Preaching and the evangelical leftPosted: May 15, 2012
Bet you didn’t know that there’s a Festival of Homiletics. Well, there is, and according to Tony Jones, the usual program consists of sermon-lecture-sermon-lecture. Yeah, not my idea of fun. Apparently, though, they’re mixing things up today in Atlanta. Because it’s “Emergent Preaching Day!” On his blog Jones says, “We live in the most highly educated society and the most highly participatory culture in the history of humankind. Everything around us has changed: the clothes we wear, the way we transport ourselves, how we communicate. And yet, 99% of preachers stand up on Sunday morning and deliver a monologue. A soliloquy. And their churches decline. And they wring their hands. There is another way. There is a way of participation and inclusion and dialogue and conversation.”
Sounds like a great idea, especially if you’re into the concept of the “priesthood of all believers.” Some friends of mine from Keller Park Missionary Church in South Bend (where we lived during grad school) do participatory “sermons.” This was also the style of many progressive evangelicals who lived in intentional communities in the 1970s. Here’s an excerpt from my chapter on the Christian World Liberation Front:
As part of the growing Jesus Movement, members pushed against old denominational allegiances and experimented with Pentecostal and contemplative modes of worship. They nurtured the language of the streets, dismissing legalistic fundamentalism in favor of a freer, more spontaneous faith. Men arrived at prayer meetings wearing beards and blue jeans. Women wore peasant skirts. When meetings finally got started—epidemic lateness and socializing characterized their gatherings—members raised their arms and sang enthusiastically. They played guitars instead of pianos and organs. They sang “Kum-ba-yah, My Lord” and “Pass It On,” songs inspired by both orthodox doctrine and a countercultural style. Instead of sitting in pews, they perched on folding chairs or sat cross-legged on the floor. Leaders eschewed formal sermons in favor of more casual “teachings” or group sharing that often veered in tangential directions. For the celebration of communion, CWLF served Spanada wine—not grape juice—in Dixie cups. For countercultural evangelicals from conservative evangelical congregations who “just wanted to stand up and scream at the top of my lungs” at the “repetitious absurdity” of formulaic evangelical congregations, these new styles were refreshing in their end run around traditional worship forms.