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Preaching While the Church is Under Reconstruction: The Visionary Role of Preachers in a Fragmented World

By Thomas H. Troeger

Abingdon. 1999. Pb. 176 pp. $17. ISBN 0-687-08549-7

Reviewed by Steve Sloop

 

I approached this assignment as an academic chore and was delightfully surprised to have an enriching spiritual experience. Troeger knows what it is like to minister as a pastor, and he scratched where many of my fellow pastor/preachers and I are itching.

He addresses the discouraging condition of crumbling mainline congregations and sees the possibility for God’s emerging new life. Using familiar biblical images such as the “cloud of witnesses,” baptism, Communion, and Jesus’ cross, tomb and resurrection, he reminds us that all these images were born out of distress, confusion and the collapse of the familiar. He gives us powerful new images such as a “God-shaped hole in the church roof,” Queen Helen’s search for the true cross, a sculpture on a tomb and our growing understanding of cosmology as ways to connect with our Risen Lord.

Visionary preaching is Troeger’s answer to the discouraged weariness of the minister and the malaise of church members. He calls us away from the twin idols of “fundamentalistic biblicism,” which is suffocatingly rigid, and “scholarly biblicism,” which is stuffy and lifeless. He exposes the superficiality of the new independent “super” churches which avoid the parishioner’s pain and are blind to growing injustice in our world.

According to Troeger, visionary preaching begins with a preacher’s vital, prayerful walk with God. It is God’s vision, not the preacher’s, which we must see and then proclaim. I felt a sense of excitement replace my frequent sense of weariness and discouragement, when I was reminded that God’s power to create the new always comes out of chaos, conflict and controversy. I recalled from my work with addicts that recovery always begins when the addict “hits bottom” and his or her life seems to break apart.

Troeger has not written a book to teach us new techniques for preaching; rather, this is a book which clarifies to whom we are preaching and the “good news” which God is yearning for us to hear. At the same time, by his creative use of images, the author opens up exciting ways to breathe life into our tired patterns of sermon preparation and delivery.

I highly recommend this hope-filled book.

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