Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Preaching in your context - does it take away from the Message?

            From time to time all preachers would do well to evaluate the connection between their theology and their preaching. The title of Aaron E. Lavender's book suggests that he has done that, and so I was interested in his conclusions.
            In the interest of full disclosure, it is my interest in multi-cultural worship, rather than my race that drew me to the book. I often find that although a book or paper is directed primarily to members of a certain ethnic group or race, there are many eternal truths that cross the borders that men have so arbitrarily defined. And that's the case with this book. Dr Lavender is writing within the context of a culture to which I don't belong. And the group to who he writes is made obvious in the title of the book" Enduring Truth: Restoring Sound Theology and Relevance to African American Preaching. (B&H Academic, 2016)
            Lavender addresses four main points in this fairly short book . First he looks at the crisis, which he identifies as the 'erosion of biblical preaching in African American pulpits'. Next he addresses the importance of sound exegesis, so that preaching stays true to the text, and is also relevant within the context and culture. Third, he develops a theology of preaching and lastly addresses relevance, especially in regards to postmodernism.  In an appendix, he offers a couple of sermon outlines.
            The crisis: Lavender makes some excellent points about how a number of issues and theologies have impacted preaching in some African American pulpits. 'Black liberation' and 'prosperity' theologies coupled with problems caused by racial segregation lead to what I would call a culture specific preaching style. But most of the points that Lavender makes could easily be applied to other cultures. Hispanics may not have been enslaved, at least not in this country, but there are certainly other parallels when it comes to jobs, politics, education, socio-economic status and discrimination.
            As he moves on to exegesis, the reader, presumably the African American preacher,  is invited to understand how important is careful interpretation of the text. While it is easy, and natural, to want to apply the text to one's current situation, the preacher must be careful to not read into the text something that isn't there. A student of the Gospels will have learned that there are often multiple layers in the parables, when we are taught that there can be multiple meanings, it's easy to add one more. Of particular help in this section is a sub-section dealing with building blocks to a sound exegesis.
            Lavender is a proponent of expository preaching, and at one time I might have agreed with him, that exposition is the best way to preach. Delving into what the text tells us, and then applying it to our current reality is an excellent way to stay true to the text. Over the years though, I have come to believe that sometimes I can't do something a certain way just because that's what I prefer. If the audience is not going to respond to (understand) one style of preaching, it may be up to the preacher to change his style. The method, not the message, changes. In a church with a long history of expository preaching, and in which there are few outsiders coming in, then it might not be necessary to change the preaching style, but to reach an unchurched group, the preacher, much like Jesus, might have to reach the people where they are.  
            Because the pastor in an African American church is typically an authority figure,  he had best be sure his preaching adheres strictly to scripture. I wonder though, how long it will be before African American churches follow the lead of many white churches: the pastor is often seen as more of an employee than as a spiritual leader.
            And that brings us to the fourth section: Relevance.  Our society has changed, and is changing. Post modernity, and a post Christian  society means that there are people entering our churches for the first time. More and more we see biracial couples, and their children, coming to church. Somebody is likely to feel out of place, because segregation is no longer the operative word in the church setting.
            God's enduring truths should be shouted from every pulpit in America on a regular basis. Unfortunately too many pastors have decided that there are too many other things that need attention, and as a result preaching suffers- not only the content, but the context and the execution. Pastors of all races, colors, and backgrounds will benefit from reading this book, answering the discussion questions provided for each chapter, and then asking if they are truly preaching the Enduring Truths of scripture, or have they allowed society to influence the Word more than they use the Word to impact society.

            I  received a digital copy of this book I from B&H Academic in exchange for my review. 

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