Preaching Faith Forthrightly

One criterion of a good sermon is movement beyond belief that can be taken for granted, into territory that and go to where it feels unsafe to the preacher, who has to address an issue personally, without being sure how it will come out. Maybe it won’t come out at all this time, and will have to be left in suspense for weeks, or forever. A preacher needs to count on the hearers’ willingness to engage in such grappling when operating in this mode of risk. Hopefully, the risk of the thing communicates as excitement; the hearers are drawn in by the spectacle of someone skating close to the edge.

A minimally honest preacher will soon be forced to address the unfairness of life. Bad things happen to good people. Bullies make headway when gentle people don’t. These facts fly in the teeth of the civic virtue of optimism, the “positive outlook” which is often taken as the litmus test of Christian faith.

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How to Read the Bible

There is much to say about how to read the Bible, and so much nonsense already said, that one is reluctant to open the subject. From Marcion to Thomas Jefferson and on up to the present, people have carved it up to their liking.

A high criterion for reading anything comes from the late Randall C. Reid, a professor of literature, not a Bible scholar. He taught students to drill into a text far enough to find where the writer reached his limits; where he could not answer his own questions. A text that didn’t go to this point, or a writer who didn’t challenge himself that far, could not be taken as first rate. This is the opposite of reading only to answer one’s own questions; that is an insult to any literature worthy of the name, biblical or otherwise.

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