The Recovery of Preaching
The need for the recovery of preaching in our time is plain enough. The health of the Christian community has always been reflected in great preaching. It is difficult to find a period of vital Christian grown in the entire two millennia of Christian history without great preaching. The need for great preaching today in an increasingly pluralistic and pagan society is clear enough.
The recovery of great preaching is more complex. In any case, it is not simply a matter of courses in homiletics. Preaching involves personal commitments, scholarly competences, and technical skills.
1. The recovery of great preaching involves the renewal of faith. The origin of preaching is in the heart, not the head, not in reasoned argument but in the passionate conviction of the human heart. Hence preaching is a gift of the Holy Spirit for which we must hope and pray.
2. The recovery of great preaching calls for the revival of the Christian community as a disciplined, knowledgeable, worshiping community of people. The recovery of preaching and the recovery of the community will have to take place together, because there can be no recovery of a vital Christian community, well informed, apart from the recovery of great preaching. And on the other hand, a great congregation makes a great preacher.
3. The recovery of great preaching involves the recovery of the Bible, which has been assimilated into one's thinking, and the recovery of theological competence that likewise has become part of the structure of one's personal existence.
4. The recovery of great preaching depends on a recovery of a framework of theological reality that holds life together in a coherent way and in which we can see our place in the church and in the world. Preaching has to do with the ultimate issues of human origin and destiny and not with the occasional facts of politics or organization. Ideally, the preacher should recapitulate in his or her own life the history of doctrine, what the church through the centuries has believed, confessed, preached, and taught.
5. The recovery of great preaching requires the acquisition of a language that is precise and clear, that has the quality of reality, and that is appropriate to communicate the Christian gospel. As long as English is spoken, this must build upon the remarkable literary and theological achievement of the Puritans. Language appropriate to the faith cannot be finally learned in academic communities but only as those learned in the tradition engage a broad range of people, learned and unlearned, in theological conversation. The scientific, technological, secular character of our culture makes the problem of language all the more important. As Calvin put the traditional theology of the church in the language of ordinary discourse, so that is our task today.
Preaching has always been powerful to move people, to shape personalities and communities in many times and places. It is not likely that its power is diminished today. All people who seek to shape human history, politicians, ideologues, advocates, would give anything to have what is available to the church in the gathering of people. The great crowds on Saturdays at college football games are impressive, but within a few miles' radius of football stadiums, more people gather to worship God and hear a sermon on Sunday. This gathering of the people is a phenomenon that cannot be duplicated in our society, and it is a challenge and opportunity for those called to preach.
John H. Leith, From Generation to Generation: The Renewal of the Church According to Its Own Faith and Practice (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox, 1990), pp. 113-114, emphasis added.