Review – Kairos Preaching: Speaking the Gospel to the Situation

Kairos Preaching: Speaking Gospel to the Situation
Co-authors: David Schnasa Jacobsen and Robert Allen Kelly
Publisher: Augsburg Fortress, 2009
ISBN: 9780800662509

I wish to thank my friends at Augsburg Fortress for sending me a copy of this book to review.

The heart of this book are chapters three to seven which speak about preaching gospel at funerals, weddings, stewardship, in the face of injustice, and in times of public crisis. The authors have structured these core chapters to deal with both theory and practice.  After reading each of these chapters, I have found these chapters useful in practical ways.  The authors’ identification of both context and situation help to make the good news pro nobis, or “for us.”  If the gospel is not pro nobis, the preacher’s words will be empty and vain.  In much of our preaching today, we have enough emptiness and vain rhetoric to fill an endless sieve.

Each core chapter is divided into two main parts: 1) discerning the context and situation; and 2) gospel commonplaces. The first part is theoretical and it helps the reader identify ways to relate the good news with real world by giving some examples where one can discern the contexts and situations where this can happen. The second part is more practical because it helps the preacher identify places where one can apply the gospel in real life situations. I like this division but I do favour the second sections on ‘gospel commonplaces’ because when I want quick means to inspiration for preaching, I can just skim over the sections in these chapters again to refresh my memory of some of the useful advice provided in ‘gospel commonplaces’.

I will bring out some of the tidbits from the locus of ‘gospel commonplaces’ that I have found invaluable:

Implication – Since a funeral sermon should articulate the gospel in the light of human lives, it should say much more than merely a personal eulogy…. But we need to be very, very careful that we do not imply by our words or manner that it was or is that person’s character or actions that is the basis for one’s relationship with the ultimate ground of being… The point of a funeral sermon is to remind us all that the meaning of who we are, the life we have lived, and what the destiny of our lives has been and will be is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth…

What is the point of giving another eulogy at a funeral when someone else is already doing just that?  The family member or friend will be giving a well-thought out eulogy and so the preacher does not need to repeat another eulogy.  The sermon at a funeral is suppose to speak the gospel into the situation of those who are still living. The living need to hear the gospel and relate that to that spiritual lives.

Implication – a funeral sermon should focus on God’s action for us, rather than our action for God.  The latter runs the risk of works righteousness and fails to announce the gospel…. Here we need to be especially careful.  Even when the deceased actually was a powerful witness to the unconditional grace of God in Christ, because of the beliefs of our society, it is incredibly easy for people to hear that the deceased is with God because the deceased was such a good witness.

The evangelical gospel should be free from any attempt to glorify the works of any human; rather, it should glorify the work of God in Christ Jesus.   Paul says: “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,” (2 Cor. 3:5).

Implication – The wedding sermon is not so much a proclamation of the gospel as it is a connection of God’s creation through the structures of ordinary social life to this particular couple….  Marriage is about creation and God’s preserving of creation through human structures…. When we perform weddings, we do not act as ministers of the gospel but as agents of God’s creating and preserving love…we act, under the authority of the state, as agents of God’s left hand.  The wedding is not an evangelistic opportunity in the sense that we are there to call people to a vision of God’s deep concern for and involvement in ordinariness.

Personally, this was one important learning point for me.  I had previously thought of the wedding sermon as a possible opportunity to minister the evangelistic gospel to wedding invitees.  After more personal reflection, I have come to view the wedding sermon as less of an opportunity for proclamation of gospel.  However, I still believe that there is an opportunity for invitees to hear the gospel, which can be heard anywhere and everywhere the Word is preached.

Implication – The argument over “sacred” and “secular” in planning wedding services is unnecessary and counterproductive…. Dividing between some aspects of life that are “sacred” and some that are “secular” is a false distinction…. Just because a piece of music was originally written to be performed in a church building does not make it somehow more “sacred” than a piece of music written to be performed in a tavern.

I couldn’t agree with this more. In fact, some songs typically sang in tavern have been converted to hymns to be sung in churches, and, the vice versa also occurs.  This makes me wonder why our Christian rock and pop songs are seen as “unchristian” or “secular” and not sung more often in our traditional churches.  Some songs may not be as God-centered but may be appropriate as wedding songs; however, some careful consideration should be made to whether they should be played on a typical Sunday worship service.

Implication – “Traditional” marriage is not the only possible form of being for the world and for each other….  Is it possible for a same-sex marriage to be a marriage in the sense that we have been using the word?  No one, we think, could dispute that we have a gay or lesbian couple could symbolize God’s faithful commitment to creation…. Since faithful same-sex relationships seem on a biological basis to exclude children apart from extraordinary intervention, one might question whether a same-sex relationship can symbolize openness to the future in the same way that a heterosexual marriage does.  In our opinion, the ability to have children apart from medical or other intervention is not the core of the question.

I applaud the authors for addressing this question of same-sex marriage because it is a ticking time-bomb in the Lutheran church today.  It is already an explosive issue in the ELCA and will become one in the ELCIC in a year’s time. I respectfully disagree with the authors’ position here.  Apart from the inability to bear children due to a medical condition, a couple’s natural physiological design to bear-children is the precisely the core of the question.  A same-sex union violates the definition of marriage.    It is an obvious and direct witness to God’s design and will.  In my opinion, to reinterpret the design and will of God, the designer-creator, moves theology onto shaky ground because we have forfeited a God-centered view of theology for a human-centered theology.

Implication – In any stewardship sermon the total educational process is more important than immediate fundraising needs….  The truth is that too often our churches face these situations, not because the members do not have enough money for their own needs, but because they confuse consumer desire with actual need and divert money that could be used for mission.  The root of our financial crisis is in a deeper crisis of unbelief in the church—too many of us simply do not believe the gospel to be true.  We worship a stingy god in the midst of a stingy society, and so we are stingy with our giving….  As long as we live in a society that has been shaped by the ethos of consumer capitalism, stewardship will be one of our most serious issues, especially among those who have plenty of money to spend and whose institutions are growing.

I think this issue can be discussed even further because it is related to the communication of the importance of God’s mission and how Christ’s church is called into mission.  Financially struggling congregations seem to be struggling because they do not believe in the congregation or church’s ability to further God’s mission in the world.  There is a myriad of complicated factors regarding this issue. One, it may be that the issue hasn’t been communicated to the people well enough—that is, more preaching on mission and evangelism is needed.  Two, many congregations do not practice mission and evangelism.  They may know about it, and even speak about it, even in their annual theme statements; however, it hasn’t been indelibly marked into the people’s DNA as mission and evangelistically-minded believers.  This is why the people do not practice mission and evangelism as a lifestyle.  When this changes, the financial giving toward mission and evangelism will change.

Implication – Preaching in the face of injustice, like any other preaching, involves both justice and grace—in other words, prophetic preaching is still preaching the gospel…. One of the great temptations of prophetic preaching is to turn it into moralism…. Prophetic preaching should never sound like “it’s all up to us” nor that thanks to grace “it just doesn’t matter.”  Both fall short of preaching gospel in the face of injustice.

I totally agree.  I have heard sermons addressing injustices but have come out feeling condemned by law and have not heard any of the good news that Christ can bring hope and healing.  All law and no gospel also exists in sermons that address issues of injustice.   This causes listeners to feel more condemned than be filled with hope for a better future.

After reading this book, I have gained invaluable insights from the authors.  This book will be placed in a prominent part of my homiletics bookshelf.  I will definitely pull it out when I am looking for inspiration and advice on preaching sermons for special occasions.  This book is for you if you wish to gain nuggets of wisdom and become a better preacher.

The co-authors of this book are professors at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary in Ontario, Canada.  David Schnasa Jacobsen, Professor of Homiletics, is an ordained clergy in the United Methodist Church; and Robert Allen Kelly, Professor of Church History and Ecclesiology, is an ordained clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.  As clergy persons with preaching experience, they have applied their wisdom into a proper context for students of pastoral theology.  Thank you Professors David Jacobsen and Robert Kelly.

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