Preaching Women

Gender, Power and the Pulpit

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Liz Shercliff
  • London, England: 
    SCM Press Imprint
    , September
     2019.
     224 pages.
     $22.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780334058380.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Preaching Women: Gender, Power and the Pulpit by Liz Shercliff answers an important call to create new methods of preaching. That call, articulated by Jennifer Copeland in her book Feminine Registers (Cascade Books, 2014), specifically suggests that more focus should be on women’s preaching. Shercliff’s argument is simple: women should and do preach as women. This book challenges the patriarchal narratives that influence biblical interpretations and preaching styles by interrogating scripture and women’s roles in the pulpit through a feminist lens. Men in the pulpit are seen as truth tellers, while women are inherently “Othered” and, thus, silenced. Women are in a position to problematize the idea of preachers being truth tellers by preaching from experience to show congregants that God is present and active in their daily lives. Shercliff also provides a method for women who preach to develop interpretations of the Bible and use their experiences to “contribute to the revelatory act of preaching” (xvii). 

Shercliff defines preaching as “the art of engaging the people of God in their shared narrative by creatively and hospitably inviting them into an exploration of biblical text, by means of which, corporately and individually, they might encounter the divine” (5). Preaching is framed throughout the book as an integral function of the relationship between the preacher and the congregation, both of whom are one with God. To cultivate the relationship as God intends, women are advised to use their experiences and those of their congregants to shape their preaching style and sermons. Preaching from experience allows hearers to acknowledge God as an active presence in their everyday lives.  

The book confronts the pervasive masculinist lens that is evident in biblical literature, with American Christian literature dominating the genre. According to Shercliff, the absence of women’s interpretations in biblical literature, particularly of women’s stories in the Bible, fails to encourage preachers and congregants to critically assess the literature. Masculine interpretations of the Bible focus on men’s weaknesses but fail to interrogate women’s contributions and shortcomings. Furthermore, the failure to place these women into the historical context of the time diminishes the significance of their roles in the Bible, Shercliff notes. Such is the case with Mary, mother of Jesus, whose image is generally associated with the men in her life. Shercliff asserts that viewing Jesus’ conception as the moment of salvation rather than his death “implies that Mary carries the presence of god until the time to give birth arrives” (111). This feminist interpretation of Mary’s role in the world’s salvation recognizes hers as a significant, active role. Further, viewing Jesus’ conception as the moment of salvation also challenges the popularized image of a violent, vengeful God.  

Though the book does not articulate this outright, Shercliff asks for women to view preaching as praxis for advocating for the most marginalized in their congregations. The author’s method for preaching “enables us to explore biblical text from often silenced perspectives”(152). This method involves six steps: experience, position, culture, tradition, insight, and communication, which Shercliff frame as a cyclical process, and “highlights the fact that a sermon should always be the product of living a reflective life” (155).  

Women who preach should recognize the potential for their experiences to lay the foundation for a sermon, and truth telling is an essential aspect of preaching from experience. In what could be considered a call to action, this book charges women who preach with the responsibility of truth telling, and that truth includes acknowledging the impact misogyny, patriarchy, and sexism have on all oppressed people, not just women. Women who preach should highlight and celebrate the diversity within their congregations. Though the book is about women who preach, Shercliff also wants women to recognize the potential of their sermons for allowing space for subaltern voices in their congregations to be heard. “Developing women’s preaching, and women preachers, is not simply about equality. It is much more important than that. It drives at the heart of God’s self-revelation to and through humanity, and God’s performative grace in creation” (168). The argument of Preaching Women is important for scholars and lecturers as well because it urges women to recognize womanhood as a valid lens through which to engage the world, whether in the pulpit or the classroom. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Leslie Whitmire is a doctoral candidate in the history department at Georgia State University. 

Date of Review: 
April 30, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Liz Shercliff is Director of Studies for Readers in the Diocese of Chester, in England.

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