Today, I attended the Henderson lectures at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. This year, the speaker was Bishop William Willimon of the North Alabama Annual Conference. He was Dean of the Chapel at Duke for 20 years, was named one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world by a Baylor University study, and is the second most widely read writer by mainline pastors according to a Pulpit & Pew study.
Bishop Willimon is one of my primary contemporary influences, and it was great to hear him talk about "The Miracle of Preaching". Before his third (and final) lecture, Dr. John Burgess of PTS made the claim (with which I agree) that the 1989 book Resident Aliens, which Bishop Willimon wrote with Stanley Hauerwas, is one of the most significant Christian books of the last twenty years. I highly recommend it as a nice, simple intro to the work of both men.
Some of my notes from Bishop Willimon's presentation...
The modern world has a stake in keeping God silent.
We preachers don't like to admit that God has given us power; the preached Word is God's Word.
If God can even use the book of Proverbs to proclaim grace and change hearts, he can use anything. The book of Proverbs is like being trapped in a car on a road trip with your mother.
Preaching is a debilitating activity; preaching is hard, and most of your work is invisible.
The difference between a living God and a dead God is that the dead God will never surprise you.
God constantly reassures us, saying, "Hey... don't worry - you've got a college degree, it's North America, it's the twenty-first century, it's the Bush Administration - by comparison, anything you share will be good news."
We are in the business of teaching people a new language - the gospel.
In spite of Robert Schuller, self-esteem is not the same as salvation.
Our trouble began when we were no longer called preachers, but pastors, and our job became more therapeutic than proclamatory.
He went into an extended critique of Rick Warren and Joel Osteen and what he referred to as "power point preaching". He wasn't opposed to the technology as much as the style of preaching which usually accompanies these presentations, which he identified as sermon series' on "How to Cope" or "Principles for a Fulfilling Life". The Bishop felt that this kind of preaching reduced the gospel to a few simple principles and emptied it of its countercultural power. He felt it was too accomodating, too American middle class, and had little to do with the crucified and Risen Jew named Jesus. At one point, I whispered to a friend, "Bishop Willimon's been reading my blog!" Jeff Vanderhoff did not agree with Bishop Willimon's take on this style.
The preacher is the one who is called to love God more than he/she loves the congregation.
Words we'll never hear from God: "I love you just the way you are; promise me you'll never change."