Monday, October 10, 2005

Topical Preaching

After reading Adam Hamilton's book Leading Beyond the Walls, another thing I've been thinking about is lectionary preaching and topical preaching. I mentioned in my review that I disagree with Hamilton's take on lectionary preaching.

I remember at General Conference 2000, I had my first experience of the using of the phrases "high view" and "low view of scripture" by the late Rev. Bill Hinson in my small group on the Faith and Order legislative committee. Rev. Hinson and other conservatives talked about having a "high view" of scripture, meaning a more literal interpretation of scripture and perhaps a (conceived) more central place given to scripture in theology. I had never thought of myself as having a "low view" of scripture, though this seem to be implied as a natural correlative of a liberal outlook.

What does this have to do with lectionary and topical preaching? What I find interesting is this: from my experience (no formal surveys here, no studies I've read, just folks I've talked to so chime in if you don't fit my suggestion!), liberal pastors are more likely to stick to the lectionary and more conservative pastors are more likely to choose another method for selecting scriptures for preaching.

Adam Hamilton talks in Leading Beyond the Walls about sermon series he has preached, including the "controversial issues" of the church. We've recently added a second service at my church, and we've been focusing on the Social Principles in the worship, and I've been trying something new: non-manuscript non-lectionary preaching. It's been challenging for me, and I can't say I've enjoyed it. Why?? The non-manuscript part makes me nervous - I'm not comfortable with it yet, and as a lover of writing I feel my strength is in the way I put a manuscript sermon together.

But that aside, I miss the discipline of the lectionary very much. To me, it seems very strange to have a topic, and then pick a scripture to go with it. It never seems as deep to me as to read the Word, and then try to understand, interpret, and preach it. To me, there is some irony in the fact that someone like me with a "low view" of scripture has such a hard time not starting with the scripture first in my preaching, and seeing where it and God leads me and my congregation.

This week, I am heading off to the General Board of Church and Society meeting in DC (expect reports from me on the good work of the agency some of you love to hate!) and will spend one day in training on teaching the Social Principles, which I hope will help me center my topical preaching.

'Til then, what are your thoughts? Do you preach the lectionary or not? Why? Do you think there is a correlation between theology and the choice to preach or not preach from the lectionary? How do you keep your preaching grounded?
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