The third chapter of Christian Preaching: A Trinitarian Theology of Proclamation touches on the importance of seeing preaching as a traditioned practice. According to Pasquarello, our preaching should drink deeply from the wells of Tradition and look to those who have exhibited faithfulness throughout their lives. Here a citation of John Henry Newman summarizes the point, “…we must trust persons, namely those who by long acquaintance with their subject have a right to judge (p. 68).” In other words, we need to look to those who have proven faithful and examine their thought and preaching in order to more fully express the Gospel message. However, while doing this we can’t ignore their context. Preaching, if it is to be faithful, is contextual even when modeling content after those faithful saints who have gone on before. Pasquarello continues,
“Much of the perceived ‘deadness,’ ‘staleness,’ and ‘irrelevance’ of contemporary Christianity is arguable related to a deep loss of memory and constitutive practices, a lack of freshness, vitality, and personal knowledge that is the fruit of a common life shared in God’s presence, shaped by God’s Word, sustained by God’s Spirit (p. 69).”
I would add that this is a great call for those of us who are living ministry within a post-modern paradigm. In a post-Christian world, we don’t need less Scripture a la the pragmatic evangelicals (to us a designation borrowed from Robert Webber) in order to relate to those who are unchurched. Instead, we need more Scripture to resurrect our identity as people of the Story of God. Our preaching will then follow the narrative of God’s Word and be shaped in ways that correspond to the great Christian preaching throughout our common history.
Furthermore, if we are to be the preachers God has called us to be we need to understand the communal aspects of preaching that extend beyond the community of the living,
“To become a preacher of the Word, then, is to be transformed into a certain kind of person for service within a distinctive community. It is to be made part of the history of a practice and a bearer of its tradition. It is to acquire the intellectual and moral skills necessary for stewardship of the gospel and its gifts, which we have received through the work of the Spirit and the witness of the saints.”
If this is true, and I believe it is, we need to immerse ourselves in the great preachers of the Christian Tradition. John Chrysostom, Hildegaard of Bingen, and Augustine should probably occupy a place next to our commentaries and Bibles when preparing sermons. This is a reason I’m so excited about Brazos Press’ new series found here. I have the first release by Jaroslav Pelikan, and look forward to using this as a rich resource for preaching. Through these and similar works, we are able to get a rich sense of the tradition on particular texts and provide a spiritual and theological depth to our preaching that we would otherwise be unable to provide.
Is preaching this way difficult? Yes, it’s a vocation. I pray we can press on toward the goal to be faithful stewards of God’s Word.