It's time we name modernity for what it is, says William H. Willimon, dean of chapel and professor of Christian ministry at Duke University. And he does just that in this article, which is excerpted from the Winter 1997 issue of CT's sister publication LEADERSHIP: A Practical Journal for Church Leaders.
When I recently asked a group of pastors what areas they wanted help with in their preaching, most replied, "To preach sermons that really hit my people where they live."
At one time I would have agreed this was one of the primary purposes of Christian preaching—to relate the gospel to contemporary culture. Now I believe it is our weakness.
In leaning over to speak to the modern world, I fear we may have fallen in. Most of the preaching in my own denomination struggles to relate the gospel to the modern world. We sought to use our sermons to build a bridge from the old world of the Bible to the modern world; the traffic was always one way, with the modern world rummaging about in Scripture, saying things like, "This relates to me," or, "I'm sorry, this is really impractical." It was always the modern world telling the Bible what's what.
This way of preaching fails to do justice to the rather imperialistic claims of Scripture. The Bible doesn't want to speak to the modern world; the Bible wants to convert the modern world.
We who may have lived through the most violent century in the history of the world—based on body counts alone—ought not to give too much credence to the modern world. The modern world is not only the realm of the telephone and allegedly "critical thinking" but also the habitat of Auschwitz, two of the bloodiest wars of history, and assorted totalitarian schemes. Why would our preaching want ...1