"Good preaching not only requires its practitioners to become skilled biblical exegetes. It also requires them to become adept in 'exegeting' local congregations and their contexts, so that they can proclaim the gospel in relevant and transformative ways for particular communities of faith.
"Unfortunately, however, homiletical texts and courses have not always attended as carefully or thoughtfully to the exegesis of contexts as they have to the exegesis of texts. While preachers have been provided with detailed methods for biblical interpretation, congregational interpretation has frequently been left to the intuition and hunches of the local pastor.
This book seeks to correct that imbalance. Operating on the assumption that there are a number of pastors and chaplains who, like cross-cultural missionaries, are actually proclaiming the gospel 'across subcultures' (that is, preaching to people whose worldview and values are different from their own), this book addresses two questions:
"Chapter 1 begins with a recounting of that experience and with a recognition that there are actually many pastors in the United States who, like cross-cultural missionaries, are struggling to proclaim the Gospel to people whose worlds are different from their own. Whether it be the 'cosmopolitan' urban pastor who has recently been called to minister to a congregation of blue collar 'locals', the Korean-American pastor whose congregation includes several diverse generations, the pastor of a rural congregation who also leads occasional worship services in a nearby prison, or the young chaplain struggling to prepare meaningful sermons for retirement home residents-preaching frequently requires its practitioners to proclaim the gospel across cultures. Consequently, pastors cannot readily assume that the assumptions they take into the pulpit, the illustrations they find most meaningful, or the sermon forms they most enjoy using will be equally accessible to or meaningful for their hearers. Indeed, they may well find that a gap exists between the pulpit and the pew--a gap they need help understanding and bridging.
"In chapter 2, I propose that one way to bridge this gap is to view preaching as an act of constructing 'local theology'--that is, theology crafted for a very particular people in a particular time and place. Like theologies that have emerged from base communities in Latin America, preaching is a highly contextual act, requiring its practitioners to consider context as seriously as they consider biblical text in the interpretive process. Indeed, if we preachers want to reflect in our own proclamation the God who became incarnate for our sakes (meeting us on our turf), to remove from our own preaching any 'false stumbling blocks' that might hinder a faithful hearing of the gospel, and to bring the gospel and contemporary life together in ways that capture and transform congregational imaginations, then we necessarily must first attend carefully to the contexts in which we are preaching.
"Consequently, in chapter 3, I turn toward the task of congregational exegesis, outlining a very practical method for interpreting congregational subcultures that can be engaged by busy pastors while carrying on the ordinary tasks of ministry. Drawing on the expertise of authors in the fields of congregational studies and cultural anthropology, this chapter identifies seven symbols of congregational life that hold particular promise for revealing cultural and theological identity, and provides interpretive frameworks through which the local pastor can deepen his or her understanding of the congregation's own worldview, values, and ethos. At stake is not only enhanced cultural understanding, but also a deepening awareness of the local theologies that already exist within the life of a congregation (beliefs regarding God, humanity, nature, time, the church, and their interrelationships).
"Chapter 4 then turns to the question: 'So, what difference does all this make for the theology of preaching?' Here we revisit the 'text-to-sermon' process (revisioned as a 'con/text-to-sermon' process), observing how greater attention to congregational context at each juncture---from the selection of biblical texts for proclamation, to the pastor's initial reading of them, to the methods used for biblical interpretation, to the discernment of fitting themes and strategies for proclamation--can positively contribute toward preaching as local theology. Sermons of local pastors, preached in their own unique congregational contexts, provide real-life examples of contextual theologizing in action.
"Finally, in chapter 5, we turn toward the art of the sermon, exploring ways in which an enhanced emphasis upon contextuality in preaching can also contribute to sermons that are more fitting for local congregations in regard to their language, illustrations, and form. Here preaching is likened to folk art--more particularly to a circular folk dance--in which the preacher stays close to the ground of the hearers, enfleshing the sermon in language, rhythms, and forms that encourage local hearers to want to put on their own dancing shoes and join in the dance of faith.
"In writing this book I have been aware of ways in which my own cultural contexts (past and present) have contributed to its perspectives. I am an Anglo-Saxon Protestant (Presbyterian) woman, who has lived most of her life in the Eastern part of the United States. Consequently, many of the stories I tell, examples and illustrations I use, and questions I address are reflective of those contexts and their congregations.
"I have also been gifted with a number of international, ecumenical, and cross-cultural experiences in my ministry, however: serving as a volunteer missionary in South Korea, representing my denomination on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, pastoring both Episcopal and Presbyterian congregations, and teaching students of diverse cultures in several different seminaries. These experiences have deepened my questions, expanded my realm of conversation partners, and heightened my interest in cross-cultural issues. In many ways this book is my attempt to bring what I have learned about contextuality in more global forums to bear upon the particular and local instance of preaching in U. S. congregations.
"As I have written, I also have tried to envision my own reading audience. Certainly local pastors, chaplains, and seminarians have been among those for whom I have hoped this book might prove beneficial. I also believe, however, that skills in congregational exegesis and contextual theologizing are equally critical for other areas of ministry. Thus I am hopeful that portions of this book might also prove useful for Christian educators, pastoral caregivers, and others charged with the spiritual and theological leadership of congregations." - from the Preface, by Nora Tubbs Tisdale, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.
"The preacher can find many books giving advice on how to exegete the Bible. At last, here is a book with solid and helpful guidelines on how to exegete the congregation. Nora Tisdale blends the best scholarship on cross-cultural studies with her wise insights as an experienced pastor to break new ground in the field of preaching." --Thomas G. Long. Princeton Theological Seminary
"Leonora Tubbs Tisdale presents us with a useful way to 'exegete' congregations and a striking new image of preaching as 'folk art.' She teaches us how to listen deeply for a congregation's operative theology. Then she shows us how to preach sermons that respond to and shape this theology." --John S. McClure, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Leonora Tubbs Tisdale is Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship, Princeton Theological Seminary.
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