by James W Thompson
Westminster John Knox Press
Reviewed by Angel M. Rodriguez, Associate Director, Biblical Research Institute
In order to facilitate the understanding of his book, James W. Thompson places it within the history of homiletics. Old homiletics was based on the practice of taking a text and distilling from it a central truth that was then developed and communicated through rational arguments to the audience. The idea was to persuade the listeners concerning the truth of a particular idea. It is usually believed that this type of preaching was the result of the influence of the Enlightenment and of Aristotelian rhetoric. The new homiletics argued that we live in a post-Christian era and that the new generation of Christians knows little or nothing about Christianity. Accordingly, preaching should seek to lead the congregation to experience the beauty and emotional aspects of the text. The congregation should not simply listen to the sermon but participate in it in so that each person may draw his or her own conclusions. This was fundamentally a post-modern approach to homiletics that denied the certainty of absolute truth and sought to entertain rather than to persuade.
Thompson acknowledges some of the gains of the new homiletics but shows its limitations and ineffectiveness. Modern preaching, he says, puts the emphasis only on the narrative materials of the Bible, ignoring many other biblical genres. It emphasizes the individual and not the community, the affective and psychological, not the objective truth. It does not describe how preaching can contribute to the creation of a communal identity with its own peculiar ethics and mission. His suggestion is to examine preaching in the pre-Christian period. Since we live in a post-Christian period, he argues, examining the preaching of Paul during the time when the culture was pagan, that is to say pre-Christian, may help us to develop a true biblical homiletic. This is certainly a welcomed approach to the study of homiletics and one that has much to offer to Adventists preachers.
A study of Paul’s preaching, Thompson argues, reveals among other things that it is distinctively Christian in that it is grounded on the authority of God. Grounded, not only on rational modes of persuasion, but that it calls the community to a radical change of behavior. Second, he preached the gospel—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus—as the only means of salvation. Paul sought to shape communities through a pastoral preaching that instructed them and defined their identity as Christians. Through theological preaching he led the church to reflect on the meaning of the gospel in its particular situation. Hence, persuasion was an indispensable element in his preaching. Third, Paul preached the Word of God given to him through revelation and also as found in the Old Testament Scripture. Fourth, Paul’s preaching reveals that the character of the preacher cannot be separated from the content of the preaching. The authenticity of the preacher is a powerful argument for the gospel.
Finally, for Paul, the results of preaching are in the hands of God, who is personally involved in the proclamation of the gospel. He is responsible for the transformation of individuals and the creation of Christian communities committed to Christ as Savior and Lord. Paul teaches us that, the ultimate effectiveness of preaching rests on the power of the gospel, the preacher’s captivity to God’s word and the preacher’s knowledge of the larger agenda of the preaching ministry (p. 19).
The book ends with a number of sketches illustrating the use of Pauline passages for preaching. This book is highly recommended.