Preaching of the people, to the people, with the people

Posted on November 17, 2008

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I have just finished a short course on homiletics, a subject I always enjoy teaching on. During it, a thought crystalised, a thought that I do not recall seeing developed in any homiletics text I have read.

Discussion of the primary pronouns used by a preacher is fairly common, but it always seems related only to rhetorical style. This is of course not wrong: there is a great gulf between developing and declaring the thesis ‘you are all sinners’ and developing and declaring the thesis ‘we are all sinners’, and a preacher really should instinctively feel that difference, and make a conscious choice which voice she will adopt.

But the choice goes deeper than that; it betrays the preacher’s theological convictions about the nature of the preaching ministry. If, as the Second Helvetic Confession insisted, praedicatio verbi Dei est verbi Dei (can we take as read the learned footnote that acknowleges that this is a heading added later, but defends it as an accurate exegesis of the article?) – if the preaching of the Word of God simply is the Word of God addressing the congregation in recreative grace, then the preacher needs to know which side of that address she stands on. Do I enter the pulpit – well, no I don’t very often, but metaphorically speaking – do I enter the pulpit to speak God’s word with God’s voice to the congregation (and so say ‘you’), or am I a member of the congregation hearing and repeating God’s word which is addressed to us all (and so say ‘we’)? Do I preach to the people, or with the people?

And then what is the place of the singular ‘you’ in preaching? Is the preacher called to speak with the congregation’s voice back to God, wrestling with the word spoken (‘preaching of the people’?) or should the people receive God’s word in submissive silence?

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