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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"Preaching Jesus Christ Today" (Annette Brownlee)

TITLE: Preaching Jesus Christ Today: Six Questions for Moving from Scripture to Sermon
AUTHOR: Annette Brownlee
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, (190 pages).

Preaching is unlike speaking. It is not about giving a talk. Neither is it a speech or good advice about what to do with our lives. Preaching is essentially about proclaiming Christ and declaring the Kingdom of God coming to earth. It is about letting the ancient truths of the Bible come alive in modern contexts. Yet, it is challenging for preachers who had to prepare, produce, and preach a sermon week in and week out. Depending on the texts, one may have too many things to pack into a limited time or simply has too little to say due to the difficulty of the passage. Preachers in general need help from time to time, though some more and others less. For author and preacher Annette Brownlee, it is about preaching Jesus Christ and to move from text to interpretation to application through six core questions. Questions like:
  1. What do I see? (Preacher as Witness)
  2. Whom do I see? (Preacher as Witness to Christ)
  3. What is Christ's Word to me? (Preacher as Confessor)
  4. What is Christ's Word to us? (Preacher as Theologian)
  5. What does it look like? (Preacher as Theologian of a Broken Body)
  6. What does it look like? (Preacher as Witness to Christ in a Disobedient World)

These six questions are derived from four fundamental convictions. First, all preaching is theological in that the Bible shapes the way we preach. Second, preaching is a practice that is a response to the Holy Spirit's prompting in our hearts. Third, preaching is about proclaiming Christ for it is Christ who holds all things together. Finally, preaching is about pastoral practices. All four of these convictions are played out through the six core questions above. Underlying these convictions and questions is the central belief that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. From this truth, preachers are to make known the claims of Christ in all of our contested realities within and without. The first question highlights the importance of observation and attentiveness to what the text says instead of what we think it says or what we want it to say. We read with trust. We read like children taking it all in with glee and gladness. We are given examples of intratextual and figural reading to understand the internal logic of Scripture and the way the truth connects to other parts of Scripture. Noticing the text, the meaning, and the movement, we progress to the second question to witness of Christ in the Word. After all, if Christ is the Logos, surely we can see Christ revealed in the texts. This calls for "disciplined imagination," a skill that involves both art and science. The ability to see Christ in the Scripture is linked to lingering in the Scriptures long enough. The author gives us some practices with regard to describing Jesus' presence through various links. These links include historical contexts, relationships, spiritual battles, themes of humanity and divinity, etc. The third question humbles the preacher. It is that time of recognizing our need for God's forgiveness on us. We learn about the hazards of preaching that we unconsciously put ourselves and our agendas before God. The fourth question trains us to be theologians, to be the bridge between God and the world before us. The fifth question extends this to the body of Christ, the Church, to move from me to we. Finally, the sixth question enables us to look at the way we can witness Christ to the world. The last two chapters of the book bring everything together through sermon examples and illustrations.

Three Thoughts
First, Annette Brownlee has enabled us to refocus on preaching as a Christ-centered endeavor. This is crucial. Just like how musical instruments need to be tuned and recalibrated at periodic intervals, we too need to recalibrate our preaching back to Christ. Her observations about the ease in which preachers exit from Scripture contexts and make too quick a beeline toward applications in our modern contexts. Without proper understanding of the texts and a sustained meditation on the Word in Christ, we would easily miss the key truths of the Word. The first two questions indeed help us be witnesses of Christ. In an age of browsing and quick swipes of digital texts, our attentiveness have been compromised by an impatience for quick results and efficient use of our time. As a result, we compress our meditation of Scripture and produce snippets of truth instead of the whole truth. Granted, there is limited time in the pulpit. That is no excuse for the lack of focus on Christ.

Second, preachers are urged to grow spiritually as well, using the practices of lectio divina, oratio, meditatio, and contemplatio. This is a challenge considering the limited time pastors usually have. Yet, Brownlee argues that the disciple of the lectio divina was developed precisely to aid preachers in this endeavor. How do we preach the pure Word of God? Cultivate a pure heart for the Word of God. A book about preaching is also a book about personal growth. For the heart of the preacher is key to preaching the heart of the Word of God.

Third, don't feel overly burdened about having to methodically follow every step too religiously. While it is good to follow through all the six questions from beginning to end, there will be times in which we might compress or emphasize a few more than the rest. The questions in the book should not be seen as a technique but a discipline to engage Scripture as the Living Word that speaks to us, to our Church, and from us to the world. Brownlee has shared with us a useful preaching preparation from study to delivery. There are other aspects not dealt in detail are the personal disciplines and spirituality aspects. Prayer is also a key part of the preparation.

How then should we use this book? If you are a new preacher, begin with a strict adherence to the suggested six questions. If you have a few years of preaching experience in your bag, adapt Brownlee's metholodogy to improve upon yours. If you are an aspiring preacher, use this book to complement other preaching materials. If you are not a preacher but involved in the teaching of the Bible, this book certainly contains lots of tips and practical helps to improve your Bible study and leading. Kudos to Brownlee for generously sharing this preaching treasure.

Annette Brownlee is chaplain, professor of pastoral theology, and director of field education at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. She is also assistant priest at St Paul's L'Amoreaux in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Academic and Graf-Martin Communications without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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