Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Book Review: Questions Preachers Ask Essays in Honor of Thomas G. Long

Several years ago I attended the Elevating Preaching Conference hosted by Wake Forest Divinity School. It was a day of worship, teaching, and preaching. Among the preachers that day was Rev. Dr. Thomas Long. I had read a few articles by Long in the Christian Century but never heard him preach. I cannot remember exactly what he said during the sermon but his poise and his presence in the pulpit was memorable. I do recall that not only did he preach the Word but he performed it. His word choices, delivery, and sense of humor and irony was of that of a "preachers preacher." Tom Long is one of the best and what a better way to honor him at his retirement than to publish a selection of essays by other well known preachers about the current state of preaching.

The volume of essays is titled: Questions Preachers Ask: Essays in Honor of Thomas G. Long edited by Scott Black Johnston, Ted A. Smith, and Lenora Tubbs Tisdale (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2016).

If you want to learn more about the current state of preaching than look no further than this book. The book is divided into five major sections:

Changing Congregational Contexts 
Church and Culture 
Hopeful Signs 

The eleven chapters are organized around specific questions that have been asked of preachers today. Of all the essays I enjoyed the third section the most: Changing Congregational Contexts. 

This section was the most interesting I think because the Church today, and all aspects of Church life today, are going through monumental shifts: lover Sunday attendance, decrease of financial offerings, shifting trends in full time ministry, differing expectations of parish life from older generations and millennials, changing the way we train and form future pastors, the list goes on and one.  Then of course there is the rise of the "Nones" as the recent Pew Research report has stated, the rise of people who say that they have no religious affiliation at all. Richard Lischer's contribution, Prophesy to the Bones was a very insightful essay: what do you say to a parish and Church body that is indeed dying, yet it too needs to hear the Word of God? How do you preach to a congregational that sees the writing not the wall but is not completely dead yet? How do you preach the Good News to a parish who only has Bad News? I think a lot of pastors would benefit from this chapter alone!

Actually ALL preachers would benefit from reading Questions Preachers Ask. Even a well seasoned pastor who has preached for a long time needs to hear the Word of God fresh again and what a better way than to read a wonderful inspirational collection of sermons from some top notch practitioners in the field? Actually, one should not just read Questions Preachers Ask but also return to the writings of Rev. Tom Long. His magnum opus, Witness to Preaching is now in its 3rd edition, perhaps you can re-read that one again? Or maybe turn to his other books and articles in order to get some fresh words about The Word again? I know I do.

While I never had Rev. Long as a teacher and only heard him preach one time I want to re-read his books as a way to learn how I can preach better, preach deeper, and preach more truthfully and honestly. I commend the editors and Westminster John Knox press for publishing such a volume. Kudos!

For more information about Questions Preachers Ask click here 

For more information about Rev. Tom Long click here