“Preaching with Variety” by Jeffery Arthurs

The bibliographical citations are from reputable resources.  Arthurs uses ideas from several well-known preachers and theologians: Thom Long, Fred Craddock, David Buttrick, Robert Alter, and C. S. Lewis, to name a few.  Although Arthurs does quote Elizabeth Achtemeier, his sources are scantly filled by women or minorities.  This is a real drawback to the book in terms of holistic styles of preaching.

God is the “Great Communicator.”  Scripture is the means by which God communicates with us.  Within Scripture there is a variety of genres and literature types.  If God uses variety, then there is a good reason for us to use variety in our sermons as well.  The variety of literature also provides for a variety of responses in the audience.  Through these various modes of communication, we are able to look at the facets of reality.

Preaching with variety also involves preaching in the vernacular of our congregations.  If we cannot communicate in culturally appropriate ways, it may be difficult for our audience to receive the messages we send.  In our present context, we need to engage the visual senses.  Likewise, personal experience and participation is expected in our sermons.  Although sermons are auditory and oral events, we must find ways to include a holistic experience that engages the entire person.  Long-term learning best occurs in this environment.

The contents of the book are separated into several genres: psalms, narrative, parables, proverbs, epistles, and apocalyptic literature.  Each of these forms communicates in a different fashion, whether through song, story, metaphor, or logical progression.  Each form has its own peculiar way of communicating.  Sermons in some way should mimic the intention of the genre.  In this way, the impact of the genre might also be upheld.  Fred Craddock states, “Let doxologies be shared doxologically, narratives narratively, polemics polemically, and parables parabolically.  In other words, biblical preaching ought to be biblical” (166).

This might include making a brief statement to summarize your sermons over a Proverb.  Or, it might include singing or responsive readings in the sermon of particular Psalms.  Perhaps, instead, they would be poetic in describing God’s activity.  Apocalyptic might use symbols, hymns, and doxologies to convey its contents of God’s victory.  Story might be woven throughout a sermon to help the audience identify with the characters of a narrative.  Dialogue and discourse might be implemented to convey an epistle’s meaning.  The impact of the genre, rather than its exact form, is a vehicle for transporting meaning from the text to the audience.

Overall, I thought this book was extremely helpful in understanding the Biblical genres and how their forms might be implemented in a sermon.  Although we do not have to be slaves to the genres, they provide some very creative frameworks from which to construct your sermon.  And, in doing so, one can potentially keep some of the intentions of the text for the contemporary audience.

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Israel’s Praise: Doxology against Idolatry and Ideology

I recently finished this book.  I found it interesting and challenging.  Brueggemann takes a look at Israel’s liturgy and praise, namely the Psalms.  Through the Psalms he tracks the various reasons that these Psalms were formed.  It is all about world-making.  Some of the Psalms are made in response to the deliverance God has affected for His people.  They are specific in their nature, describing God as One who acts.  Some Psalms are later employed to legitimate royal authority.  God is described but seems to have no action.

The royal authority renders God as one who legitimates their authority and does not act to overthrow the status quo.  There is a tension that grows between these two uses of the Psalms.  Psalms threaten to break out against authority that has become abusive and oppressive.  It threatens to overthrow regimes of malevolent power.  The use of the Psalms to maintain the status quo seeks to secure the realm and maintain itself through the use of liturgy.

Brueggemann’s final chapter then expounds some of the ways that the American church has fallen into some of these same traps.  We allow the culture to shape our liturgy rather than our liturgy to shape our world.  We render God an idol rather than an untame God that we cannot control and that might call for us to change.

Is the Church and Christians willing to live in relationship with a God who acts and calls us to act?  Or, are we simply going to bow the knee to those principalities and powers that seek to keep us under thumb so that God’s Kingdom is not made known but is subverted?  True praise remembers a God that delivered us from the depths of bondage so that we might not return to that bondage but live gloriously free lives that reflect and honor God in all we do!  When this happens, the world is changed dramatically.

In thinking about Sabbath, perhaps it serves a similar function in our own lives.  It is doxology that keeps us from simply accepting our culture’s idolatry and ideology.  Rather, it is an imaginative discourse with God and the community in order that God’s Kingdom might come to fruition within our world.  Sabbath is ignored and pushed to the side because it is truly dangerous.

It threatens those authorities and powers that seek legitimacy over our lives.  Sabbath undermines the status quo that renders the weak and the powerless vulnerable.  Instead, Sabbath is interacting with a living God (not an idol) that is continuously transforming us so that we are Christ-like in our world.  And, if that is true, we cannot remain idle (idol?) as the Christian community in our world.  Is rest a part of reclaiming true worship?  Without a doubt!  There is a significant difference between rest and idleness.