When the task of defining preaching is put before me I favour Walter Brueggemann’s concept of ‘funding imagination’ (1993, p.20).This task, he writes:
‘is to provide the pieces, materials, and resources out of which a new world can be imagined. Our responsibility, then, is not a grand scheme or a coherent system, but the voicing of a lot of little pieces out of which people can put life together in fresh configurations’ (The Bible and postmodern imagination 1993, p.20)…It is sparking ‘the human capacity to picture, portray, receive, and practice the world in ways other than it appears to be at first glance when seen through a dominant, habitual, unexamined lens’
(The Bible and postmodern imagination 1993, p.13).
Preaching is about lifestyle, it is about creating (homiletics) a platform for the Gospel to transform, criticise and impact us instead of us transforming the gospel. As John Webster writes ‘if the Gospel does not do this it cannot be regarded as the Gospel, but as human isegesis’.
The power of this statement should impact our ideas of preaching because whatever form preaching may take, the content must be the Good News, the Euangelion-proclamation where we ‘encounter God’s action’ (David McGregor, 2012). In this way ‘Church becomes a spiritual event and a not only a structure of human society’ (McGregor, 2012).
Preaching as ‘funding imagination’ leads to a practical ‘theology of confrontation whereby the Gospel has a platform to sharply call into question the presuppositions of secular culture…the Gospel is not added to what humanity already knows but, instead, overturns human knowledge and calls men and women to break with their past orientation (lifestyle)’ (Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical theology 2006, p.287 emphasis mine).
In addition Charles Spurgeon pointed out that preaching is intrinsic to lifestyle. This is found in his caveat that
‘our characters must be more persuasive than our speech’
(Lectures to my Students 1954, p.17).
Spurgeon’s caveat here is reinforced by the notion that ‘only the Holy Spirit can make the message, act or art credible and knowable’ (Bloesch 2006, p.72). Whilst my reflection here is not entirely definitive, it does serve to prove that a central element in preaching is that it ‘funds imagination’. Preaching, whether that is through art, music, dance, memes, chatting over coffee or simply sharing a testimony proclaims Good News.
This Good News ‘disorientates us in order to reorientate us towards God’s commanded orientation’ (Barth, Brueggemann, Webster, McGregor). This Good News is that Jesus the Christ is for us and His acts in life, death and resurrection summon us to respond. In sum perhaps preaching could be viewed as something we do when we ‘wonder at something, then invite others to wonder with us’ (Austin Kleon Blog: Notes on writing and drawing, 2011)
Photo credit: Austin Kleon Blog: How to steal like an artist: notes on writing and drawing, 2011.