Sunday's Sermon for Monday's World

Preaching to Shape Daring Witness

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Sally A. Brown
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Eerdmans
    , April
     2020.
     224 pages.
     $19.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780802871121.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

How can preachers support Christians to bear credible witnesses of the good news in today’s pluralist world? That’s the issue that Sally A. Brown faces in this inspiring book, Sunday’s Sermon for Monday’s World. As an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, she knows the realities that preachers in the field must face. This book belongs to Eerdmans The Gospel and Our Culture series, which develops the “missional” paradigm in pastoral theology.

The first part is theoretical and general, describing “what public Christian witness looks like” today (7). Even if faith is now more than ever a private matter, followers of Jesus must take the opportunities to act in public spaces. Brown uses theological strands such as the “missional” ecclesiology of Craig Van Gelder and Dwight Zscheile, the “faithful practice” initiative of Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass, both influenced by the “postliberal” hermeneutics of Alasdair MacIntyre. To sum up, stories help Christians to shape their everyday life as people sent by God. Brown explains how Christians are welcomed to take their part creatively in the redemptive mission of God. This mission is holistic and concrete, attentive to persons, communities, and ecosystems. A gospel witness is an agent of “redemptive interruption” (52), who acts against the world’s routines which diminish human lives. They act with “faithful improvisation” (52).

The first example given by Brown is Rosa Parks, whose famous improvisation in a bus in Montgomery eventually ignited the Civil Rights Movement in America (xv). But a Christian needs a “heuristic model” and a “formational community” to discern how to act as a witness in real life. That is what the jazz culture teaches its musicians: “a jazz improvisationist draws on deep wells of tradition and skill to create something apt to the moment and situation” (57). Brown goes on, asserting with Charles L. Campbell and Johann Cilliers, that the Christian is even called to act with the foolishness of the cross.

The second part is more precisely homiletical and practical. What should listeners hear from the pulpit to become “tactical, faithfully improvisational agents of redemptive hope” (71)? First, they need to be guided to see both the work of the spirit and “the pathways of redemptive actions” (71) in ordinary situations. With James F. Kay, Brown explains how preachers can foster the “depth” vision of Christians, giving them a “bifocal” (165) vision, to see both the evil in the world and the grace of God. This exercise can start at the cross where Jesus both dies and retains the promise of his resurrection. Here, the “hermeneutical lens of divine promise” (165), taken from the Bible, helps to transform the hermeneutics of real life. In the following chapter, Brown calls preachers to theologically question the “life-forming practice of the congregation” (102). Indeed, “bodily participation” at worship, education, care giving, public services or even decision making of the community shape the live of each member holistically. That creates the “reservoir of wisdom” which will help them become “agent[s] of redemptive interruption” (111).

Thirdly, by telling stories preachers can create “spaces of imaginative rehearsal” (165). The stories from the Bible, historical tradition, or present time build self-understanding and a Christian identity. Therefore, preachers should always “think narratively” and be careful to portray characters. In her last chapter Brown develops the importance of live metaphors, to give “metaphorical vision” which help to make decisions in real life situations. Good metaphors activate our minds and can “bridge across contexts” (178). They are easier to remember and to communicate, and therefore, they make sermon “portable” for Christians.

The first part is well documented. I appreciate the critical insights of Brown on the theories she quotes, especially her interest in minorities and excluded people. Brown successfully grasps the every-day life of Christians and the choices that they must make to be real witnesses. The second part is influenced by Paul Ricœur’s philosophy, drawing on his theories about how imagination, narrations, and metaphors help people act in real life. Brown gives clever and useful advice. She also presents a few sermons in each chapter to help the preacher change the way they preach. The sermons are summed up with art, identifying their main points of interest, giving us insights to better analyze homilies.

To be more efficient and to avoid the “must/ought/should rhetoric” (7) of current sermons, Brown uses an open model of action and transformation, where the agency, the freedom, the judgement and the practice of the person have all their places. In a sense, she reminds us of Thomas Aquinas’ theology of human action and virtue. The bibliographies at the end of each chapter are immensely helpful. This book is resourceful and it can be used as a manual for preaching.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Emmanuel Dumont is professor of homiletics at Domuni Universitas.

Date of Review: 
August 18, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Sally A. Brown, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.., teaches preaching, hermeneutics, and homiletical theory at Princeton Seminary, where she also directs the annual Engle Institute of Preaching. She is 2019 President of the Academy of Homiletics. Previous books include Ways of the Word: Learning to Preach for Your Time and Place (with Luke A. Powery), Cross Talk: Preaching Redemption Here and Now, and Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square (co-edited with Patrick Miller).

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