Monday, October 7, 2013

Teaching preachers

It is wonderful to be back in the groove of teaching here at Northern Seminary with all the extraordinary opportunities (and dangers) of teaching preaching (homiletics).

All teaching has immense potential to shape hearers for good or ill.  A while ago I was struck by the title of that seminal book: Teaching as a Subversive Activity” by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner (New York: Delta, 1969).  The word 'subversive' implies a dangerous, seditious activity and the authors chose it because of their belief that all educators should develop in their students attitudes and skills of social, political and cultural criticism. Teachers should help students to ask new questions and so “learn how to learn”. They trumpeted Marshall McLuhan’s 'the medium is the message': 'the critical content of any learning experience is the method or process through which the learning occurs ' (p. 17).   So, the way an effective teacher teaches skilfully encourages students to mature in their critical thinking as they learn how to learn. 

When it comes to preaching I think many of my students have much to unlearn too (which is also a vital part of being subversive) as they dare to open themselves up to God's distinctive gifting and calling for their lives - what some have called 'finding their own voices.'

Most homiletics teachers find the task difficult because learning to preach involves so many different aspects: theology, Biblical understanding, spirituality, ethics, worship, missiology, pastoral care, engagement with culture in community, listening, curiosity, oral writing, public speaking and so on and on.  And, I honestly confess there is also the difficulty of teachers trying to model effective preaching too. (Don't just tell us!).

Yet, in my classroom,  I am revelling in sharing with a new generation of students really giving of their best in this difficult process.   I think of David Buttrick's answer to the question: What is it like to teaching preaching?
Well, we preach, teach, think and study more fields at once than most human beings. But we do so with the sweet laughter of those who live in grace, leaving the outcome of our profession in God's good hands  (Simmons, Preaching on the Brink 1996), p81.

I know there's a subversive dimension to my teaching but I really pray for sweet laughter of grace and a continuing trust in our triune God using my little best.