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Posted October 12, 2005

Book: Fulfilled in Our Hearing: History and Method of Christian Preaching
Author: Guerric DeBona, OSB
Paulist Press, NY, pp. 228

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

What can today’s preacher learn from past practices? What needs to be adapted so that the preacher can be an authentic, prophetic voice for today? Father Guerric DeBona mines the rich treasures of the Christian homiletic tradition, and confronts the challenges of modern technology, multiculturalism, and feminism, to open an exciting discussion about how the preacher can effectively reach the assembly in today’s postmodern, media-saturated culture.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The Imaginative Interpreter

Along with narrative movement and unity, Richard Eslinger identifies imagination as one of the principal qualities of an inductive preacher for Craddock: “The galleries of the mind are filled with images that have been hung there casually or deliberately by parents, writers, artists, teachers, speakers, and combinations of many forces. . .by means of images the preaching occasion will be a re-creation of the way life is experienced now held under the light of the gospel.” Craddock pays careful attention to the power of what he calls “generative language,” the kind that evokes concrete feelings, memory, or experience for the hearer.” Language ought to be as specific and economical as possible, using images and metaphors that generate the concrete world of brick and mortar, the skin and bones where men and women work and love. Such concrete language is deployed also for descriptions and illustrations. These are, however, not tales told as glosses for an abstract point but the very matter of the sermon. “The story is it.” In his sermon on the Woman and the Well, Craddock has a little story to illustrate the scene between Jesus and the Samaritan woman:

Do you understand why she was so defensive?

I asked a woman in the Winn-Dixie grocery store one day, “Could you tell me where I can find the peanut better?

She turned around, looked at me, and said, “Are you trying to hit on me?” I said, “Lady, I’m looking for the peanut butter.”

Later when I found it over on aisle five, there she was. She said, “Oh, you were looking for the peanut butter.”

I told you I was looking for the peanut butter.”

She said, “Nowadays you can’t be too careful.”

I said to her, “Yes, you can.”

But I understand the Samaritan woman’s defensiveness.”

Avoiding abstract language helps the preacher to incarnate the Word, to give it flesh and blood. Preachers should be always reading, not only scripture, good literature, and newspapers, but attending to goings-on in their environment as well. What about that image of the old woman waiting at a bus stop in the rain? Or a child tossed in the air by an adoring father? These small snapshots of daily living might become ways of making the gospel more real to the assembly. In Writing Down the Bones (1986), writer and poet Natalie Goldberg says that it is important to use “original detail” in writing and to write from what you know and see:

“Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else. Even if you transplant the beveled windows, slow-rotating Rheingold sign, Wise potato chip rack, and tall red stools from the Areo tavern that you drank in in New York into a bar in a story in another state and time, the story will have authenticity and groundedness. . .The imagination is capable of detail transplants, but using the details you actually know and have seen will give your writing believability and truthfulness. It creates a good solid foundation from which you can build.”

The preacher brings hermeneutic skills to almost everything, but most important, to the scriptures themselves. Craddock sees the role of the preacher above all as a well-prepared interpreter of scripture by necessity. Why? For five reasons:

1. The church spends its time collectively in front of texts;
2. They are authoritative;
3. They are also on-going and serve a living God;
4. They need to be interpreted precisely as Church;
5. The Scriptures themselves testify to the necessity of interpretation by those who figure prominently in them.

There will be a variety of interpretations open to the teller, because the teller, like the congregation, is a full participant in the life of faith. “To the extent that the speaker’s struggle is Everyman’s, the listener can be brought thereby to clarity and to hope.” The congregation participates in the preacher’s own life of faith and, in so doing, is moved to more wondrous, active participation.

Table of Contents:

1. The changing voice of preaching
2. The new homiletic
3. Liturgical preaching
4. Multicultural preaching
5. Contemporary preaching