How can preaching inspire and shape a church to share the goodness of God in Jesus Christ with neighbors near and far, in words and deeds? How can reaching equip and send the people of God to be the people of God in the world and for the world? Because the only way the world will possibly believe this good news is if they see a community of people who live it and invite them to live in it too. This is the hope of missional preaching. (The Mission of Preaching, 28)
At the beginning of the year I sensed that the Lord wanted me to spend some more time studying and improving my skills in preaching. This goes hand in hand with the larger call upon my life to help equip the church for mission. When I saw that Patrick Johnson wrote a book titled The Mission of Preaching: Equipping the Community for Faithful Witness I knew that I was supposed to read this book.
Without a doubt the Western church lives in an era for which we are largely unprepared. We now life in a missionary context. I could tell you story after story about this. The fact is that nowadays many people are no longer even de-churched rather they are completely un-churched. This simple fact forces us to consider how preaching in this missionary context differs from preaching in a Christendom context. Johnson suggests that we need to reconsider homiletics in light of this missionary context. He proposes a missional homiletic:
Preaching confesses Jesus Christ through a missional interpretation of scripture in order to equip the congregation for its confession to the world.
Johnson fleshes out what this means through three chapters. He begins by examining the work of three homileticians who see preaching as a form of bearing testimony or bearing witness. Each of these proposals have their own strengths and weaknesses but in Johnson’s opinion, their greatest strength is that they all make a strong case for preaching as a form of testimony. Johnson also devotes a chapter to Barth’s missional theology. Barth’s Trinitarian theology forms a sort of foundation for an ecclesiology which emphasizes the missional nature of the church. For Barth, the commission given to the Church and to individual Christians is to bear witness to Christ. This forms the basis for a missional church and missional preaching. Johnson also devotes a chapter to studying the literature produced by various leaders in the missional church movement. He focuses primarily on Treasures in Clay Jars: Patterns in Missional faithfulness. From this book he describes various patterns and characteristics of the missional church. This serves as a further basis for his development of the missional homiletic.
Johnson wraps up his discussion of missional homiletics by reminding the reader that a missional hermeneutic must interpret scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ, it must take seriously the formative intent of scripture, it must address the vocational locatedness of the local congregation. All of this must be done in service of equipping the congregation for its confession in the world. As the preacher preaches scripture in light of this hermeneutic, he or she will be in a better position to act as a witness to Christ that equips his/her congregation to be effective witnesses for Christ in whatever context they find themselves in.
I absolutely loved this book! It was very well researched, i.e. it engages with various views on the purpose of preaching. It is theologically sophisticated, dealing in depth with Karl Barth’s theology. And most helpfully for preachers like me, it is extremely practical. Now this book doesn’t give a bunch of how to steps to missional preaching, it does provide patterns and images of what missional preaching might look like. In other words it provides great examples in order to stoke the preachers imagination as to what missional preaching will look like. What I appreciate most about this book is that it is one of the few books that specifically treat this ever so necessary topic – preaching in a missionary context. If I could I would put this book in every young preacher’s hands. More and more preachers are going to have to deal with the reality of preaching in this post-Christendom world, and they will most definitely need guidance for how to face this new challenge.
There is very little to critique in this book. One could critique some of the position of those that Johnson interacts with (for instance how several of the homileticians Johnson studies prioritize the authority of the preacher’s interaction with scripture over the authority of scripture itself), however that would not be very productive. My biggest critique of this book is the absence of any interaction with Karl Barth’s lectures on homiletics. If Barth really holds to a missional hermeneutic, this should certainly show up in these Barth’s lectures on homiletics. Johnson should have devoted some space to these lectures.
This post-Christendom context that we find ourselves in today will require change, not only in the preacher himself and how he preaches, but also in his understanding of the purpose of preaching. The preacher will have to add to his other preaching identities (herald, pastor, witness) the identity of equipper. This book will help him to do that. Hopefully those who read this book will be better equipped themselves to equip the church for the sake of mission.