Preaching at the CrossroadsBy David J. Lose (Fortress, 2013)

Preaching at the Crossroads: How the World-and Our Preaching-Is Changing (Paperback)
by David J. Lose

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David J. Lose is President of Luther Seminary at Philadelphia where he also teaches preaching.

He has thought long and hard about postmodernism and preaching. And you can tell from the books he has written: they are thoughtful, reflective, and farsighted. This one is no exception.

As the title suggests, Lose thinks (and I agree) that preaching is at a crossroads, especially in this “post-Christian” world (5). He puts his finger on the pulse of the change that has happened in the last five decades: postmodernism (How do we know for sure anything is true?), secularism (Who said truth is rooted in God?), and pluralism (What’s so distinctive about Christianity?). Having admitted the patient (preaching) for observation, Lose, like a good physician proceeds to diagnose the three ailments in turn and treat the invalid. So the book comes with a chapter for the diagnosis and a chapter for the therapeutics of each of three afflictions—six chapters in all.

As far as postmodernism is concerned, it rejects absolute objectivity or a “God’s-eye-view” of things. Everything depends on your point of view; skepticism is the order of the day. So Lose declares: “Our task as Christian theologians and preachers is not to prove the faith claims we make (ever the modernist penchant) but instead to witness to the truth we perceive” (21). Amen! The best apologetic: “Taste and see what I’ve tasted and seen!”

So far so good. Now how do we treat the condition?

Lose wants us to tell “the sacred story as vividly and clearly as possible in order to render the Christian narrative as a three-dimensional worldview that seems a viable alternative to our people in light of the other stories” (24). This is where I started to get lost: What “story” or “world view” (or metanarrative) is this? The story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The story of Jesus and the disciples? All of the above? This didn’t help: “If the Christian faith is, among other things, a grand narrative or worldview that attempts to make sense of all of our lives, then theological doctrines are the signposts and markers along the narrative route” (27). Where do “theological doctrines” fit into the “narrative”? In other places, Lose seems to agree with “the Reformers’ insistence … that Christians invariably read the whole of Scripture in light of the confession that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth is also the resurrected Christ” (38–39). So is it a christocentric “story” that Lose is referring to?

In short, Lose makes a good diagnosis—postmodernism. But I am not clear about the prescription.

The second disease he isolates is secularism, a loss of confidence in the transcendent science had something to do with it. As the body of scientific knowledge grew, the place for God seemingly shrank, since we can now explain lots of things—from hurricanes to heart failure, from silicon chips to synapses—all without recourse to God. God and faith have now been “relegated to the private and personal dimensions of our life” (53).

And the treatment for secularism? Since the problem is a loss of hope for the present and for the future (66), Lose wants preachers to cultivate hope in congregants by focusing on their vocations, to give them a sense of the transcendent in the mundane tasks of the world. Lose suggests visiting people in their vocational arenas, describing those visits in sermons, preaching about the ordinary lives of ordinary people (in illustrations and such); having folks give testimonies of God working in ordinary lives (73–77). I see the connection, but I’m not convinced that is the answer to secularism.

Again, nice diagnosis. But I am not sure the pill works.

Third diagnosis: pluralism. “The proliferation of different and competing stories about reality, that is, has occupied more and more of our congregants’ attention, crowding out the biblical story [what?] as the narrative by which to make sense of all others and rendering it just one among a multitude.”

According to Lose, church folk are “[b]ereft of this primary narrative to supply a religious identity” (101). So, he asserts, the treatment is preaching based on Web 2.0, interaction: “participatory preaching” (105)—“a homiletic that invites, nurtures, and expects a lively interaction between hearer and text” (106). And here are his suggestions (107–110): visit people in the venues of their vocations; invite congregations to look for biblical message they heard interpreted, in their daily lives; invite participation in sermon, both nonverbally and verbally; etc.

Again we have an interesting diagnosis, but the medicine does not seem tailored for the disease.

Moreover, the three diagnoses do not seem to be discrete diseases but symptoms of the same disease. And to me, the disease seems to be not as much with the world and people, as with us preachers ourselves—our anemic understanding of what the biblical “story” is. I wish someone would tell me what that is.

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 14.2 (2014): 82–83

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