Walter Brueggemann. Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press. 1997. 155 pp.
I’m mad at Walter Brueggemann. I’ve been wanting to embark on a writing project and have been struggling to name the times in which we are living — a time of cultural and societal decay and a time in which the church no longer holds sway over the dominant cultural values. Walter Brueggemann has struggled with these same issues and has defined the contemporary context with much more academic finesse than I would be able to bring to the project.
With powerful allusion to the image of a church in exile, Brueggemann offers a new paradigm for preaching in our contemporary Western cultural milieu. Though his thoughts are mostly directed at the so-called mainline denominations, pastors of a more evangelical bent will profit from wrestling with the issues Brueggemann articulates. Most pastors today are keenly aware that they are preaching to a church that does not have the upper hand in cultural issues.
The dominant paradigm which Brueggemann adopts is that of a church in exile, comparing the present situation to Israel in Babylon. There is a remnant which struggles to remain faithful but is struggling to learn how to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. In both situations, Brueggemann sees a “loss of a structured, reliable ‘world’ where ‘treasured symbols of meaning are mocked and dismissed’.” The scriptural resources which arise out of this time in Israel’s life provide material for preaching during this time but they also provide some understanding for the times in which we live.
Though painful, the exile evoked “the most brilliant literature and the most daring theological articulation in the Old Testament,” asserts Brueggemann. The exile is a time to grieve the loss of what was and is a time of feeling like a “motherless child.” The greatest threat however, is to cave in to the power of despair.
The task of preaching specifically, and ministry in general during these times, is “to ‘represent the catastrophe’ and to ‘reconstruct, replace or redraw’ the paradigms of meaning that will permit ‘creative survival’.”
There are four specific components of preaching that will help the church move through the process of adaptation needed for survival. The first is lamentation and complaint wherein the church is enabled to “represent the catastrophe”.
The biblical laments and complaints such as are found in Lamentations and Psalms provide a model for this. To use more psychoanalytic terms, this is acknowledging what once was and coming to terms with the loss. Second is the step of assurance. In spite of disappointment and travail, the community is assured of God’s presence and care. Third are “doxologies of defiance.” More than being memories of past events, doxologies are ‘anticipatory assertions of what God is about to do.’ Fourth, the promise stage asserts that “God is not a prisoner of circumstance but… can call into existence that which does not exist.”
Brueggemann is quick to point out that it is not the theological absolutes of the church that are no longer trusted, but rather the modes of articulating those truths are being called into question. Churches are in a liminal, or “in-between” time when there is broad consensus that the old modes of being and doing church may no longer be viable and new models and forms of church have yet to emerge fully.
Brueggemann asserts that the need for such times is a “safe place in which to host such ambiguity and to notice the tension … with freedom to see and test alternative [readings] of reality.” The church is changing so preaching must change.
Much of the change that is taking place is inherent in a shift from a dominant modern to post-modern paradigm. Since the church is no longer as influential in culture as it once was, preaching should be seen as preaching to exiles, argues Brueggemann. Such preaching should be Yahweh-focused, to use Brueggemann’s term, and almost subversive as it creates a space for the worshipper into which the ruling powers have no access — much like African-American preaching. Scriptural resources for preaching in this manner come out of the prophets who were addressing the exiles, particularly Isaiah and Micah.
Preaching to the baptized, or to exiles, in no way means that one ceases to preach to society’s power brokers. The manner in which they are addressed is different, however. Prophetic oracles addressed to the nations serve as models here.
If one must rethink the method and mode of preaching in exile, one must also rethink the context in which one preaches. Brueggemann uses his Old Testament scholarly training and background to think along Niebuhrian lines in relating Christ and culture. The exile period as it relates to church speaks of a time in which the community of faith had little influence over public policy, was tempted to syncretism with foreign gods, and struggle for survival.
The best survival strategy for this group was to remember their connectedness to history. Also, the community in the Old Testament lived off of the prophecies of hope and an apocalyptic type of literature that allowed the exiles to see that their continued hope as a community lay in the faithfulness of God. Thirdly, the community of faith found that their hope was nurtured through a dynamic engagement with scripture. It was during the Babylonian exile that the process of canonization and the rabbinic tradition was born.
In concluding, Brueggemann traces three stages in the faith journey of Israel which are analagous to the situation of the church in America. First is the stage of Genesis and Exodus where faithful pilgrims took risks and excitedly experienced God’s blessing in starting a new thing in their day and time. Second is the story of becoming established in the kingdom. Third is the exile experience of being disconsolate and refusing to be comforted.
The saga may be encapsulated — sovereign promise, sovereign demand, sovereign absence. While the American experience doesn’t include physical, geographical displacement, it does include marginalizing of our faith and an entire series of societal and cultural pathologies which characterize our day and time.
The exile for Israel could have resulted in despair or assimilation. The third option was to respond with theological freshness and imagination. It is to recognize that in the midst of chaos and displacement, God is even yet at work. Brueggemann encourages what he calls “disciplines of readiness” in which the best of old theological formulations are retained but one is mindful of the “new thing” God is doing.
Brueggemann is a very stimulating writer and cogent analyst. Exile is a resonant image for the contemporary situation of the American church, providing a helpful paradigm for preaching and church life.
There is one feature of exile that does not come through in Brueggemann’s writing however. That is that the exile was an act of God’s judgment on an unrepentant and recalcitrant nation that constantly turned away from Him and killed His messengers, the prophets. While the church may certainly take comfort from knowing that exile can be a creative time theologically, could it be that what such a church really needs to hear is a strong word of repentance?
Dan S. Lloyd, Leading Today’s Funerals: A Pastoral Guide for Improving Bereavement Ministry. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1997. 125 pp. ISBN 0-8010-9032-6.
Among the most anxiety-inducing experiences for any young preacher are those special events that seem not to be taught adequately in seminary — weddings and funerals. A wedding makes a preacher nervous because he doesn’t want anything to detract from the joy of the newly married couple. Truth of the matter is though, the preacher is not the focus of attention at a wedding. Funerals are a different matter, though.
What the preacher says at a funeral has power either to bring healing and resolution to grief or to turn someone completely away from the gospel. The anxiety of a funeral — apart from not wanting to “mess up” a family’s opportunity to say goodbye to their loved one — comes from a desire to be a good steward of the opportunity to influence people toward the gospel when they are as open to hearing the good news as they will ever be.
Dan Lloyd has filled a gaping void in homiletical literature with this practical handbook of factors to consider in funeral ministry. I avoid using the term “how-to” because that’s not what this book is. Lloyd walks through the entire journey of bereavement ministry, from the 2:00 a.m. phone call that a family has lost a loved one, through the service itself, to the after-care that lasts up to a year following the burial.
Lloyd writes from vast experience, having conducted 125 funerals in 5 years. He has not only been a pastor, but has also been an “on-call” minister for a funeral home. By offering his services for those who have no church affiliation, he has broad experience in conducting funerals for those whom he has never met and for those who give no reason to believe that they were ever Christians.
Lloyd deftly handles the purpose of funerals and offers pointers for meeting with the family following their loss and in planning the service. He does not teach that the funeral is the time for emotional manipulation and coerced professions of faith. Rather, he advocates presenting the gospel in a sensitive, relevant way so that the grieving family may find hope. He also emphasizes the importance of discerning those individuals who may be open to further discussions about the gospel and attempting to follow-up with them later.
There are helpful sections to read about how to deal with funerals for a suicide victim, the death of a child, or a murder victim, to name a few. There is also an appendix which gives an interview form which may be used with the family of the deceased, a personal checklist to use in preparation, and model services he has conducted. The tone of the book makes it obvious that these model services are not offered for someone else to lift in toto and superimpose over another grief situation. Lloyd’s book is unique in that it is a practical, helpful guide to those who have the difficult, yet fulfilling work of ministering to families in times of grief and sorrow. I commend it to you.
Rethinking the Church by James Emery White (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 144 pages, paperback, $11.99.
Here is a book about building a church written by someone who is doing precisely that. He is founding pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, a church which he planned and established in recent years and which today draws more than a thousand persons to its weekly “seeker services.” More important is that 80 percent of the church’s growth now comes through evangelism. White has been a pastor, denominational leader, consultant, and has drawn on insights from all those roles to “rethink” what the church needs to do to reach a postmodern generation.
White’s book focuses primarily on methodology: how does the church reach out to a generation that does not share the Christian presuppositions of earlier generations in the U.S. He lays out the challenge we face — why don’t people attend church, and why is the church turned inward instead of outward. He recognizes (along with Rick Warren and other recent writers) that the church is failing to reach beyond its own walls, with almost all growth coming from within the church community; almost all our growth is either biological — baptizing our children — or geographical — moving people from one congregation to another.
In succeeding chapters he deals with ways to rethink the church’s structure and practice — worship, discipleship, ministry, community — in order to position congregations to reach persons who are unchurched. The text is replete with illustrations and insights on the nature of the church and our changing culture. Any pastor or church leader who is committed to church growth will benefit from White’s contribution. (Michael Duduit)
Visualizing the Sermon by Hugh Litchfield (Lima, OH: Fairway Press, 1996), 177 pages, paperback, $10.95.
One of the most popular workshops at the National Conference on Preaching has been Hugh Litchfield’s session on “Preaching Without Notes.” The insights he shares in that session are offered (in expanded form) in this valuable book.
Litchfield, who is Professor of Homiletics at North American Baptist Seminary in Sioux Falls, SD, offers a four-stage process which facilitates preaching without notes: Simplifying the sermon; Picturing the sermon; Imaging the sermon; and Absorbing the sermon. The book explains and illustrates each of these steps, and includes sermons in which Litchfield demonstrates the process.
This is an immensely practical book which will be of great help to many preachers who recognize the great need to look at the congregation (not the notes) as they preach. (The book can be ordered from Fairway Press at 1-800-537-1030.) (Michael Duduit)
1000 Windows: A Speaker’s Sourcebook of Illustrations by Robert C. Shannon (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Co., 1997), 287 pages, paperback.
Readers of Preaching will recognize Shannon as a frequent contributor to our “To Illustrate” column. This book is a collection of 1,000 sermon illustrations on 300 topics, most drawn from history and literature. A helpful feature is a cross-referenced index and a scripture index for the illustrations.
Shannon is a retired homiletics professor, and has a good eye for illustrative material. Preachers will find this volume to be a useful resource in the constant search for that “just right” illustration for Sunday’s sermon. (Michael Duduit)
Walter Brueggemann. Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press. 1997. 155 pp.