Wise Words on Preaching
Everyone ought to take a look at Will Willimon’s comments on preaching. Willimon speaks prophetically to all whose responsibility is to pastor churches and feed the flock of Christ.
Festival of homiletics links spoken word and suffering world
By Ted Parks
Published May 29, 2007
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) — “Then God showed up, and all hell broke loose.â€Thatâ€™s how William Willimon described Pentecost, but he added that it was a far cry from the lukewarm homilies found in pulpits today.A Methodist bishop and former professor at Duke University, Willimon told ministers at a Nashville, Tenn., conference that while Pentecost led to powerful Christian preaching, too many modern-day pastors water down their messages. The church leaders had come from across the nation to the 15th-annual Festival of Homiletics, hosted by First Baptist Church.
“A lot of preaching today is in the proverbial mode,” Willimon said. “Basically the sermon becomes an announcement that, ‘I have found four, three, five biblical principles that will help you at work or help you in your marriage.’ I wish being a Christian were that easy.”
The festival drew more than 1,600 people, according to organizer David Howell. It was sponsored by Lectionary Homiletics and other publications that make preaching resources for ministers.
Since its inception in 1993, the festival has featured some of the top names in Protestant preaching. Among the speakers joining Willimon this year were Fred Craddock, professor emeritus of preaching and New Testament at Emory University, and James Forbes Jr., who is retiring as senior minister of the historic Riverside Church in New York City.
Speaking on the final day of the week-long festival, Willimon warned against sermons that reduce Christianity to tidy lists of principles for living — “Power-Point preaching” — instead of focusing on a God who is powerful, personal and unpredictable.
“Preaching is hard because it is an encounter with the living Christ,” Willimon emphasized. Quoting martyred German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Methodist bishop defined the work of a minister as “the gutsy willingness to let Jesus walk among his people.”
Willimon, who oversees 800 Methodist pastors in Alabama, criticized two well-known Christian authors to emphasize that the minister’s task is to present a deity who defies all attempts to contain him.
He questioned the promise of spiritual fulfillment in the introduction to California Baptist pastor Rick Warren’s bestselling The Purpose-Driven Life. If completing 40 days of spiritual homework will answer every question about life and faith, “don’t bother with worshiping the Trinity,” Willimon said.
The Methodist speaker saw Warren’s formula for success as “perilously close” to one offered by Christian author Marcus Borg, author of The Heart of Christianity. Willimon also questioned Borg’s pledge of “a way of seeing Christianity that makes persuasive and compelling sense of life,” quipping that Borg seems to have discovered how to “help you keep Jesus quiet.”