Preaching and the Sanctified Imagination

One of the most wonderful things about teaching in a Bible College as a practitioner (I preach and teach in local churches regularly) is that my calling encourages me to reflect more critically upon my pastoral practices. Though my specialization for academia is in Old Testament and theology, I’ve been afforded the opportunities to be the preaching professor for five years now. This has enriched my life as a preacher immensely (whether the congregants have felt so is another issue).
One area that recently has caught my attention in a fresh way is the need for a sanctified imagination in the pulpit.
I know many folks have witnessed imagination in the pulpit, but this is not that. Though, to be sure, one cannot preach without imagination. The very act of preaching requires a movement beyond the text of Scripture even while it should flow from and to Scripture. To simply read the Scriptures is not necessarily to engage the imagination (though any good reading of a text should do so). To say anything beyond simply reading is to engage the imagination and offer something extra-textual. While the act of reading (and hearing) invites imagination we have too often considered ourselves as preachers to simply be saying what the Scriptures say in our preaching. But that would be to only read Scripture (and one might even argue that is still not the case). If we would preach, we must imagine that world as it was, as it is, and as it must finally be (e.g., see Walter Brueggemann’s, The Prophetic Imagination and The Practice of the Prophetic Imagination). Thus, my own reflections on the act of preaching lead me to conclude the act of preaching is an act of the imagination.
This does not mean a free-for-all imagining, but a sanctified imagination. If a preacher would preach Christ they must have a sanctified imagination.
A sanctified magination is one that has been immersed in, and is being transformed by, the Spirit through the Word. It is consumed with meditating on the Word. It sings, speaks, thinks, reads, prays, and then eventually preaches that Word. Such an imagination has found itself in the unbreakable grip of the Father’s love in Christ Jesus–a love that consumes the passions and will of the preacher.
Such a sanctified imagination cannot but declare the revelation of God in Christ. It cannot but speak of King Jesus saving, healing, and baptizing in the Spirit. Such a sanctified imagination sees the world of Scripture playing out before them in fresh ways. This sanctified imagination declares the kingdom of God even as it enacts it in the life of the Spirit-filled community caught in the midst of the world (and living for that world and its redemption).
My prayer for myself, my students and those to whom I share in the preaching of the Word is that our imaginations might increasingly be caught up into the sanctifying life, death, resurrection, and soon coming of Christ who makes all things new.

Testimony as Embedded Proclamation

testimonyHere is a bit from one of my graduate students (used by Matt Payne with permission) on engaging postmodernism as a Pentecostal church and preacher. How does one engage those who, at best, question the notion of the meta-narrative? How does one do so while pointing to the story of God’s redemption in Christ and testified to by the Spirit? Through testimony.

I would like to suggest that honest, theologically-sound testimony is essentially embedded proclamation, specifically as it bears witness to the ongoing work of Christ, proclaimed orally, in writing, graphically or otherwise. Furthermore, I would suggest that embedded proclamation constitutes a form of preaching (witness), though itself not found .[1] The activity of Christ, communicated faithfully by the witnessing community, performs the same function that liturgically embedded preaching does: it forms theology by communicating (as witness) what Christ has done and (prophetically) what can be expected of Christ in the future.[2]
To that end, Walter Brueggemann suggests that the essence of prophecy is “a sustained effort to imagine the world as though YHWH were a real character and the defining agent in the life of the world.”[3] Testimony performs the same function, though more concretely and in the past tense, much like Scripture.[4] If God heals someone, or delivers them miraculously from an addiction, it would stand to reason that those actions re-presented as testimony would serve as witness to the ontic reality of God’s presence, nature, mission, and proximity to humanity. Testimony is at once recollection of the deeds of God and prophecy of what He will do in the future, whether that’s healing, deliverance, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, salvation, etc.

It is the very nature of testimony to subtly undermine other counter narratives. It does this by offering another world, as it were, and suggesting the potentiality of others entering that same experience and likewise be transformed.
This is precisely the kind of writing I LOVE to read from my students! I pray our testimonies may do just this!
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[1] Rick Wadholm Jr, “What is Preaching and What Makes it ‘Christian’?” a paper presented to The Socratic Club of Trinity Bible College and Graduate School Thursday, April 23, 2015.
[2] Revelation 19:10.
[3] Walter Brueggemann, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 132.
[4] It could be argued that much of Scripture is in essence a series of testimonies. When considered in this light, it’s significant how much theology we distill not from explicit commands and propositions, but rather through our witness of God’s interaction with Israel and four author’s observations of Jesus’s earthly ministry.