New books on preaching

So often divine backing is attested for the power structures of empire. But, as Brueggemann argues ‘It is in that recurring, almost constant context of empire that the Old Testament became the countertext of ancient Israel. The Old Testament is offered as an alternative to the imperial narrative that dominates ordinary imagination. That countertext intends to subvert the dominant imperial text and so is rightly seen as a ‘sub-version.’ The trajectory of texts that the synagogue and the church entertain as ‘good news’ bears witness to an emancipatory God who stands apart from and over against the mythic claims of imperial religion.’ (p.3) In his study Brueggemann explores God’s covenant with his people as it develops in relational terms, focusing on the themes of justice, grace and law. As in his previous books Brueggemann’s writing style is lively and engaging and he sheds a lot of new light on familiar passages. It is also topical: ‘While we can, in global context, identify other empires or would-be empires, closest to us are the imperial pretensions of the United States.’ In so many parts of the world Christians need to distance themselves critically from the power of the State and its claims, and this book is a good resource in that task; the inability of so many Christian leaders to resist leaders with imperial pretensions rests so much on poor theology, and this book can help to put that right. Some English readers may be unfamiliar with the author’s practice of using the word ‘Yhwh’.

One English scholar who is familiar with Brueggemann’s work is Aaron Edwards, who teaches at the (historically) Methodist Cliff College. A Theology of Preaching and Dialectic is an expanded doctoral thesis and for that reason is a very different type of book from Brueggemann’s. Edwards explores in depth the complex relationship between a preacher’s vocation to heraldic proclamation (inspired by Karl Barth) and the dialectic and tension in the text, associated with the theological tradition known as the ‘New Homiletic’ (represented in the work of Fred Craddock in his 1971 book As One Without Authority); so the book is a challenge to preachers who often deliberately do not allow scholarship or academic study to get in the way of a rousing sermon. As a sort of case study, he examines the different approaches to Grace and Works in the letters of Paul and James. The book is rich in scholarship and draws extensively on Hegel, Kierkegaard, Milbank, Zizek and others. Edwards’ overall argument is that we do not have to choose between the two approaches – a good preacher should reflect both the herald’s authority and attentiveness to the nature of the texts about which he is preaching. This is a much more demanding book than Brueggemann’s, but it is worth making the effort to engage with the author’s arguments and extensive work on the topic. Although he is himself from the reformed tradition, Edwards draws on Augustine, Aquinas and others in the Catholic tradition. He is critical of Brueggemann’s approach, arguing that for him ‘socio-political issues drive the agenda for what preaching is.’ (p.167) I think this misunderstands Brueggemann, and others inspired by Brueggemann’s writings will be disappointed by this. It is all too easy to accuse commentators of fitting Scripture into their own world-view. Nevertheless Edwards’ book is a very good and helpful study of the nature of contemporary preaching.

Ashley Beck
St Mary’s University, Twickenham

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Michael A. Hayes 1957 - 2017

editor

Michael A. Hayes 1957 - 2017

It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of Rev. Professor Michael Hayes editor of The Pastoral Review.

Many friends and readers of The Pastoral Review and The Tablet will have been shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Michael Hayes early on Easter Saturday.   Read More

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