Carl, William J., Jr. ed. Graying Gracefully: Preaching to Older Adults. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997. 156 pp.
Most preachers have noticed that the heads of those to whom they preach seem to be getting grayer. Although George Barna asserts preachers are preaching to a “new majority” of baby-boomers, busters, and Generation X’ers (Preaching, January-February 1997), preachers must also acknowledge that as the population is aging, they will be preaching to more with graying temples.
William J. Carl, Jr. compiles the addresses from a symposium held at Phillips Theological Seminary and the University of Tulsa into a book whose purpose is to be “a homiletical attempt to fill that gap by helping preachers help others discover for themselves how to grow old gracefully to God’s glory.” The gap to which Carl alludes is the shortage of homiletical works addressed to the issue of aging.
The list of contributors alone is enough to spark the reader’s interest — Walter Burghardt, David Buttrick, Jon Berquist, Cynthia Campbell, Joseph Jeter, and James Earl Massey. Each address is followed by a sample sermon which attempts to incorporate themes discussed in the lecture. A key theme articulated by William Carl is that sermons to older adults should preferably be “proclamations of promise not pronouncements of punishment.”
Several myths about old age are shattered within these pages. One myth is that senior adults want to live in the past and are content only to “remember when.” Instead, seniors are keenly interested in the kind of world in which their grandchildren will grow up. Another myth states that seniors have quit growing and want merely to preserve the status quo. Those who minister with seniors have observed that they are among the most open to new ideas many times.
Burghardt attempts to discuss Erikson’s key polarity of integration versus despair. The key challenge identified by Burghardt is to make peace with one’s flawed existence and to come to terms with the death and decay which is inevitable in life. Burghardt suggests that effective preaching to seniors flows out of effective ministry to and with seniors. Spend adequate time with them in pastoral visitation so that their concerns are understood and can be discussed with integrity.
Buttrick and Berquist each attempt to trace a biblical view of aging. Part of caring for the elderly comes from the command to “Honor one’s parents.” Aging means different things in different cultures. Even in biblical times, life expectancy was much longer for urban dwellers than it was for people in the rural villages.
Carl summarizes this compendium with a chapter dealing with an agenda for preaching. Some of the issues Carl identifies for preaching are family, loneliness, grief, growth and development, and health. He asserts, “Since physical, mental, social, and spiritual activities all contribute to personal health even in old age, stewardship of time, talent and involvement need to be preached again and again.”
The church is growing older. The average age of mainline protestants is nearly 60. As church members age, this will be a helpful volume in preaching to senior citizens.
Toalston, Art. Lamp Unto My Feet. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. 340 pp. ISBN 0-06-067961-1. $18.00
Art Toalston, Editor at Baptist Press (SBC), has produced an intriguing volume in this collection of devotionals from well-known Christians. While one must guard against unduly placing someone on a pedestal because they are in the public eye — the cult of idolizing well-known Christians — our faith can be strengthened by listening to these leaders share what their favorite verse of Scripture mean to them.
For example, having grown up in the Washington, D.C. area, I was encouraged to read the devotional of Fox Sport’s NFL anchor James Brown. He got his start in Washington and I have followed his career with interest. I never knew of his faith in Jesus Christ, however. Personal Redskin heroes Art Monk and Darrell Green also share in this volume. Political figures are featured as well, ranging from Vice-President Al Gore to his defeated rival, Jack Kemp. Kemp’s wife Joanne is also featured. The devotions are not limited merely to those in “secular” positions. Billy Graham, Bill Hybels, and Lloyd Ogilvie, to name only a few, share reflections on their “life’s verse.” Other contributors include civil rights figure Rosa Parks, actor Gavin MacLeod, and neuro-surgeon Ben Carson.
Toalston has selected individuals from across the spectrum of theology and life experiences to share in this collection. One weakness may be the alphabetical organization of the contributors. It might be strengthened if more attention were given to the church calendar and seasons of Lent and Advent, Easter and Christmas, or special days like Mother’s Day. As in any collection, the devotions are of uneven quality. Nonetheless, Toalston has given us a special volume which could prove to be a rich sermon resource.
Alyce M. McKenzie; Preaching Proverbs: Wisdom for the Pulpit. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1996; 170 pp. Paper. ISBN 0-664-25653-8
As I review the sermons I have preached, aside from Obadiah, (like Leslie Holmes — see p. 43 this issue) probably the most neglected book is Proverbs. That is because, like many, I have found it exceedingly difficult to preach from the Proverbs. By definition, a Proverb is a concise, well-worded aphorism or statement that by itself captures the essence of the topic. As Dave Bland asks in his article on preaching from Proverbs, “After reading a proverb, what else is left to say?”
Alyce McKenzie provides a helpful model in learning how to incorporate the insights from proverbial wisdom into our preaching ministry. She broadens our understanding of proverbs and shows the prevalence of proverbial wisdom in every day discourse. She then speaks of proverbs either creating and subverting order, both in biblical and contemporary contexts and then provides model sermons in which proverbs are paired with other texts.
In the first section of the book, “Proverbs as Wisdom for the Pulpit,” the author tells us what makes proverbs work and what they do. Though this is not a “how-to” book, McKenzie provides a helpful section in how to preach proverbs. Some imagination on the part of the preacher is needed to answer questions such as “Who is the narrator?” “What is the topic under consideration?” and “What norms or mores are either affirmed or subverted?” As proverbs are heard in worship services, the community of faith will find wisdom for life in the world.
In Part Two, “Proverbs that Create and Subvert Order,” McKenzie provides a helpful discussion of proverbs creating order, subverting order, of Jesus’ use of proverbs to subvert order and an encyclopedic cataloging of contemporary categories of proverbs. McKenzie is not writing to provide a “how-to” on structuring sermons from the book of Proverbs. Instead, she is writing to show how proverbial wisdom and aphorisms can strengthen one’s preaching ministry. Her final section provides model sermons demonstrating her use of proverbial aphorisms in preaching. This book provides both helpful stimulation and fresh insight into a new approach to the preparation of sermons.
Thomas G. Long and Edward Farley, Preaching as a Theological Task: World, Gospel, Scripture. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1996. 191 pp. Paper. ISBN 0-664-25617-1.
Over the last decade and a half, the homiletical influence of David Buttrick, Professor of Homiletics at Vanderbilt Divinity School has blossomed. His massive volume Homiletic has become a staple of well-read homileticians. Other works such as Preaching Jesus Christ, A Captive Voice, and The Mystery and the Passion have had significant influence as well. In Preaching as a Theological Task, Thomas G. Long, of Princeton Seminary and Buttrick’s colleague at Vanderbilt, Edward Farley, bring together a panel resembling a who’s who of the Academy of Homiletics to reflect upon Buttrick’s concerns and contributions to the field of preaching.
Viewing Buttrick’s concerns in three primary areas — communicating the gospel to the world, clearly discerning the nature of the gospel itself, and rightly using the Scriptures in preaching — the book is organized in those three areas. David Buttrick preaches out of what some may call a political concern.
He wants to take the gospel out of the church house into meaningful engagement with a pagan culture. He believes that the phenomenological approach is the most effective means of accomplishing that goal. A key concept for Buttrick is “How does a sermon ‘form in consciousness’?” Buttrick’s concern is significant for those who preach. How does the sermon cease to be merely an informative lecture about past events or esoteric agendas of the preacher and begin to make a difference in the lives of my listeners? David Greenhaw discusses this aspect of Buttrick’s homiletical method as an attempt to transcend the subjective-objective split in homiletics.
William J. Carl helps provide a framework for Buttrick’s political concerns in preaching. Rather than isolating the evangelistic and the social gospels in rival, competing camps (as has tended to happen in a schism between mainline and evangelical churches), Carl writes, “Twenty-first century evangelical preaching that addresses the whole person (individual and social) living in the context of community, world, and the whole of creation has to be street-smart and tough-minded enough to know the gospel, the culture it is addressing, along with its worldview and its weaknesses, and how to communicate clearly without selling out and worrying about the future or the survival of the church as we know it.”
Carl scores a point for Buttrick’s concern for “out-church” preaching. Buttrick voices a deep and abiding concern for taking the gospel to the world — for loosing it from the fetters that keep it bound to the church house. The question that needs to be answered, then, is “What is this gospel that we are to proclaim?” Fred Craddock, Tom Long, and Ernest T. Campbell answer this question in light of Buttrick’s contributions.
While we rightly speak of attempting to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, Craddock makes the case that our task is much greater than that. Paul told the Roman church that it was his task to proclaim the gospel of God. He states, “Jesus-talk or Spirit-talk, unless rooted in and informed by faith in God, can easily sink into sectarianism or float away into sentimentalism.” It could be argued that a greater theocentricity in preaching necessarily calls for a lower Christology. Buttrick would argue that it places the Jesus story in context. After Jesus Christ is the Reconciler between God and humanity.
Tom Long calls for a discussion of sin which goes beyond the personal scale. He laments that such a discussion has been taken hostage by the “right-wing.” Sin is systemic and corporate. Sin has wrought havoc on society in ways that go much deeper than individual moral transgression. It is unfortunate that any discussion of sin has taken on such “partisan” overtones. While those on the right seem only to pay attention to personal morality, those on the left seem only to notice social injustice. Long gives a powerful story of the downing of Korean Air Lines 007 as an illustration of the emprisoning power of sin. The pilot who fired that fateful missile shot suspected something was amiss but had to follow through on rigidly defined procedures.
David Buttrick has made a strong contribution to the field of homiletics. As a professor, he is a warm and caring individual. There are aspects to his approach to Scripture which will prove problematic to evangelicals. Many of the contributors to this volume make statements which are similarly problematic. Campbell’s claim that a high Christology fails to take seriously the claims of other world religions is simply untenable for evangelicals.
Co-editor Edward Farley finds the bridge paradigm used by those who would try to relate biblical and contemporary worlds to be an ineffective construct. He makes the unsubstantiated assertion that “there is no necessary reason why a biblical passage has as such a preachable content and because such content is only rarely what we call the gospel, this paradigm sticks the preacher with an impossible task.” Further, he says, “we are summoned to preach the gospel, not the Bible.” Indeed, P.T. Forsyth asserted that we are to preach the gospel and use the Bible. Farley seems not to embrace that point.
Farley’s gospel becomes highly subjective, which is interesting given Buttrick’s concern to overcome the subjective/objective split in preaching. Farley is concerned that preaching communicate the gospel and not be merely an academic enterprise. His assertions about biblical authority may prove unsettling to evangelicals.
The scholars in this festschrift in honor of David Buttrick engage his thought and contributions on several levels. Most scholars are from a more moderate main-line perspective. It is most likely that the issues raised will find their fullest discussion and resonance in the academy rather than in the parish.

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