In seminaries, the most hit-or-miss class might be the occasional course on Preaching.
I’ve had the unique experience of taking two different preaching courses at two very different seminaries. One course was incredibly dry, unhelpful, and boring. The other was life-giving, challenging, and skill-enhancing.
And I’m here to tell you that a good preaching course in seminary can change so much more than how well you do behind a pulpit.
I’ve loved the Bible my whole life. I still have the first Bible I was ever given as an infant. I still vividly remember the evening on my parent’s bed after they had read a Psalm to me that had been stuck in the middle of the stories about David. It was at this moment that it finally clicked for me that the Bible wasn’t just narratives, but also poems and other kinds of writing.
But, if you’ve been a Christian in America for any length of time, you know there are some really simplistic and ultimately unhelpful ways we treat the Bible. Just like Jesus, we can often neglect the “human” side of the Scriptures. And this in understandable.
A “human” Bible can feel very much like a desert, and the safety of a more typical super-fundamentalist view of the Scriptures can seem like an oasis. It’s hard to look at the pages of Scripture and simply know that God meets us there. The “magic” is not simplistic, clear, easy, and self-evident.
But in the end, I always remember the desert oasis is a mirage. The name that’s been imprinted upon my heart as the people of God–Israel–means “they wrestle with God”. And the first one to ever receive that name was one who spent his life with a limp.
There is no life with God without limping and chronic pain. For we have been granted to wrestle with God. This is our lot and our blessing.
But recently, I think I found a respite from my running, however brief or fleeting it proves to be.
I took a preaching class.
More than any systematic or biblical theological course I’ve taken, more than any book or speaker I’ve engaged, this class helped me most to re-engage the Bible, and understand a way of relating to it.
Through our readings, one another’s preaching, and listening to the preaching of others throughout the world from diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and theologies, I realized that it’s here, in the church’s preaching, that Christianity’s uniqueness is truly known. It’s where the Bible collides with real, messy life. It’s where it becomes alive and vibrant. It’s where the Spirit makes God known to us. It’s where–to be frank–archaeology, scholarship, textual criticism, and redaction theory be damned. Those things are important, but in preaching, we have more pressing matters to attend to, and the Scriptures are made alive to us by the Spirit.
In my preaching course, I was reminded of the most important thing about our God and how he relates to us: He speaks. He wants to be known. He reveals. The Scripture is alive not because of any qualities inherent to itself, but because of the God who uses those words at his freedom and choosing to reveal himself to us.
And as I myself was able to preach, sit under such a great diversity of preaching, and read amazing words articulating beautiful theologies of preaching (and being forced to articulate my own), I feel like for the first time in a long time I was able to see “behind” the words to see the Word.
So, brothers and sisters, with that being said, please don’t waste your preaching classes. You never know how you might meet God in them.