Was this prophetic preaching? I briefly wondered that as I read Leonora Tubbs Tisdale’s fine new book, Prophetic Preaching: A Pastoral Approach. My answer: No. That sermon was simple hate-mongering, deeply rooted in fear.
Now, our preacher did try to predict the future, but such forecasting isn’t really what prophetic preaching is about. Rather, it’s about shining the light of Scripture on what’s amiss in our world — some situation or condition that’s breaking God’s heart — and it’s offering an alternative vision toward which we can work to fix what’s wrong. At least that’s my definition, and I don’t think Tisdale would disagree with me.
Tisdale’s book made me wonder why Presbyterians aren’t hearing more prophetic preaching than they are. Oh, certainly there are preachers who have found effective ways to open the eyes of their congregants to the world’s evils and to our own complicity in those evils. And who then seek to inspire those congregants to become part of the solution.
But as even Tisdale notes in her book, preachers sometimes are afraid to preach prophetically. Why? For one, they fear losing their jobs. They don’t want to stir up controversy.
But the pulpit is no place for the fearful. Our preachers must help us see the world as God sees it and then help us fashion ministries that will respond to what’s broken.
Yes, this first means preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ because often what’s broken is that people have not committed themselves to follow Jesus. But it also means telling Christ’s disciples in the pews what we should be doing in the world to mediate Christ to others so the poor can hear good news, the brokenhearted can be healed, the captives liberated, and the chains that bind us all can be loosened.
Tisdale thinks prophetic preaching (my paraphrase) is:
* Rooted in the Bible.
* Challenges the status quo.
* Identifies evils, more often in the social or corporate realm than in the personal.
* Names not only “what is not of God in the world” but also points to the new reality God seeks to bring about.
* Requires the preacher’s heart to break at those things that break God’s heart.
Well, that all sounds pretty easy, right? No, of course not. But if our congregations aren’t getting that kind of preaching at least sometimes it’s hard to imagine we will be equipped to use our spiritual gifts for the task our Jewish friends call tikkun olam, or repairing the world.
I once heard a preacher give a sermon in favor of the United Nations, a sermon that used as its text an article from Time Magazine. I wrote to him afterward to say that although I’ve long been a supporter of the U.N., I thought he wasted our time by not connecting anything he said to the gospel. I could have heard that sermon by an atheist luncheon speaker at a Rotary Club.
So when I suggest that our churches need a meatier diet of prophetic preaching, I’m not asking for political treatises from the left, middle, or right, based on what the preacher read this week at news.google.com.
If I want sermons like that I’ll read the op-ed page. Instead, I want to be told how humanity is crucifying God again and how we can stop it. And if politics “ain’t beanbag,” as the old saying goes, neither is prophetic preaching.
BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his new book at www.theywerejustpeople.com. E-mail him at [email protected].