David Buttrick. Preaching the New and the Now. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 164 pp. ISBN 0-664-25789-5
Over the last decade, the influence of David Buttrick has grown as he has become one of the most prolific current writers in the field of homiletics. In his latest offering, Preaching the New and the Now, he attempts to state a rationale for preaching which instills contemporary congregations with a compelling vision of the future kingdom of God. Much of what Buttrick says has validity. Much of the theology which undergirds Buttrick’s assertions will strike a dissonant cord with most of the readers of Preaching, however. This book represents lectures which have been delivered on several seminary campuses and has the burden of calling the pulpit back to “a compelling vision of God’s social world.”
Throughout history, concepts of the historical Jesus and the kingdom of God have taken several permutations. Some of these have preached well, others have not. The reformers gave us a rationalistic faith. The theological liberals, in Richard Niebuhr’s famous characterization, gave us a God who, “without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross.” Neo-orthodoxy, argues Buttrick saw everything as an outworking of the Christ event, thus undercutting the social image of the kingdom of God. Buttrick attempts to state the case that we are to present a compelling vision of God’s future so that people can change.
To proclaim God’s future is to be prophetic. This is not to be understood in sense of looking into one’s crystal ball for a timeline of what eschatological event is going to happen when. Rather, it means to proclaim God’s faithfulness in the face of our faithlessness. It is lovingly to call the church into obedience to God’s best intentions for it.
The central question that Buttrick is attempting to raise is, “How did Jesus understand the Kingdom?” Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus came preaching, “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” The kingdom that Jesus preached renounced notions of ritual purity, religious intolerance, and national triumph, according to Buttrick. The kingdom, as understood by Buttrick comes down to a social vision of God’s new order. One which shows the wideness of God’s mercy and the inclusivity of His love. For Buttrick, the kingdom we are to preach tends to a universalism.
Buttrick proclaims the kingdom as a mystery but seems to endorse a very strong social component. While it is right to endorse a public agenda consistent with kingdom principles, the “here and now” is not all there is. Buttrick seems to laugh up his sleeve at notions of “soul-winning” (not a favorite term of this reviewer, either) and seems to have an understanding of the kingdom as a society that is in the process of coming into being but only God can bring about in all of its fullness. Buttrick moves beyond notions of purely social and individual, stating the the kingdom is seen in “interhuman” relationships.
Under this understanding, the kingdom may be experience even by pagan as they come into contact with believers although the kingdom has not come in all of its fullness. Therefore, Buttrick argues that preaching cannot be merely a recital of holy history, but it must also be a “shaping of consciousness” and a reconstruction of the social world.
The emphasis of Buttrick’s book is the need to present a new social order. He says, “We are children of an old order, claimed by Christ and called into God’s new order ahead of time.” This concern speaks to the paradox of the church claiming to represent the kingdom of God, yet seeming so ordinary so much of the time.
The kingdom remains a metaphor for the finished purposes of God which may not be seen in our lifetime. Buttrick presents a compelling case that the kingdom is a social reality. In reacting against pietistic extremes which have made the kingdom solely personal, Buttrick seems to discount the personal altogether. It is at this point that those of an evangelical persuasion will find themselves arguing with him. Still, Buttrick remains an eminent homiletician and we do well to take his thoughts into consideration.
Achtemeier, Elizabeth, Preaching Hard Texts of the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 192 pp. ISBN 1-56563-333-4; Preaching from the Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 143 pp. ISBN 0-8028-4370-0
Elizabeth Achtemeier, recently retired professor of Old Testament and Preaching at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia has released two volumes which will help preachers more faithfully interpret and preach the Old Testament. These books are presented as reference tools to help preachers exegete difficult Old Testament texts more faithfully.
In Preaching Hard Texts, Achtemeier subjectively chooses texts which preachers should preach so that the congregation may hear the “whole counsel of God” but which raise difficulties for contemporary interpreters. She adamantly maintains that if a text gives today’s preacher difficulty, it is the problem of the preacher and not the text. She does give some thought to the lectionary but is not limited to it. Some texts which she attempts to shed light on include the sacrifice of Isaac, Ezra’s admonition to Israel to put away their foreign wives, and the translation of Elijah. For each of the 32 texts included, the author includes both a section of exegesis and then some helps on moving from text to sermon.
In Preaching from the Minor Prophets, she takes a similar approach. For each of the minor prophets, she provides a brief bibliography of helpful commentaries. She is well suited to make such recommendations because she has written commentaries on each of these books herself. She then gives insights into the historical and theological contexts of each book before selecting key thematic passages which one may preach from the minor prophet.
Though not a “how to” book, necessarily, the preacher/reader will gain insights which will help him deal with prophetic material faithfully. It may be used as a reference tool in planning sermons from these obscure, but powerful spokesmen for God. She provides several examples of approaches which one may take in preaching key passages from these prophets.
Achtemeier places a very high premium on faithfulness to the text. Her strong biblical convictions as well as her thorough scholarship make these very helpful volumes for any preacher’s library.
Stephen Shoemaker. God Stories: New Narratives from Sacred Texts. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press. 322 pp. ISBN 0-8170-1265-6.
In God Stories, Stephen Shoemaker takes familiar stories from biblical narratives and in good Hebraic tradition, attempts to retell them. He is pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas, a creative preacher, and author of 3 other books.
Shoemaker cites the distinction between Halakah and Haggadah. Halakah signifies the technical exegesis of the Law of Moses. Haggadah was the creative retelling of the ancient story. Halakah is work. Haggadah is fun. As a Christian, Shoemaker views these stories in the light of the Christ event and helps the audience to see them in that light. The creative and different telling that Shoemaker put on these stories will help fire the imagination of preachers to help them do the same.

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