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 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Book Review: Preaching Gospel Essays in Honor of Richard Lischer

When I saw that Cascade Books recently published a volume of essays in honor of the Duke Divinity School's Professor of Homiletics, Richard Lischer, I knew that I had to read it. I was first introduced to Lischer's writings several years ago by a colleague who told me that I just had to read his books. I devoured his memoir Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery (Harmony Publishing,
2002) which recalls his time as a Lutheran pastor in a small town. Lischer is a preacher's preacher, teaching preaching and homiletics at Duke for 37 years. He will be retiring at the end of the Spring 2017 semester.

This volume of essays is a tribute to Prof. Lischer's long and industrious career. The seventeen essays are from former students and colleagues as well as from a diverse Christian spectrum. Each touch on an important aspect of the proclaimed word, and highlight Prof. Lischer's contribution to the field of homiletics. This is not a dry academic assortment of essays which one often finds in volumes such as these. Some of the essays such as Profs.  Stanley Hauerwas and Ellen Davis include not just an essay but sermons as well. As I was reading I thought what a wonderful way to honor a professor of homiletics than by including a few sermons too!

The essays include a wide variety of topics: preaching the Old Testament, social justice and the gospel, the gospel and spirituals, the gospel in the public arena, as well as others.

While some books of essays are arranged topically, this one is not, it would be very hard to do so, given the wide variety and range. Yet they all do share a common thread; every Sunday human preachers with human words help make the Word real and alive for people in the pews, and we do this Sunday after Sunday, year after year, season after season, and it's hard work. However, this work, according to Richard Lischer is not a burden, but a blessing, since we know in the Gospel of John that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. After reading Preaching Gospel I have a lot of gratitude for Prof. Lischer and all of his labors. I never heard Richard Lischer preach in person nor did I have him as a teacher, but I do know that after reading this volume of essays, as well as his own writings and sermons, that I have gained a lot for doing so, and for this I am grateful.

I congratulate the editors who put together this volume of essays and I commend and congratulate Prof. Lischer for his long teaching career. It has born fruit and we are all grateful for that.

For more information about Preaching Gospel: Essays in Honor of Richard Lischer click here