The Office and Evangelism

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“Evangelism is the homiletical announcement and the ecclesial enactment of fact of God’s invasion of our history in Jesus and thereby God’s creation of a new world” –The intrusive Word, 86

Yes.  Thank you William Willimon for good and true words in the midst of what can be confusing.  The bulk of Evangelism is on the preacher.  The one called to announce to those sitting in-front of him of God’s invasion.

What a great way to think of the work of God in the Sacraments.   Willimon does not go here, but I will.  An invasion.  Invasion of our lifes, selves, thoughts, and minds.  Yes, he drags us into him Kingdom.  No free will about it.  We are taken against our evil fleshy Wills, just as we are, and what is brought about is truly Evangelistic.  Conversion!  Actual true and blessed conversion.  Death to life, dark to light, tasteless to salty.

The creation of a new world ex nihilo–out of nothing–is the pinnacle of Mercy and grace.  It is election at its finest.  An untamed God doing to work he wants to do despite our objections.  Create a world.  Create a new world.  Create a people. Create a new people.

So when preachers get into the pulpit and pander to free will I want to vomit.  The problem is not understanding, at least not most of the time.  Things need to be explain, exegetics must happen, words must be explained, and theology–good theology–must be taught and refreshed.  But, in the end if there is no announcement, then the Will is left to decide to believe these things or not and Christianities Truth becomes subject.

This is the horrible nature our world and many preacher have fallen into.  There is a fact/value distinction out there.  What is not fact is then only value.  And, for a long time, convinced of its place, the Scripture and teaching of the church was an unadulterated fact.  But now, not so much.  So now, because there is too much that cannot be proven, we have relegated ourselves to a value.  In our preaching, in our teaching, we go as if validation is the goal.  Preaching information that leaves us all Arminian rather than continuing the work and ministry of the Apostles and Christ before them of electing, working, doing the sacraments.

Evangelism is the Preachers proper place and work.  At least, that is my opinion.


A Miracle of Hearing Two

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Again from Willimon:

“Besides, there are excellent reasons why we don’t communicate.  People bring many things with them in their listening to a sermon.  Having been preconditioned, their ears are not in tune with the message; their understanding is blocked by metaphors that enable them to participate in the culture but that make it difficult for them to hear the gospel.  We evangelists ought to throw the mantle of forgiveness over some of our homiletical failures.  Desiring too desperately to communicate, at any cost, can lead us into apostasy.  The odd was in which God has saved us presents a never ending challenge to those who are called to talk about it.” –The Intrusive Word, 18

As I have thought about it, one immense pressure that piles onto preachers is to be heard.  I think this comes with the territory of where the churches place in prevailing society is.  As Willimon notes the people are preconditioned with certain metaphors that make it difficult if not impossible to hear the gospel.  In many cases those same metaphors become instrumental in the preaching of the church to communicate rather than being thrown out as harmful and unnecessary for the proclamation of the Gospel.  Just what those metaphors are is sometimes difficult to perceive, at least in my own case they can be difficult.  This using of the cultural metaphor to communicate more clearly then leads, as Willimon accurately points out, to apostasy.  Having abandoned what you stand on and for in hopes to communicate, now nothing stands.

This statement from Willimon also helps shape what the preaching task and preacher are to be like, in my opinion.  Since the desire for homileitcal creativity begins to pass away and the preacher begins wondering just how it is that Jesus in His Kingdom began adjusting the World and sinners to fit the righteousness of the Kingdom he was bringing about?  We realize He did it through speaking.  He did it through doing election and making righteous.  He forgave and healed and calmed and raised and by doing he was bearing Sin and making righteous.  This then moves the preacher to the exact places where these things happen to people.  Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  These not only become the places where the Lord is forgiving sin but bringing the hearer into something other.  Changing the way things once were.  Placing the hearer into the middle of a new hermeneutic.  The preachers challenge is to no more wrestle with the metaphors of society in hopes to communicate to a people in their grasp, but to destroy those metaphors at all cost with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper which are now the Truth of Life and place metaphor aside.  Not only does this move the preacher to the Sacraments it makes the very act of preaching a sacrament itself I think.  Preaching is not only giving the benefit of the sacrament but it also assumes a Sacramental Vocabulary.

The Sacraments are the great places where the preached MUST STOP using any kind of societal metaphor and speak for God, and let God be God.


A Miracle of Hearing

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William Willimon is a hero of mine.  He says this  the first chapter of his book The Intrusive Word,

“When I emerged from seminary and began to preach, I thought that about the worst fate that could befall me as a preacher was not to be heard.  It was my task, through the homiletical, rhetorical arts, to bridge the gap, the great communicative gap between speaker and listener.  I now know that I had been taught to misconstrue the gap.  The gap, the evangelical distance that ought to concern the preacher, is not one of time, the time between Jesus and us, nor is it one of communication, the space between speaker and listener.  The gap that is the main concern of the evangelical preacher is the space between us and the Gospel.  Theology, rather than style, rhetoric, or method, is our concern.”                   –The Intrusive Word, 15.

Willimon is right on.  Sadly the way things are going in our own seminaries are ones that tend to lean toward the mastery of Rhetorical skills and structures rather than actually attempting to close the gap between the hearers and the Gospel.  I think we might even say that the Gospel is nigh being heard if the gap is misconstrued.  If our fear is not being heard our theology is bad.  If our concern is rhetorical arts then we fall in line with George Barna and his assessment of Jesus rather than Jesus who teaches in parables and is crucified on a Cross.  What sort of great rhetorical communicative skills are those?

Sadly this attitude toward preaching, this misconstrual of the gap falls on both sides of the party line.  Both on the “contemporary” and “confessionalistic” side of things the gap is misconstrued.