Resourcing Discussions Concerning Racism, Privilege, and Contextual Theology

I was asked to provide a list of resources I have found helpful in thinking and shaping issues concerning racism and privilege. I’ve added resources that also deal with contextual theology because we all read from a place, a position, a framework. Privilege is often assumed and is typically hidden from our eyes, especially when we benefit from those systems. As such, it is helpful to be made aware of our position and its underlying assumptions.

Many of these titles have been very formative for me. Some of the ones I will list have been good to read just to hear dissenting voices from my own. I don’t necessarily agree with every position taken in every book, but I have learned something from each one and therefore offer them as helpful starting points to further conversation and learning. I will also try to categorize each book so that they can be held together with other books that approach privilege, racism, and contextual theology through a particular lens (i.e., preaching, community development, etc.). Some of these resources do not deal with privilege directly, but I certainly see application and overlap. I hope these are helpful!


  • Dem Dry Bones: Preaching, Death, and Hope by Luke Powery
  • Preaching as Weeping, Confession, and Resistance: Radical Responses to Radical Evil by Christine M. Smith
  • Toward a Womanist Homiletic: Katie Canon, Alice Walker, and Emancipatory Proclamation by Donna E. Allen
  • They Like to Never Quit Praisin’ God: The Role of Celebration in Preaching by Frank A. Thomas (A development of Dr. Henry Mitchell’s Celebration and Experience in Preaching)
  • Listening to Listeners: Homiletical Case Studies by John McClure
  • Decolonizing Preaching: The Pulpit as Postcolonial Space by Sarah Travis
  • Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World by Otis Moss III
  • The End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence by Richard Lischer
  • The Liberating Pulpit by Justo Gonzalez
  • The Word Before the Powers by Charles Campbell
  • Preaching at the Crossroads: How the World – And Our Preaching – Is Changing by David Lose
  • Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art by Leonora Tubbs Tisdale
  • The Journey and Promise of African American Preaching by Kenyatta Gilbert
  • Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall by Courtney Pace
  • Dietrich: Bonhoeffer and the Theology of a Preaching Life by Michael Pasquarello III
  • African American Preaching: The Contribution of Gardner C. Taylor by Gerald Lamont Thomas


  • Reading from this Place, Vol. 1 by Fernando F. Segovia (collection of essays)
  • Soundings in Cultural Criticism: Perspectives and Methods in Culture, Power, and Identity in the New Testament by Francisco Lozada, Jr.
  • Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning by Paul Riceour
  • Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith


  • When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… And Yourself by Steve Corbett
  • Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development by Wayne Gordon and John Perkins
  • The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community by Paul Spark
  • The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings by Wendell Berry
  • The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry


  • Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
  • The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone
  • The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings
  • Naming the Powers by Walter Wink
  • Unmasking the Powers by Walter Wink
  • Engaging the Powers by Walter Wink
  • Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics by Willard M. Swartley
  • Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church by William Cavanaugh
  • Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William Cavanaugh
  • Theopolitical Imagination: Christian Practices of Space and Time by William Cavanaugh
  • The New Asceticism: Sexuality, Gender, and the Quest for God by Sarah Coakley
  • The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics by Stanley Hauerwas (collected essays)
  • Prayers for a Privileged People by Walter Brueggemann
  • Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
  • Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglas
  • Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores by Dominique DuBois Gilliard
  • The Genesis of Liberation: Biblical Interpretation in the Antebellum Narratives of the Enslaved by Emerson Powery and Rodney Sadler, Jr.
  • Can “White” People Be Saved?: Triangulating Race, Theology, and Mission by Love Sechrest, Johnny Ramirez-Johnson, Amos Yong, et al
  • A New Sense of Direction” by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates
  • Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram Kendi
  • God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time by Desmond Tutu
  • The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings
  • “The Content and Method of Black Theology” by James Cone (The Journal of Religious Thought)


  • Missions and Money: Affluence as a Missionary Problem Revisited by Jonathan Bonk
  • Cross-cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission by Mary T. Lederleitner
  • Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission Beyond Our Borders by Gary Nelson
  • Serving With Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-term Missions with Cultural Intelligence by David Livermore
  • Ministering Cross-culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships by Sherwood Lingenfelter


  • Jonah’s Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston
  • A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe


  • Decoded by Jay-Z (preachers should read this)
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap by Stephanie Coontz


  • “Just Mercy”
  • “The Banker”
  • “Hidden Figures”
  • “13th”
  • “Schindler’s List”
  • “Le Chambon: La Colline Aux Mille Enfants”
  • “Of Gods and Men”
  • “Roots”
  • “The Mission”
  • “Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom”
  • “Selma”
  • “Mississippi Burning”


(start around 30:38 mark)

Preaching When Words Have Lost Their Power

This is a blog I wrote for the Center for Pastoral Leadership at Nazarene Theological Seminary. Here is a preview of the work: “Preaching from a posture of Wisdom requires dying, which relinquishes the need for acclamation, control, power, violence, and conformity. Wisdom is the way of Jesus.”

You can find the rest of the article at the Center for Pastoral Leadership’s blog:

“Preaching in Practice: Moving Beyond the Violence of Our Words:” Preaching — V Practice — Explorations in Theology

Rev Levi Jones wanted to present a fifth post in order to discuss preaching practice in the proposed theological framework of the first four posts. You won’t find here a one-size-fits-all method for every sermon. Instead, Levi offers some suggestive insights into the proper posture of the preacher in preparing for the task, as well […]

via “Preaching in Practice: Moving Beyond the Violence of Our Words:” Preaching — V Practice — Explorations in Theology

New Life from the Barren Womb: Words that Burst Forth

The setting of 1 Samuel 1-3 is one of spiritual blindness, deafness, and barrenness.  Both spiritual leaders and the community are impotent.  Eli, as one set apart to lead the community to God, fails in his duties as servant to the community of faith.  He sees but does not perceive what is happening.  He hears but does not understand what God is doing.  Even when he does see or hear, he abdicates his responsibility to guide and correct.

The story is eerily similar to the “post-Christian” context in which we preach, teach, and minister.  We recognize the barrenness of our culture and congregations.  Syncretism nurtures apathy.  The erosion of trust in authority and a surge in relativism create a difficult environment in which to preach.  We may wonder if God has gone silent or if anything can be said to make a difference.  Can proclamation be filled with pregnant potential for new life?  Is the pastoral task of proclamation a tomb of dead ends or a womb of new possibilities?

In this paper I will explore how the story of Eli and Samuel provides a framework for the task of proclamation which brings new life from barrenness.  I will primarily focus on what it means to “see and hear” as the gestational requisite for new birth proclamation.  “Seeing and hearing” are the capacity to imagine new possibilities which enable faithful preaching empowered to birth new life.

The Book of Judges concludes: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”[1]  The spiritual and political leadership in Israel is on a downward trajectory.  Judges rise and fall, leading the people in temporary reform, only to fall deeper into the mire of covenant infidelity.  The community is increasingly divided and privatized, each looking to their own interests.  The community called to be a “royal priesthood and a holy nation”[2] has largely neglected this calling.

The story moves from the wide-angle view of the culture at the end of Judges to the deeply personal story of Hannah.  Hannah is the object of ridicule and scorn.  Although she is beloved by her husband, Elkanah, Hannah is unable to bear children – a deeply troubling plight.  Barrenness forecloses any future.  Elkanah’s other wife harasses Hannah continuously.[3]  Hannah is utterly speechless, dejected, and powerless.  On the occasions her family travels to Shiloh for the yearly offerings, Hannah finds herself groaning in grief-stricken, desperate prayer.[4]

This vivid picture of barrenness in Hannah is a disjunctive metaphor depicting the larger social reality of God’s covenant people.  First Samuel 3:1b declares, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”  This is a damning statement of the most serious magnitude for a community that must be reminded that “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”[5]  First Samuel 1-3 wrestles with two issues deeply intertwined: God’s silence and the community’s barrenness.

It is instructive that the story of barrenness begins by focusing our attention on the voiceless and powerless one: Hannah.  A childless woman in this society is particularly vulnerable.  Hannah’s deepest sobs of prayer are wordless mutterings.  We only know about Hannah’s predicament from the narrator, not from her own mouth.  The cries of the oppressed for justice are often cast in silent, wordless groans.

On one occasion of prayer, Eli, the priest, stands watching Hannah pray, but he mistakes it for drunken ramblings.[6]  Eli misunderstands what he sees and hears, leading him to false conclusions about Hannah.  He accuses her of drunkenness, although Hannah corrects his false assumption.  Perhaps embarrassed by his mistake, he quickly blesses her with a pious, formulaic blessing.[7]  Eli appears unable to differentiate between earnest praying and drunken speech.

Failure to correctly interpret circumstances diminishes our capacity to speak an appropriate word for each situation.  Humility lays a foundation for discerning an appropriate word.  We are adept at self-deception, thinking we are not complicit in the world’s brokenness.  A lack of humility will lead us to look down on those we are called to serve.  We, like Eli, may sit at a distance misjudging situations we think we see clearly.  Without engaging our community, understanding their pain and fear, we may very well speak irrelevant clichés.

Eli’s leadership is symbolic of the political and spiritual ideology – faith and politics – engrained in the community.  In 1 Samuel 1-4, three times it mentions Eli is perched on “the seat (hakkissē’).”[8]  First, he is seated by the sanctuary doorposts while Hannah is praying.  Eli is also on “the seat” when given news of his sons’ death and the capture of the Ark.  It is from this precarious perch that Eli plummets to his death.[9]

This “seat” is not a common chair; it indicates authority.  Most typically this “seat” signifies a human or divine royal throne.[10]  Although there are other instances where kissē’ is not meant as a royal throne, it typically implies a seat of power.[11]  This “seat” makes an appearance in 1 Samuel when David is crowned king and enthroned.  Eli is not simply acting as priest.  He’s building a religiously sanctioned dynasty with his sons, Hophni and Phineas.  One might say Eli has traded in pastoral service to build a cultus of personality.

Hophni and Phineas utilize their power in pharaonic ways.  As priests serving under Eli, they use their authority in rapacious acts against their neighbors.  They take advantage of the young women at the Tent of Meeting.[12]  They stick their forks in other people’s meat pots and steal the offerings to God.[13]  Power intended to serve the community is utilized in self-serving aggrandizement at the community’s expense.  Any protest is silenced under threat of violence.[14]  Hophni and Phineas are “forking” everyone and yet Eli only feebly attempts to assuage the abuse.[15]  Notably, Eli’s sermonic words fall flat.  His words are sterile.

Eli’s preaching to his two sons fails to move them.  Perhaps the best sermon would have failed.  However, Eli’s sermon sounds like a Surgeon General’s warning.  Despite understanding the damage smoking causes, the desire for cigarettes overrides the warning.  Eli tells his sons quite explicitly what they “ought not” do.  Although Eli protests his sons’ activities, he fails to recall Israel’s tradition or to point to a better future.  Hophni and Phineas possess more knowledge concerning what they should not do, but their desires find no re-direction.

Moralistic sermons may name God and outline expected behavior while failing to empower transformation.  Whereas Hannah’s song names God’s saving activity as a lens in which to see a future hope, Eli fails to remember God’s work in the past and thus is unable to imagine any new future.  Eli’s inability to imagine a new world is imaged in his sons.  God is effectively quiet in Eli’s sermon, despite being named.

It seems God’s silence is in response to or the result of the hegemonic powers of Eli’s house.  Either way, God is coopted as the guarantor of status quo power and privilege.  Yahweh, a God of surprising freedom and ferocity on Mt. Sinai, is reduced to the inactive god of Shiloh – neither moving, speaking, nor acting.  Eli’s house interprets the silence as divine legitimation of their socio-political order.  Rigid certitude of God’s favor, however, is unable to trust the God of freedom to speak.  If permitted to speak, this emancipatory God might visit the same fate of Egypt upon the faithless covenant community.  Thus, God is muted and immobilized, drowned out by the barren voices of Shiloh’s theo-political institutions.

Although writing about Babylonian Exile, Walter Brueggemann’s Hopeful Imagination offers a cutting analysis: “The empire, Babylonian or any other, wants to establish itself as absolute, wants the present arrangement to appear eternal in the past as in the future, so that after a while, one cannot remember when it was different from this, which means having available to our imagination no real alternative.”[16]  Of course, the language of faith is employed to sustain this seemingly inevitable reality of Empire.  Talk of God is not always abolished, rather it is re-oriented to claim our allegiance for the Empire, sometimes from the pulpit.

In subtle ways, the line between God and Empire is blurred beyond distinction.  Our language, and thus our vision, is diverted from God.  The appearance of religious orthodoxy is sustained, yet subverted.  When God is co-opted as a mouthpiece for status quo, God is substituted for an idol unable to speak, see, or hear.  Eli is unable to see, hear or speak with potency because the god he worships is not living.  We resemble that which we worship.  Preaching is unable to bear life if it is disconnected from the Giver of life.

Fred Craddock notes:

’In the community of Christianity, where the situation is qualified by Christendom, there is no direct or straightforward relationship, inasmuch as a vain conceit has first to be disposed of.’  That vain conceit lies in the illusion that ‘knowing about’ is knowing.  To break that illusion, one does not add quantities of more information; rather, one stirs up and elicits what is there, taking away in order that what has been so often heard can truly be heard.[17]


There is an abundance of religious talk, but a scarcity of prayerful, discerning, theological reflection.  Preaching that fails to name the illusions only reinforce those illusions, which is the greatest travesty.

First Samuel 1-3 draws a significant parallel between God’s silence and the silenced voices of the marginalized.  Perhaps God refuses to speak because those in power refuse to hear the voice of the oppressed.  Ignoring the cries and pleas of the desperate, Israel’s leadership turns a deaf ear to Yahweh.  Yet, it is the cry of desperate hearts which seemingly awakens God from the deep slumber of silence to speak a life-giving word.  It is not, finally, the powerful that rouse God to speak.  Instead, God speaks new life into those deeply aware of their barrenness.

John Chrysostom draws the deeper connection with Hannah’s seeing her barrenness and God’s extension of grace to her:

Instead of saying anything at first, she began with wailing and shed warm floods of tears.  And just as, when rain storms fall, even the harder ground is moistened… and easily bestirs itself to produce crops, so too did this happen in the case of this woman: as though softened by the flood of tears and warmed with the pangs, the womb began to stir in that wonderful fertility.[18]


Hannah, as model for those delivered from barrenness, does not remain silent but is given voice.  Lamenting her barrenness enables new vision and new utterance.  Hannah’s poetic proclamation announces the dethronement of regimes built on fear and domination.[19]  A decentering, destabilizing word comes from the margins, undercutting the certitude of hegemonic power and the accompanying pride that assumes divine blessing.  Hannah envisions, through her own barrenness and deliverance, Israel’s barrenness, which must be purged and engulfed by God’s life-giving, life-blessing, life-sustaining word.  Lament tills the hardened soil of the heart, preparing it for God’s world-creating word.

Hannah’s prophetic announcement sheds light on the preaching task at hand.  Fred Craddock frames it this way:

in a context of long tradition, common assumptions, and high predictability in messages, there is much room for the illusion of participation where little or none exists… We are up against an illusion that breeds in the dark, unswept corners of institutions well furnished by custom, repetition, and assumption.  And the task of any communicator who would seek to shatter this illusion is made doubly difficult by the fact that victims of an illusion do not realize they are victims.  Such is the nature of an illusion: it caresses; there is no pain.  It is the communicator who succeeds in breaking the illusion who brings pain, who is the troubler in Israel.[20]


Prayer for Hannah is the womb from which new life emerges, from which new sight is given.  “Ludwig Wittgenstein spoke of language being understood only within a certain form of life… In other words, in the final analysis listening is a quality of character.”[21]

Hannah’s prayer leads to poetic, praise-filled proclamation, which breaks open the closed womb of illusion to birth, in painful ways, a new available world previously hidden.  Her speech finally enables others to also speak out.  A surprising word comes from an unidentified “man of God” to Eli and his house.[22]  It is a word of judgment destabilizing the current regime and its attendant religious sanctioning.  This word is possible because it is rooted in the living, although nearly forgotten, memory of Israel’s story with God.

The “man of God” begins his oracle, “Thus the Lord has said, ‘I revealed myself to the family of your ancestor in Egypt when they were slaves to the house of Pharaoh.’”[23]  The first word God utters identifies God’s self with the vulnerable – slaves in Egypt.  The community is to recall the cries of the enslaved prodding God to act against Pharaoh and Egypt.  The powerless are unearthed as blessed for the living God acts on their behalf.

Now, through the tradition and memory of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, we are empowered to hear and see anew Israel’s current circumstance as barren.  Israel’s leadership resembles Pharaoh more than the freed slaves of Exodus lore.  God warned Israel to resist becoming another Egypt when they entered the Promise Land, yet that is Israel’s social embodiment under Elidic leadership.[24]

Amnesia of God’s past work creates an environment where current arrangements of power are beyond reproach.  The Shema cautions against this loss of memory when Israel enters the Land of Promise: “…take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”[25]  Forsaking the covenantal memory has devolved into abusive spiritual and political leadership.

Eli’s house has re-purposed Israel’s narrative to sustain the current social order.  However, the Exodus is a dangerous memory revealing the God of wild and unyielding concern for the compromised persons of this world.  It is a frightening memory for those benefiting from oppressive power.  Yahweh undermines politics as usual and erodes the bulwark of privileged power.  Such a God of freedom is exactly what empires cannot imagine, for to do so imagines their own finitude and accountability.  It is easier to control a God of silent acquiescence than to entertain a God of relational freedom.

Israel’s narrative memory, as with Christian tradition, is always intended to be a living memory.  The memory is imaginatively recited so that the faithful might view the world anew.  This recital enables the story to be a personal and social experience in the present, not simply the past.  However, the community of faith is always in danger of forgetting or misunderstanding the memory.  This presents a unique challenge for preaching, especially when the community believes it is living faithfully to the memory.

Craddock highlights the challenge: “Not only are chances very good that they will say even of good sermons that they have heard it all before, but if what they hear is different from what they have been accustomed to hearing, in manner or in matter, they will suspect that it was not a sermon or not Christian.”[26]  As such, our task as communicators will include disorienting our hearers in order that they might be reoriented to the living memory.

The man of God’s sermon to Eli shifts the Exodus story from God delivering Israel to God judging Israel for their Egypt-like behavior.  This is a radical interpretive shift, opening up new hermeneutical perspectives for those “who have ears to hear.”  Bear in mind that this is not twisting the story to fit our agenda.  The “old story” speaks in new ways by shifting the community’s identification to a new character within that story.  No longer are they the freed slaves, but Eli’s house must identify with the Egyptian task-masters.  Stories that have become stale are possibly stale because we only allow ourselves to identify with the heroes or the receivers of grace in the text.  We avoid the discomfort of judgment by assuming roles which end in our favor.  Preaching should at times bring comfort.  However, when comfort no longer comes as grace-filled surprise, we are preaching cheap grace.

Prophets emerge in moments of deep spiritual blindness.  We find Samuel and Eli sleeping in the temple.  Visions are not widespread and God’s word, as mentioned previously, is rare.  To complicate matters, Eli, as spiritual leader, has diminishing eyesight so that he no longer sees, despite the light from the lamp of God.[27]  Although serving before the Lord, Samuel does not yet know (yada) the Lord.  There is no intimacy with God.  Eli and Samuel are surrounded by the things of worship and yet they are shrouded in darkness.

In the midst of their slumber, God calls the young boy.  Three times Samuel goes to Eli, asking him why he called.  Finally, Eli realizes God is calling Samuel and instructs him to answer.  “Learning to discern the difference between human words and God’s word is basic to [Samuel’s] prophetic and priestly life.”[28]  This does not happen immediately, but is a learned practice.  As with Hannah, Samuel’s prophetic vocation begins by learning to listen.

Samuel receives a word from God which again calls Eli’s house and Israel to account.  God is going to act in ways that surprise all.  God says, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle” (emphasis mine).  Some messages, we know beforehand, will burn.  It will cause discomfort.  After receiving this painful, if not dangerous, word to proclaim, Samuel just “lays there.”[29]

“Laying there” is an imperative for preaching.  When God speaks, the word must simmer in us.  It is a gestastional space in time where God germinates new life in us first.  Birth is possible when an infant experiences discomfort in the womb.  Wrestling with God and the text should discomfort us to the point we are pushed out of our safe spaces.  Samuel is afraid to tell Eli the vision.  Fear of rejection can paralyze our voice.  But, if God’s word has done its work on us, we cannot help but proclaim it.

After the incubation is complete, Samuel bursts out of the “doors of the house of the Lord.”[30]  It is birthing language.[31]  As Hannah’s womb was opened, now the doors burst open and God’s word is brought forth into the community.  The temple, the place of worship, serves as deathly tomb for Eli and as fertile womb for Samuel.  The defining difference is an imagination enlivened and set free by an encounter with the living God.

This new birth imagination in Samuel does not end with Samuel.  Instead, as Samuel grows with God, he learns to see God at work and hear God’s voice.  The word comes to Samuel and through Samuel to “all of Israel.”  An inspired imagination breaks loose in the community.  New worlds are now possible, although the temptation always remains to fall back into old patterns.  But, at least for the moment, new life bursts forth as God’s word is proclaimed.

The Church’s prophetic and priestly ministry requires an imagination re-formed by a divine encounter.  Imagination requires the gestational practices of prayer; listening to God and others, especially the vulnerable; lamenting our barrenness; naming the broken systems of abusive power; and helping the scriptures to speak in new ways to communities that have become overly familiar with the old, old story.  The task appears overwhelmingly impossible.  Yet, when God speaks, death no longer has the final word.





Brueggemann, Walter. Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.

Craddock, Fred B. Overhearing the Gospel. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2002.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.

Janzen, J. Gerald. “‘Samuel Opened the Doors of the House of Yahweh’ (1 Samuel 3.15).” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 8, no. 26 (1983): 89-96.

Murphy, Francesca Aran. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: 1 Samuel. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2010.

Peterson, Eugene H. Westminster Bible Companion: First and Second Samuel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.

Spina, Frank A. “Eli’s Seat: The Transition from Priest to Prophet in I Samuel 1-4.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 19, no. 62 (June 01, 1994): 67-75.


[1] Judges 21:25

[2] Exodus 19:6

[3] 1 Samuel 1:6-7

[4] 1 Samuel 1:7-13

[5] Deuteronomy 8:3

[6] 1 Samuel 1:13-14

[7] 1 Samuel 1:17

[8] Frank A. Spina, “Eli’s Seat: The Transition from Priest to Prophet in 1 Samuel 1-4,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 19, no. 62 (1994): 67.

[9] 1 Samuel 4:13

[10] Spina, 68.

[11] Spina, 67-69.

[12] 1 Samuel 2:22

[13] 1 Samuel 2:12-14

[14] 1 Samuel 2:16-17

[15] 1 Samuel 2:23-25

[16] Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 112.

[17] Fred B. Craddock, Overhearing the Gospel (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2002), 77-78.

[18] Francesca Aran Murphy, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: 1 Samuel (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2010), 14.

[19] 1 Samuel 2:1-10

[20] Craddock, 18.

[21] Craddock, 26.

[22] 1 Samuel 2:27-36

[23] 1 Samuel 2:27

[24] Not living as another Egypt is a major theme in Deuteronomy. Israel is reminded of their deliverance from Egypt so they will live in covenant fidelity to the God of deliverance, rather than in the deathly ways of Empire.

[25] Deuteronomy 6:12

[26] Craddock, 17.

[27] 1 Samuel 3:2

[28] Eugene Peterson, Westminster Bible Companion: First and Second Samuel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 38.

[29] 1 Samuel 3:15

[30] 1 Samuel 3:15

[31] J. Gerald Janzen, “Samuel Opened the Doors of the House of Yahweh (1 Samuel 3:15),” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 8, no. 26 (1983): 91-92.

“The Holy Spirit and Preaching: The Gift of God’s Future:” Preaching – IV Redemption — Explorations in Theology

Our guest, Levi Jones, discusses a fourth theological perspective on preaching, from the eschatological angle. (For the earlier posts, see one, two, & three) Here we see that not only is preaching a participation in God’s creative speech, but it also draws us into the new-creation opened up by the Spirit. I have tried to show in […]

via “The Holy Spirit and Preaching: The Gift of God’s Future:” Preaching – IV Redemption — Explorations in Theology

“Preaching Jesus as God’s Wisdom: Breaking the Denial of Death”: Preaching – III Reconciliation — Explorations in Theology

Denial is powerful. Denial is the capacity to avoid what is real and to create in its place a sub-version of reality in which to dwell. Humans are very adept at self-deception and denial. A few years ago, my step-grandpa told my mom that he would never die. He wasn’t a person that really professed […]

via “Preaching Jesus as God’s Wisdom: Breaking the Denial of Death”: Preaching – III Reconciliation — Explorations in Theology

“The Voice of God Unending: Preaching the Song of Creation:” Preaching – II Creation — Explorations in Theology

Guglielmo Marconi was the person largely responsible for making radio technology at great distances possible. Marconi had an interesting theory about sound. He believed that it was never really gone. He hoped that technology might be developed so that we could go back and listen to the Sermon on the Mount. An intriguing thought. Of […]

via “The Voice of God Unending: Preaching the Song of Creation:” Preaching – II Creation — Explorations in Theology

Preaching the Scales

As a child, your imagination is a curious and wonderful thing.  You can be a firefighter, a basketball player, a Rock star, a doctor, or anything else that comes to mind.  Each of those images shows success at your chosen career.  Saving a life.  Hitting the winning shot at the buzzer.  Carrying someone over your shoulder safely out of the burning building.  But, what one rarely imagines is the hard work, the patience, the years of training and learning, and the repetitive memorization of the fundamentals that allow for success in that field.

Certainly, when I have imagined myself as a preacher, it did not see hours behind a desk studying commentaries, writing page after page of notes and manuscript, polishing and editing, practice preaching and memorizing.  I saw the tip of the iceberg of “performing” the sermon but could not see the mass of work lying beneath the ocean’s surface.  I was often astounded by the preacher’s that seemed to conjure masterful sermons from out of thin air – like a magician.  There were plenty of times where the sermon, in those particular cases, were something like smoke and mirrors – dazzling but far from real.  But, in those cases where the sermon was powerful and moving, it was not always readily apparent how much disciplined work and effort went into that sermon.  It seemed effortless.

Imagine my surprise, especially when I first began preaching, to find just how unbelievably difficult it was to create sermons.  It was a struggle – like a child learning to dribble a basketball for the first time.  I hadn’t learned the fundamentals and I was a long way from mastering them.  In fact, as is often the case when learning a new skill, my desire to create something beautiful failed to match my actual sermons.  My desire still continues to outstrip my capacity to preach.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless I become satisfied and stop trying to improve and grow.

So, how does one become a proficient preacher?  Dr. Frank Thomas shared with us some of his wisdom about becoming a better preacher.  He said that preaching is like playing an instrument.  If you want to become a good musician, you have to learn the musical scales.  You have to learn the scales, the basics, the structure (like chords), so that they become ingrained in you.  The best preachers, like the best Jazz musicians, have mastered the fundamentals.

Dr. Thomas suggests that most of the time sermons are bad because of their structure.  Sermons, he goes on, can be fixed or made better by fixing the structure – in other words, in being intentional about the fundamentals of communication.  There are a number of structures that can be utilized for sermons.  Dr. Thomas suggests picking one (four pages, Lowry’s loop, homiletical moves, etc.) and mastering that technique.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t use other structures.  But, it does mean that you gain a certain kind of freedom by  mastering that structure.  And, here, is the definition of a master: “One who has made all of the mistakes and has learned how to make adjustments.”

Being a master preacher does not mean that you do not make mistakes, but that you are learning from your mistakes.  When you recognize that something wasn’t working in a sermon, it’s best to go back and check out the structure.  Start with the fundamentals.  Was there a better way to organize the sermon?  Was it all connected?  Was there a cohesive flow?  In other words, find a structure that fits you and become proficient at the fundamentals of that particular structure.  Don’t be afraid of mistakes, but learn from them.  And, if the sermon just seems to be falling flat, go back and look at the overall structure.  Don’t stop imagining the beauty of a finished sermon, but don’t think it’s possible (at least consistently) to preach at a high level without doing the disciplined, diligent work of mastering the fundamentals.

Preaching for a Change

I am currently working on a Doctor of Ministry degree in Preaching through the Association of Chicago Theological Schools.  I am deeply passionate about preaching as a medium for communicating the Gospel.  Preaching isn’t the only means for communicating, but it has been an important part of the Church’s life.  As such, it is good practice to reflect on what we are doing as we preach.  I do not pretend to be an expert, but write this as an opportunity for me to further reflect on what I am learning and offer it to others for their own reflection.

I have been preaching now on a somewhat consistent basis for nearly a decade.  The bags under my eyes are probably in part from several “Saturday night specials” and the stress of trying to say an appropriate word to the community of faith in the preaching moment.  It has become less stressful in some ways over time.  The consistency of my preaching has improved.  But, there were still moments when I preached a sermon that proved deeply meaningful one Sunday only to be followed up the next week with something resembling a soggy firecracker.  Even after I became acquainted with various methods for preaching a sermon, it wasn’t always helpful.

It has helped me to learn about two different frameworks in a sermon.  The first framework is the structure of the sermon, which can take a variety of forms: Preaching as Celebration, Deductive, Inductive, Lowry’s Loop, Buttrick’s Homiletical Moves, etc.).  These were different ways of structure the content of a sermon.  There are many wonderful and helpful tips you can learn from a variety of these methods.  But, for me, there was still something missing.  This is where the second level of structuring illuminated my confusion and consistency in preaching.  The emotive and cognitive flow, which sounds self-evident, was something that I did not always shape well and which left sermons flatter than a Dr. Pepper that’s been sitting open for two days.  Not only did I need to structure my content; I needed to structure it to honor the emotive-cognitive arch was connects with the “intuitive” core of a person and community.  This is the double meaning of the title for this post.  Despite being inconsistent in the past, let’s become more consistent now.  And, let’s preach in a way that opens people toward a response for transformation.  Let’s preach “for a change.”

The Enlightenment was a period that was primarily focused on the cerebral comprehension of a text (i.e., scripture or any other work).  The Historical Critical method for understanding a text was the primary means utilized for getting at what a text meant.  In other words, the text held one meaning and it was the author’s original meaning, which could only be mined and understood if we were able to uncover all of the historical, factual contexts of that particular scripture.  In no way do I want to demean many of the wonderful discoveries about the historical world of scripture that emerged from that quest.

But, as Fred Craddock and many others pointed out, this created a homiletical (preaching) method that focused on an audience’s head but often left their heart disengaged.  As such, the audience could mentally assent or “believe” in a “fact” about scripture, but their lives were sometimes unaffected by these “beliefs.”  There was a disconnect created in the person through this focus on preaching as teaching for mental comprehension and assent.

So, how do we join head and heart?  Dr. Frank Thomas offers a helpful way of approaching both head and heart, cognitive and emotive, in the sermon.  His framework, which I will call the emotive/cognitive arch of a sermon, helps keep these two pieces together throughout the sermon.  Thomas points out that the emotive and the cognitive parts of ourselves cannot truly be separated.  When the emotive is in the “driver’s seat,” the cognitive is in the “back seat” asking if this experiential part of the sermon is connected to the rest of the sermon.  Vice versa, when the cognitive is leading, the emotive is asking how this connects to our lives.  It is helpful to keep in mind that both are at work; it’s just a matter of which is in focus at any given moment.

The emotive-cognitive arch has a helpful pattern for helping hearers engage in the sermon and move to a point of celebration.  The emotive-cognitive arch has an alternating pattern which has three positions: emotive over cognitive, cognitive over emotive, emotive over cognitive.  This is the three-fold pattern of the emotive-cognitive arch, which can be utilized within a number of homiletical methods (Lowry’s Loop, Craddock’s Inductive method, 3 Points and a Poem, Four Pages, etc.).  Let’s think about why this pattern is important for experiential preaching.

First, we begin with the emotive in the driver’s seat.  There are a number of ways this can be done to create emotive connection (i.e., a story, a familiar song, poetry, a joke, a physical demonstration, etc.).  The emotive connects with personal, communal experience, which creates identification and interest in the sermon itself.  If this happens, then the hearers are more open to following the preacher through the rest of the sermon.  Although the emotive is driving, the cognitive is acting like a GPS for the sermon.  Does this story connect with the rest of the sermon?  Is this going somewhere?  Does this story have a bunch of fluff?  Is this an appropriate analogy or metaphor?  Is this theologically coherent?  The cognitive shapes the emotive element, but the emotive identification at the beginning is important for the hearers.

Second, the sermon shifts to the cognitive, with the emotive helping in the background.  Here, the cognitive element is the opportunity to do some of the teaching, educating, exegetical pieces that are often necessary to comprehend the text.  This is where things like tradition, theology, philosophy might come to bear on a particular text.  But, in case we might get to “heady,” the emotive is walking alongside us asking us to make these concepts connect with our lives.  Images are the emotive vehicles of language.  As such, we can couch the theological, exegetical, historical, philosophical elements of the sermon in images that continue to allow the congregation to connect with the cognitive content.  However, images can help us keep from over-explaining.  If we have to over-explain something, it might suggest that we aren’t familiar enough with a particular topic.

Finally, the sermon switches back to the emotive as the front-runner.  This is the move toward celebration as we have resolved the complication (topic for another day) in the text/sermon.  Again, just because we are using the emotive, that does not neglect the cognitive piece.  The cognitive is still asking if the emotive elements are connected to what came before.  Is it connected with the text?  Is it connected with the situation, complication, and resolution in the sermon?  Does the celebration make too large of a leap for people to follow?  The emotive at this final part of the sermon allows us to move the cognitive part of the sermon toward the heart, engaging the whole person.

Dr. Thomas concludes that utilizing both the cognitive and the emotive in a sermon allows the congregation’s intuition, the place of core beliefs and behavior, to be changed.  The congregation has the opportunity to respond positively or negatively to a sermon (in other words, this isn’t emotional manipulation).  But, by combining both the emotive and the cognitive, it calls for some kind of response.  And, it also provides the opportunity for change.

One final note.  This post doesn’t mention the work of the Spirit in the sermon.  And, if we aren’t careful, we might conclude that the sermon doesn’t need the work of the Spirit.  That is far from true.  The Spirit should be a companion in the process of preparation, preaching, and participation.  But, for this particular post, I wanted us to diligently think through methods of how we structure sermons so that we might lessen the barriers that we mistakenly create when constructing and delivering a sermon.  And, I believe that preaching which engages the experiential center of people’s lives, both the cognitive and emotive elements, has a greater possibility of becoming deeply rooted in the lives of our congregations.