Barby and I have just completed five days in Denmark - the land of Lego, Soren Kierkegaard, Hans-Christian Anderson, a royal princess from Tasmania, Vikings, inflammatory political cartoons, Hamlet, Babette's Feast, and those industrious windfarms (while 15kms away Sweden positions a nuclear powerplant!)
I was attending the biennial meetings of a global scholarly society of teachers of homiletics (ie preaching). It was the only suitable conference I could find at this time of the year and I was glad to listen and learn. A few ramblings...
1. With preaching so much comes down to whether we lean towards the TEXT or towards the CONTEXT with what captivates us. For me this group tended to assume the text, rather than articulate it's issues - because considering the context of the listener and the society is where the real energy lay. Context plays a part. We need to be bi-lingual. I am deeply persuaded by the Stottian 'between two worlds' approach just as I am deeply ambivalent about the McArthurian approach which seems to be 'sermon as biblical exegesis spoken aloud' as the Text alone becomes what matters and, in this case, a specific American context becomes projected on all other ones. How does that respect your listeners?!
However when the Context becomes the driver of the sermon other questions emerge. How do we stop the text being reshaped in our own image? How is the harder word, from outside our experience, ever heard? How do we know what is true for all people in all places at all times?
2. The small group in which I participated was entirely (northern) European. Pastors from Iceland and the Faroe Islands, professors in homiletics from Heidelberg and Basel, a Norwegian missionary, and two pastoral trainers from Denmark - and no Americans, Brits, or Australians (the usual forum for discussions about preaching for me). I have never had a conversation like it! These Europeans love reflecting on 'what' and 'why' - with 'how' being a virtual irrelevance. This is seen in their training of ministers: six years of university education followed by 5 months of practical training (in Denmark)which includes a four week internship. And preaching is such a core indisputable aspect of this ministry. We were reminded of the Lutheran (Augsburg) Confession: "church is where faith is created through the sermon". WOW - that's a different world.
3. The gathering was not very global. There was no one from Latin America. The only Africans were from South Africa. There were only three Asians (out of 100). But while the gathering was overwhelmingly white, the involvement of women was strong and central. It caused me to reflect on all these years in NZ of watching talented women come through preaching classes and receive heaps of encouragement, only to have them disappear into the woodwork of local churches, if not evaporate altogether. I enjoyed the contrast in a paper from German Birgit and the response from American Anna. It caused huge discussion in our small group. Birgit - abstract, restrained, stepping-back-personally as she spoke... and then Anna - applied, animated, stepping-forward-personally as she spoke. One European felt that Anna's was an example of 'violent speech' in the way it intruded into a space that should be created for listeners.
4. The inconvenient truth, as I reflect on my new job with Langham Preaching, was obvious. The participants in this conference represented mainline churches that are declining and they take an approach which is highly academic (maybe even elitist) as they gather as professionals in a guild from largely North Atlantic countries which are well-resourced (maybe even over-resourced) ... and out there beyond them and hardly mentioned at all are evangelical-pentecostal churches that are growing too fast to cope in a grassroots movement spearheaded by untrained pastors spread throughout Africa and Asia and Latin America and which is desperately under-resourced. And I suspect one is animated by leaning towards the Context and the other by leaning towards the Text...
+ singing Luther's hymn - A Mighty Fortress is Our God - in a centuries old Lutheran chapel
+ gazing at the original Bertel Thorvaldsen's famous "Come Unto Me" statue of Jesus at the Vor Frue Kirke in Copenhagen and noting Luke 11:28 ringing the nearby pulpit
+ meeting the Little Mermaid after trying to cover my eyes when I first observed her as a boy - gee, she was life-size!
+ taking a Kierkegaard walking tour through Copenhagen with a marvelous communicator, matched during the week (on preaching, remember!) only by the guy who gave the lecture on Hamlet in the actual environs that Shakespeare imagined for the play
+ watching the women of Copenhagen cycling on these old-fashioned, high handle-barred bikes creating this stately, elegant style
+ enjoying a beach bon-fire on Midsummer's Day (it was as cold as mid-winter in Auckland!) known as St Hans Day, short for St Johannes (the Baptist) Day and rediscovering Luke 1:76-79 as a core text in the Lutheran understandin of preaching.