Conversations with Barth on Preaching

“Preaching is utterly dependent upon a God who raises the dead and who calls some people to tell about it.  If there is no God to make the preacher’s sermon ‘work,’ then the preacher is the greatest of fools.  The messenger is disposable by, dispensable to, and derivative of the message.  We have this treasure in earthen vessels.  The treasure is more interesting and powerful than the vessel.  Today’s preachers find themselves in a vulnerable, dangerous situation when a pleasing personality is more important to a congregation than a truthful one, when charm and wit, warmth and ‘love’ become more valued in a preacher than being a person who is willing to stand up and speak the truth as God has given it.  The truth that is communicated through personality (Phillips Brooks’s definition of preaching) is so much more important than the personality.”  [William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), 243-4.]

Amen.  It is a “dangerous situation” for the preacher and his congregation: he may be tempted to preach what they want to hear and they may be tempted to judge him according to his personality rather than the message he brings.  Willimon knocks it out: the vessel is a bunch of dirty clay compared to the treasure that comes from his mouth.  Mess this up and the gospel gets shoved off to the side.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

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