text messages

Edited books can often miss the mark. Maybe it is the absence of a strong plot that holds the individual pieces together. Maybe it is the uneven quality in the submissions. Maybe it is the cost. Whatever the reason, I find edited books can attract dust more readily than other books.

But Text Messages: Preaching God's Word in a Smartphone World, edited by John Tucker, was different. I read it over the course of three flights in the past seven days - and it held me to the end, without it being John Grisham.

Just to add - this John Tucker is not the one of John Tucker Must Die movie-fame - nor is he the one that authored Twelve Doors to Ecstasy.  Ah yes, rarely has a google-search for a name brought me such pleasure! This John Tucker is merely the principal at Carey Baptist College in New Zealand, director of their School of Preaching (out of which this book emerged) ... and he is also my (second) cousin!

One other matter to get out of the way at the outset is that I wrote a little introductory piece for the book. That fact on its own was enough to steer me away from writing this post but, like I say, I found the book to be such a 'good read' that I have changed my mind.

One pleasing feature is that there is a cohesion to the book that works. That is a lot of it for me. The introduction develops a model of preaching that visits 'five corners' - Text, Society, Listener, Preacher, Christ - and this provides the structure for the book. That was all intentional. But there is, I suspect, an unintentional cohesion going on as well. The opening and closing pieces both focus on sections from 1 Corinthians 1-4 ... and I chuckled at the number of times different authors referred to the same quotations, or ideas.

OK - so how shall we do this? Let's have some fun. I've decided to limit myself to the five articles most likely to make it on to the 'required reading' list in  one of my preaching courses. OK?! To add a bit of spice, let me try and rank them as well:

Simon Moetara's article on "Preaching with Vulnerability: Self-Disclosure in the Pulpit" (113-134) was the highlight for me. He explores that 'fine line ... between preaching Christ and him crucified and parading ourselves' (115). How much self-disclosure is appropriate? He sets his discussion in the contexts of models of NZ masculinity and of Pentecostal-Charismatic approaches to leadership. A superb bibliography - and what about that delightful quote from Joe Stowell at the end: 'True transparency in preaching enables people to see right through us to Jesus' (130).

I've been aware of Ponsonby Baptist's "free-for-all" after their Sunday services for many years (and even endured it myself on one occasion) - but to have Jody Kilpatrick's "Free-for-All: How a Culture of Giving Voice Shapes Preaching" (148-159) is so helpful. The specific model won't work everywhere - and she herself notes that it breaks down a bit when the congregation is larger than 80. But what the article does do is raise the deeper issue of the need for greater collaboration between preacher and listener in the sermon process. This is a direction in which preaching needs to move.
I'm simply suggesting that the practice of free-for-all and giving space to all voices can add to (rather than detract from) preaching. It can operate as a community process of engagement. The (well-prepared) sermon is often refined and enriched by the interaction of many voices: the responsibility to engage God, Scripture, and life, does not belong to one or few.  In order for this to work, the preacher has to learn (and keep learning) to be non-defensive and non-anxious. In our gatherings each Sunday there are smarter thinkers, broader readers, heavier cross-carriers, better-practiced mediators, sharper observers, deeper feelers, and more hopeless hopers than me. There are professors with full Bible commentaries on their phones, there are rough sleepers snoozing in a pew while I spout platitudes about compassion. There are people who hear disturbing voices crying out to them while desiring to hear the voice of God  (155). 
John Tucker's "Upgrading our Preaching: Professional Development for Preachers Today" (200-214) is about recognising that the years in formal training should be but 'the good beginning of a lifelong journey' (200, quoting Lose). We need to prevail in this ministry, not merely survive. He urges preachers to go in search of five relationships: a learning community, role models, mentors, peers and congregations. It is an article that needs to be absorbed by preachers in the company of their congregations and their denominational authorities.

Along a similar line, Lynne Baab's "Spiritual Practices for Preachers: Making Space for a Continuing Conversation with the Living God" (163-181) is like so much of her writing - honest, warm, practical, realistic. It took me back to her book on listening, as this is one of the practices about which she writes here. I gained this fresh glimpse of how listening is a practice to which we need to commit in each one of the five corners. It is that critical. I remember Peter Ustinov once commenting about how every vocation that involves copious talking needs to commence with careful listening. BTW, Lynne opens with this lovely story about a tree near Shiraz (Iran) - and a few hours later I was flying right over Shiraz. Go figure.

At this point I could reach for either Darrell Johnson's article (yes, that Darrell Johnson) on 'the transforming power of the text', or Philip Halstead's piece on moving beyond 'preaching on empty' and that sense of depletion that so often accompanies the preacher's vocation - but I am going to settle on Geoff New's, "Lost for Words: How to Read Scripture in a Smartphone World" (46-64). Without being technophobic, or filling every orifice in his head with sand, or trying to turn-off the waterfall with a tap, Geoff asks searching questions about the use of technology in preaching - like 'Marshall McLuhan's contention that technologies are both an extension of human abilities and an amputation of human capacities' (54-55).
There is no quick and easy way to absorb the message of God. I might be able to microwave a meal in a fraction of the time that it took my ancestors to roast game over an open fire but I still need to chew and digest the food at the same rate (62).
nice chatting

Paul

PS. I reckon Darrell Johnson's Glory of Preaching is the closest thing we have to a textbook on preaching. An early footnote makes an astonishing claim about John Stott's place in preaching history: 'the purest expository preacher in history' (13). Even as a big fan of Stott's, I found myself going "Really?!" Now, a decade later, the claim is repeated here: 'the most faithful, purest expository preacher in world history. I mean the claim in all seriousness' (23). 

Comments

Bevan Smith said…
Paul, I have the opportunity to acquire some book for a Bible School in Myanmar. What would suggest as top 5. Presume Johnson's will be one of those.
Paul Windsor said…
Hi Bevan - if you email me (paul.windsor@langham.org) I have a sheet that I keep updated where I list a 'top ten' books for beginning preachers and a 'top ten' for more experienced preachers. That might be a good start. Blessings, Paul

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