Monday, June 27, 2011

History of Preaching (1)

Well, my vacation's over (and don't I know it from being back in the office this morning)! But I did manage to complete my major reading project and have been reflecting on the amazing journey through twenty centuries of Christian preaching. It is full of color and complexity from New Testament times through to the contemporary situation.

In his conclusion, O.C. Edwards first emphasizes the importance of preaching. "Most of the significant movements in the history of the church have involved preaching in their development and expansion" (P. 828). It is extraordinary that in just 16 years after the cruficixion "Christian preaching had moved from a backwater province of the empire to its very center, and was creating enough disturbance to come to the attention of the highest reaches of government." It is thrilling to see time and time again in the missionary expansion of the church preaching is the critical activity - practiced by some of the best Christian minds with high spiritual commitment. Thrilling is the word! Greco-Roman religion was displaced as the official cult of the Roman empire by great preaching. The unchurched world of the Middle Ages was reached by new orders of preaching monks. Reformation and Counter-reformation preaching fueled far-reaching renewal. Every time preaching is at the center.

However, this raises the difficult issue of the opposite condition. That whenever preaching has lost its fire and become dull predictability the church has languished. A couple of recent posts commented on the low opinions that many (in the church) have of preaching. Today's church needs to ask some searching questions about the importance of preaching in God's story for the present age!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Vacation Reading (2)

I dared to claim that while I was away on vacation I would power my way through a massive book on The History of Preaching. This was before I arrived at Sarasota (Florida gulf coast) and experienced the hospitality of our generous friend's condo! With temperatures in the 90's every day, the swimming pool and beaches are daily 'necessities'...and what beaches! The sands at Siesta Key are delicate white powder shelving gently away under translucent ocean swell. It is easy to wax eloquently and forget serious reading, though the beauty of sea and sky actually helps praying (as in my last post). (And I hope this description doesn't stir up too much jealousy!)

So, have I engaged with the history of preaching at all? Well, yes, I have read a few hundred pages in between applying sun-lotion and swimming. And the conviction has grown that this history project really matters. It is all too easy to discount history in favor of focusing entirely on the present. A chronological snobbery (I think CS Lewis called it) that assumes knowing the current situation is all that matters. (Actually there can be chronological snobbery that exalts some past period as all-important too!)

The Reformer Philip Melancthon wrote: “Human life without knowledge of history is nothing other than a perpetual childhood, nay a permanent obscurity and darkness.” Perpetual childhood is particularly troubling for preaching which should never be disconnected from its past. Today's preachers should know that they build upon the backs of giants who have not only preached effectively but also have contributed to our understanding of the preaching task.

Already, my reading has alerted me to much new material as well as recalling past connections. I am not sure how best to process the mass of material, nor how long the project will take (!) but I shall try and share some insights along the way.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Vacation Praying

Some while ago I purchased Preces Privatae (Private Prayers) in a used book shop. Written by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes as his personal prayerbook, it was not published until after his death in 1626. On vacation I have had some space to pray some of these. Today's choice is particularly powerful.

Two things I recognize in myself, Lord:
I am made in your image;
I have defaced that likeness.
I admit to my fault,
But remember Lord,
by myself I cannot do much about it.
Take from me what I have spoiled
leave in me what you have made.
Don't allow my stupidity and wickedness
to destroy what your goodness has redeemed.
Acknowledge in me what is yours;
take from me the sin that is mine.
I come to you, the Almighty.
I come to you, the Physician.
Where I am blind, show me the way.
Where I am sick in mind, heal me.
Where I am in the strangehold of habit, release

To recognize these two aspects of ourselves goes to the core of spirituality, doesn't it?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Vacation Reading

I have just finished all my grading for this past academic year and submitted student grades for my classes to the Registrar ! A Hallelujah moment! I am glad to report some truly gifted preachers among this latest generation of students whose teachability and openness has made teaching a joy.

Now, unusually, I am preparing for two weeks' vacation. Unusually, because we are actually staying at a US holiday home with no bashing around to connect with friends and family, nor preaching commitments to fulfil. Instead, a community swimming pool and beach are not too far away. It is reported that, in general, North Americans spend too little time on annual vacation. Apparently, in a recent survey 28% took no vacation time in 2010 and 65% took off less than two weeks. I am sure this damages health and relationships, though the economic situation probably explains some of this. However, with gratitude, we are going to make the most of our time.

So, in this unusual opportunity I am planning my vacation reading. I think it will be a good idea to take some light stuff for near the pool. But I am also planning to read A History of Preaching by O.C. Edwards. Admittedly its 879 pages and accompanying CD take up luggage space (!) and it may seem an unlikely vacation companion alongside the paper backs, but I have longed to find time to engage reflectively with this massive and important book. Instead of dipping in and out (as in the past) I hope to gain a big picture. It took him 18 years to write so it deserves some hours!

Carol wonders whether I will get very far through 879 pages amid vacation distractions - we'll see! I shall keep you posted!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Soul of Leadership

At Northern's Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, Ruth Haley Barton was our speaker. A graduate of the seminary, she is the founding president of the Transforming Center ( She gave a very challenging address called: "Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership" based upon the experiences of Moses. With great freedom of delivery she stepped out from behind the podium (though she lost some sound!) and developed the story of Moses primarily in terms of his learning about solitude - about his 40 years in the wilderness seeking God in solitude and (only then) doing what God tells him to do. As she said, his leadership before this solitude was raw, unrefined and disastrous as he stands up for his people by murdering the oppressor! But in the silence and brokenness of his subsequent time with God, he learned to let go these old (dangerous) coping strategies because his soul was strengthened in new ways. Old coping strategies are replaced by qualities of soul.

I cannot do justice to her 40 minute address in this brief post but as she told the story she concluded with Exodus 33:12-23. As she challenged us that "there is no promised land worth going to unless God goes with you" she pointed out what she regards as one of the great leadership verses in Scripture, Exod 33: 21: "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock." Of course, it needs to be set in context as Moses asks to see God's glory, but I confess this was the first time I had noticed this verse. That, coupled with the challenge to develop greater solitude with God, has really stuck with me.