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Lanterns at Dusk? Preaching after modernity

Posted on 25 July 2014 Gavin Glenn

Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

(1 Timothy 4:2, NRSV)

Written by Uniting Church Minister, Bruce Barber.

From the very beginning, preaching has been central to the church’s understanding of its life and ministry. Paul’s encouragement to Timothy reflects a confidence in the message and its communication that many in today’s world and church find troubling. Does the ministry of preaching have a future and, if so, how must it change if it is to be effective in the formation of the lives of contemporary disciples of Jesus?

Bruce Barber’s mind was formed in the context of the tumultuous and contested theological movements of the latter half of the twentieth century, wherein the modern Western paradigm has increasingly shown itself to be anachronistic, not least with regards to the sermon. At the same time, the book is an outcome of a working life spent endeavouring to bridge the gulf between the disciplines of systematic and practical theology, especially in the implications both have for preaching.

This is not a book on the subject of homiletics as that enterprise has conventionally been understood. Rather, the sermons included are intended to illustrate the conclusions that have been argued for in the early sections. The opening chapters offer an interpretation of the significant shifts that systematic theology has had to engage with in Western culture, culminating in the contemporary legacy of rising atheism in popular culture, and the increasingly widespread disillusionment with religion.

The title plays on Friedrich Nietzsche’s Parable of the Madman in his doomed search for God, which is used as the lens for viewing the present situation in Western culture, not least in Australia. Barber draws out the implications of this parable for the task of preaching in the third millennium.

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