Preaching Re-Imagined

I have recently been in online conversation with four friends (Well, three friends anyway, one chose to be the cyber fly on the cyber wall).  Anyway, I am fortunate to have wise friends.  We have been discussing Doug Pagitt’s book Preaching Re-Imagined and his idea that preaching should be progressional dialogue.  It could be described as our own “progressional cyber-logue.”  It goes without saying, but if there is anything worthwhile mentioned in what follows, it probably came from Tim, Joe, Layne or Mark.

Our conversation really began with the word “speaching.”  Pagitt links speaching with one way speech. Just saying, if that is the definition, then I agree that speaching is a poor way to attempt to communicate eternal truth.  Although I tend to like authors and speakers who take liberty to create their own words, it becomes evident quickly that Pagitt is really critiquing preaching (and preachers).

It appears that Pagitt sees preaching (as those besides himself do it) as the dispensing of information. This is unfortunate (and could be an indictment of today’s preaching).  Preaching must be part of an ongoing conversation. Word has been spoken before we arrived on the scene. We must be willing to listen afterward. The sermon is not the end all on any text or subject. The conversation is ongoing. Pagitt thinks the only way to accomplish that is by totally rearranging the furniture (literally and figuratively).  He proposes progressional dialogue, a conversation that allows everyone gathered to participate in the interpretation of the text.

His argument is largely that preaching as it has been done for centuries is outdated and irrelevant.  One concern of this approach is that gathering to sing, pray, give, participate in the Lord’s Supper, baptize also appear a little irrelevant and irrational according to the majority worldview.  Maybe he thinks that living by faith is synonymous with an outcome based program.  Perhaps Pagitt is reacting to something (perhaps a lack of visible response, poor preaching, his own attention deficit disorder) and is suggesting an alternative. His interest in dialogue surely has a solid place within the Christian Community without it becoming a preaching replacement.

Reading Pagitt, one may think that he comes across as arrogant in his overstatement of his case, but that does not grant us permission to become arrogant in our defense of what we think. It may be hasty to dismiss that speaching does exist. Instead, the chance that it might exist should continually drive us toward communicating truth more effectively.

My favorite Pagitt can be found on page 30… “the story we tell is one of God moving in ways we cannot control or even understand. We are telling the story of God creating and inviting us to create, of God moving in the life of people all around the world, the story of God using the unlikely – the old, the virginal, the meek, the crucified. We tell the story of God inviting us all into the story. We tell the story of raging seas calmed and raging love lived. We tell the story of the Spirit blowing where it will.”

Anyway, he follows this outstanding comment about preaching with this criticism, “Yet we resort to speaching in an effort to protect the story, to make it digestible and applicable. The Gospel is simply too powerful for that kind of control.”  This comes across as self-indictment (after all, he is the one attempting to make preaching into something more palatable).  While I do think the church is guilty of attempting to domesticate the Gospel, I do not think the best response is to become more domestic than even before.

Pagitt seems to think that preaching has become nothing more than a speech or lecture. He appears to confuse speachers with preachers and audience with congregation. Perhaps we do also.  Perhaps this is the point of this book for us. We must keep preaching in its intended context. We must not lose sight of its purpose. Preaching should always point others in the direction of God. Preaching should be prompting hearers to make the next move. Preaching is both response to God and call for response.

Gentlemen!  Thank you for your wisdom and tolerance for my own ranting.  I am a lucky guy to call you friends.

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Speech Making, Progressional Dialogue, and Preaching

Doug Pagitt recently addressed a crowd at the Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta.  Pagitt is a rather enjoyable personality.  He has a pleasantness about him.  He comes at preaching from a rational perspective.  He can be convincing.  His session likely prompted as much immediate discussion as any presentation during the week in Atlanta.  He started by saying that preaching is vital to the church.  So vital, in fact, that it should be released from speech making.  He goes on to make a case that preaching should be shared because others should be able to share in the joy of sermon making.

Pagitt places some emphasis on North American “epochs” and claims that the church has and should shape its ministry in response to the changing culture.  He almost seems to encourage the natural progression of society and culture.

His desire for a dialogical community causes him to call for dialogical sermons.  This desire appears to force him to rule out traditional preaching as relational.  He fails to see preaching as an interaction between preacher-listener-text.  He fails to remember that there is a great deal of precedent for God working through that mode of preaching.  Instead, he labels it as “speech-making.”

Pagitt does talk about the preparation for the sermon and mentions that they read entire books of the bible aloud as part of the discussion.  This because they desire that the bible be one of the voices in the discussion.  If I understood this correctly, it is more than a little disappointing that the bible is considered to be just another voice.

Pagitt was joined by Tony Jones, theologian in residence where they both serve at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis.  Jones repeated the desire to get the listeners to exegete the text.  That preachers ought to divert the interpretation to the community.  That the primary mode of interpretation becomes midrash.  In fact, what Pagitt labels “progressional dialogue”, Jones labels “rolling communal midrash.”  He does imply that this is not the only way to preach, but the best way to reach their particular “psycho-graphic.”

We may find ourselves wondering why they are proposing such a change in preaching.  Are they convinced that dialogue is an important piece of the message?  Are they responding to poor preaching they themselves have heard in the past?  We may also wonder if they are failing to ask what they lose in the process.  Do they doubt that the Spirit is able to work through the foolishness of preaching?  Do they think that centuries of tradition are disposable in order to appear relevant now?  Do they believe that all participants in dialogue are equally credible?  Do they disregard content in order to emphasize a new method?  Does this appear more democratic than preaching is intended to be?  Does this method encourage listeners to look within themselves for meaning rather than toward God?

Although there are dangers to culture driven preaching, we should not forget that God has spoken through unorthodox methods before.  Perhaps there are some who may become interested in kingdom matters on account of this approach that would not otherwise.  Perhaps Gamaliel would counsel us not to jump to hasty conclusions.