Craig Loscalzo, in his chapter on postmodernity and preaching (in Apologetic Preaching), looks back on preaching under modernity and describes it in this way:
The modern pulpit was steeped in a reasoned homiletic, marked by point-making sermons, alliterated outlines and a third-person descriptive logic. Sermons of the modern era often talked about God, about the Bible, about life, viewing these matters like specimens under a microscope. This pulpit philosophy, saturated with rationalism, focused on factual knowledge as the sole medium for communicating religious truth. . . . For modern pulpits, faith often became unwittingly a synonym for rationalism. In Tom Long’s estimation we thought we were the children of Abraham but discovered we were merely the children of Descartes.
Quite a description! Some of us are blissfully unaware of postmodernity (neither every preacher, nor every local community is yet thoroughly beyond modernism). However, whether your community is showing signs of the shift or still stuck in the 1950’s, it’s important to hear Loscalzo’s description. What is abundantly clear here, wherever we may stand on the issues of postmodernity and its impact on our listeners, this description of preaching under modernity is anything but an ideal to which we should long to return.
You could probably list concerns about postmodernity, most Christian readers can. Hopefully you could also list opportunities that it presents to us as the church. But lest any of us simply dig in to fight against postmodernity, let’s not hold a rose-tinted view of what has gone before. As well as recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of what is coming, let’s also recognize strengths and weaknesses of what we may be leaving behind. It was not a golden age to which we must seek a return. The Bible, of course, is not anti-rational, incoherent or unthinking. Yet it is not merely rational. It goes much deeper. So must our preaching. While some may seem to check their rationality at the door, let’s not fight for rationality at the expense of every other aspect of the human soul’s functioning.
2 thoughts on “Looking Back on Modernity”
Thanks for your site, Peter.
I was wondering how much else you’ve read (or written) on postmodernism and the challenges and opportunities it presents for Christian preachers. I wrote a book a couple of years back, Confessing Jesus Christ: Preaching in a Postmodern World, and continue to look for people more interested in reaping the opportunities than running from the challenges.
Again, thanks for your work. And if you haven’t checked out workingpreacher.org, I’d be interested in what you think. It has a big component for lectionary preachers, but a whole lot more that would be value for all biblical preachers.
Thanks David. I haven’t read a whole lot, probably nothing you aren’t already aware of, on the subject of postmodernism and preaching. I will take a look at your book, thanks for suggesting it. I think it is important to engage with reality today, rather than simply trying to cling to something that perhaps is ungraspable. The Bible and the gospel are up for the challenges of postmodernity!
I took a look at the website (I’ve seen it before), but I probably should have another look. Thanks for your ministry and thanks for popping in to http://biblicalpreaching.net – you’re always welcome to comment and engage here.