Among the many developments that have taken place within American Protestantism in the last three decades, the changes in the weekly sermon has often been left unstudied.
In the journal Books & Culture (September/October), Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. of Calvin College surveys the field by reviewing twenty leading books by homiletics (or preaching) specialists. This leads him to his major thesis: the new homiletics “celebrates pilgrimage, not propositions.”
The author calls on preachers to recognize the profound changes that have occurred within congregational audiences during this time period. No longer much concerned with the intricacies of carefully crafted expositions of theological doctrine, today’s audiences respond to preachers who customize their messages to meet these peoples’ needs at this particular time in history. And that group is not much concerned with the old theological wars of the l6th century.
The new homiletics also gives careful attention to the several audiences involved; young, old, well educated, activist, and indifferent. Plantinga notes that the new homiletics stress letting the Bible speak for itself; and telling the great biblical stories without embellishment.
In harmony with other current religious reforms, preaching is done best when it leans towards the informal, the anecdotal, and the personal. Further, the new homiletics seeks not so much to elucidate the deepest meanings of the assigned texts, but to preach more to “the ear” rather than “the eye.” Effective new preaching uses stories, dialogue and sentence fragments just as a person uses them in everyday speech. Beyond that, preaching that reaches the audiences sounds less like essays and more like odysseys.
They unfold in a dynamic sequence of linked “frames” rather than as a still photo. Finally, the gospel message of the Bible is as always the central theme for effective preaching. With new materials, more informality, sermons for the everyday laity, and trust that the message of grace is understood in common parlance, the new homiletics will likely find a home in the new world of Protestantism in America.
(Books & Culture, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
— By Erling Jorstad