August 13, 2008

Bonhoeffer on the Sermon & Truth

Continuing in my reading with Bonhoeffer I enjoyed his short exposition on preaching. The person of Christ exists in preaching. Humans words don't cloak the Word of God, "rather, God's Word has really entered into the humiliation of the words of men. Man's sermon is the Word of God, because God has freely bound himself and is bound to the words of men."

The role of the sermon as the Word of God is an idea that can be disconcerting. I often feel our churches often allow the preacher to become an authoritative figure towering over the congregation, thus disembodying the body of Christ. But to understand Bonhoeffer means that the sermon never stands over the body, but rather is shared within the body.

Truth is non-objectivistic for Bonhoeffer, which I was glad to read:
Truth is not something in itself, which rests for itself, but something that happens between two. Truth happens in community.
I have struggled with the task of preaching in our culture. A culture that doesn't trust authoritative figures that pull objective truth from the sky (read: their ass), a participatory culture, and an entertained culture. But I was reminded this week about the power and reality of the spoken word, especially when it is the Word as Bonhoeffer would argue.

Because of the many facets of preaching, I like that Bonhoeffer calls the sermon "both the riches and the poverty of the church." Our broken, frail human words become the Word and "what is impossible for man and what God promises are the same."

I think I believe in preaching if the sermon is formed by the community, for that is where truth happens. The sermon must be a shared act of the church. I'm not sure what this means exactly in my context, but I think it means intertwining the people's narratives with God's, forming and informing the Scripture with the people and forming and informing the people with the Scripture.

Maybe preaching is the task of asking better questions. Maybe preaching is learning to have fluid conversations about faith and Jesus over shared food, a camp ground, and a car ride.

Do you think that preaching is a necessary tool for the church's proclamation of the gospel? What does the task of preaching look like in our culture?


Anonymous said...


Bohoeffer has a much higher view of the authority bestowed upon the minister by the giftings of the Spirit. It is from Christ via the Spirit in the congregation (Christ-existing-as-community) that bestows authority. That is, for DB, an unavoidable belief for DB.

However, he goes into great lenghts in his disertaion to discuss the "objective spirit" (sociological ethos - to oversimplify), in which the bestowed authority plays itself out. So authority can be said to be given by the Spirit, and grown into in the eyes of the congregation.

As to how sermons arise from community:
As you have said - incorporating the broadest range of the communties experience - as parts of the Body, is important.

However, if the local congregation is part of the Body of Christ, it also needs the broadest exposure to the lifes, victories, faithfulnesses, and failures of both the male and female saints from beginning until today.

Burt Burleson, formerly of DaySpring in Waco, and now Chaplain of Baylor also had lectionary breakfasts (both before and after the sermon) with any congregants who would come, about the text, how it impinges upon their lives, etc. That way the congregants both help the pastor carry their call, and critque where it is possible.

Oh well

Anonymous said...

And to the final questions, yes, preaching is essential, as are the sacraments, works of mercy, and alternate practices (confession, reconciliation, gift economy).

It those constitutive practices are abandoned the church looses those practices which inculcate the particular ecclesial living of the gathered faithful.

Without these - the church IS doomed to absorption in the materialistic, nihilistic, consumerist, nationalistic narratives of the US.

JoeBumbulis said...

I certainly agree that the narrative of Christianity and all of our history from the last 2000 years must be a part of formation.

I know DB's stance on authority and how it arises from Christ as the church, I'm just not sure if I can agree.

My question is how old is the sermon and preaching in the manner we practice it in our congregational churches and do we really lose the church when we don't practice preaching, the sacraments, etc?

Can you cease to be the church when you practice preaching, sacraments, confession? (Can't the church bve absorbed into the culture and still practice these constitutive practices?)

Are you saying that to be the church of Christ, to be Christ you must have certain forms?