If I was a preacher who was having a difficult time being 'biblical', then the above statement would make complete sense to me. The fact is that the Biblical Scripture does incorporate numerous concepts, values and regulations that cannot be treated or understood out of the context in which they are presented. Also, the context in which they are present is also intertwined with each other in an intricate web which also needs to be understood first to fully understand the background of the principles thus formed and the guidance given thereof.
In case that this is not done efficiently, the preaching can be a mere backdrop of excerpts of Christ's life and death as well as the incidents in his life without having any really or authentic impact on the lives of the modern community. The downside here, however, is that Long, despite making a valid point, is very inconsistent with his thoughts in certain areas especially when dealing with domestic principles and codes that are highlighted in the New Testament, for instance: 'Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters'. Here, using this, Long says that religion and its principles highlighted in the Gospel must remain separate from the traditions of the social structure. He says that the task may be difficult but:
"The point is that texts which scream cultural bias are also gospel texts, and texts which shout the gospel are also culturally conditioned. There is no surgical procedure for separating the tissues, no guaranteed way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Hearing the claim of God in and through a biblical text always demands and act of faithful imagination, a refusing to let a text go until it has blessed us..." (pg 52).
Long however fails to explain the variations or differences between this 'blessing' from the regulations or principles highlighted in the biblical scriptures. The only difference or point of separation that he does refer to in the book in the form of 'faithful imagination', however, he does not go further into explaining what this phenomenon really is. As the interpretation of the biblical texts is difficult to begin with, a detail insight on this phenomenon would have further helped the reader and preacher to master his sermon delivery. In spite of these criticisms, Long's delivery on the phenomenon of homiletics is incredible and this is what affected or influenced me most positively. This will be discussed in detail in the next section.
Witness of Preaching: Life, work and Ministry
When reading the 'witness of preaching', I didn't realize that the most influential aspect of the book in my life would be homiletics. Before I delve into how the book influenced me, it is important to define the term -- homiletics. Simply put homiletics is literally translated into a gathering or to gather/assemble together. In the context of theology, homiletics is defined as the implementation of generalized principles and regulations into the more specific circumstances as required in the situation. The practitioners of homiletics are called homilists.
Homiletics has also appeared to be as merely the study of the structure and the transference of a sermon or a religious speech at the church or in a religious gathering. I have also further understood it to be a study of the investigation, categorization, organization, groundwork, training, structure and delivery of the sermons, hence expanding and incorporating a large array of activities from the part of the pastor or preacher. This is why homiletics is such a critical part of the book by Thomas Long. If the sermons loose effect, there will be very limited ways left for the church to instigate communal spirituality. Thomas Long hence gives great importance to not just the practice of homiletics but also its history to give testament to how and why sermons can be of such a huge influence on a community.
In the next few pages I will give a few literary details of how I have perceived homiletics, and the phenomenon of preaching in general, over the course of their history and theology:
Branch of pastoral theology
When looking at the standardized definition accepted of homiletics, it has already been explained that it the domain or department of communication that allows a rhetoric to be used for specified situations. This definition, I realize, was followed very closely all through the 19th century and with good effect, especially when I analyze the works of philosophers like John Broadus. However, on the contrary there are also philosophers like Karl Barth who all through the 19th century have stepped away from this standardized definition and have asserted that homiletics should not be restricted to merely playing the role of rhetoric-structuring. It is only in the 20th century that the real discussion between the association of rhetoric and homiletics really surfaced. It is hence why I feel this book was so insightful for me having grown up in an atmosphere where the relationship between the two factors is still a subject of debate for many religious and philosophical schools.
Managerial structure of preaching
The entire management of preaching rests solely with the bishops that have been appointed. All of the priests only giver sermons if and when sanctioned and permitted by the bishops in charge. What I found astonishing was that even the renowned and established priests like St. Augustine and St. Chrysostom were no exception to this rule -- whenever they preached, they did so with the permission of the respective bishops in charged at the time. This is not to say that the priests had to seek special permission before every preaching session, but the bishops did intervene and keep a check on the subjects being covered. For a non-denominational preacher however the case is very different. While most churches follow a very rigid structure of training and chain of commands, the non-denominational structure allows anyone with a strong background on religion to preach based on a vote-off with other non-denominational preachers in his group. This allows the entire structure of preaching having a very democratic setup and a very liberating structure for homiletics preaching. Long's approach to homiletics can be very adeptly and flexibly followed within a non-denominational setting as it allows a fresh and innovative style of preaching to be used. Since there really is no delegation of authority in the non-denominational structure of preaching, the overall good of the community is what leads the discussion for the content of preaching more so then anything else. Furthermore, the interpretations of the text can be done explicitly for the situations being faced by the community as well. The language structure that was used was again very flexible and the non-denominational preaching is structured so that it never contradicts the teachings of the established church but only presents a fresh and more open approach an interpretation of the text available.
Preaching and Present Day
When we analyze the present day structure of the church and the society, there are clear patterns of the phenomenon of Scholasticism in more than one way -- the different aspects include not just the structure in which we trace Scholasticism in the modern day church but also in the context. In this structure, the modern day sermons can design to be ethical, inflexible, chronological, or liturgical -- there are of course instances when one aspect can dominate another in a sermon.
However belonging to anon denominational structure allows me to really incorporate more flexibility in my sermons. Reading 'Witness of Preaching' by Thomas Long really allowed me to explore the different aspects in the modern society that need to be addressed and cannot be within the rigid structure of the church. Some of the aspects that I have incorporated as a non-denominational pastor after reading the witness of preaching are highlighted below:
The sermons are structured less formally i.e. The environment and ambience is more flexible and friendly structure without having a sense of pastor-audience about it
The sermon can also be in the form of a catechetical format; I personally only resort to this on rare basis
Scholasticism is the most obvious in the society when the sermon is filled with analytical interpretations, separating the divisions and separations that are made in the sermon between one topic and another; I, being a non-denominational pastor rarely use this to separate topics and resort to a more direct and friendlier approach when changing topics
The entire format of the preaching format in the modern non-denominational setup has become more intricate and dynamic. I, myself have come to terms with the fact that merely educational sermons come across as dry and a doctrine more so than an inspiration. And an inspiration is what the generations in the modern era need to really feel spiritually connected to their surroundings, the community as well as connected with their souls
Another aspect that I have noticed in the modern non-denominational sermon especially when I design the sermon I preach is that the…