-mindedness of American left/right political polarities –or any other political system, for that matter – to see a vision of the kingdom of God. This is true of all systems or philosophies that cultures may offer. The kingdom of God upends all other kingdoms – American, financial, scientific, theological or personal. The preacher then must be certain not to loan the preaching event to alternative kingdoms; to spare the pulpit of his or her personal feeling about “Proposition Whatever” and call both all people – those with whom he or she aggress and/or disagrees with – to participation in the only governing that matters – God’s.
  3. “Repent and believe the good news.” After having told us that the kingdom of God was near, the Lord now instructs us regarding what to do about it. First, says Jesus, “repent,” literally to “change your mind.” He means to tell us to abandon alternative kingdoms, philosophies, politics, and epistemologies and believe the good news, which is, in short, Jesus Himself and not a theological system (Calvinism, Restoration, Methodism, etc…). Though many would like to reduce “the good news” only to the Passion narrative, this alone cannot be true, since Jesus is calling people to the good news BEFORE the Passion events. In large, Jesus proclaims that salvation hope can be found in Him; that there is a path back to wholeness for those who repent. Every pronouncement concerning God, then, should announce the good news. It matters little to beat up people about our estrangement from the Creator without a vocalization of the way back to God.

These 3 moves shape the fundamental message of Jesus’ ministry. You will notice here that Jesus’ preaching – both here and other places – lack the kinds of specifics and steps that contemporary preaching has devolved into. Jesus’ preaching is about a particular vision of the world. It is not nuggets, principles, helpful hints, or good advice. Those who reduce preaching to sound bites cut against the grain of how Jesus preached.  Sound bites, we should now have learned from the political world, don’t change the world. Preaching should aim for more.

To be continued…

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