Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Book #4, The Word Before the Powers

I was sitting in a meeting a few years ago at the university where I teach, discussing the use policies of a new facility the university had just aquired. One of the university administrators in the meeting kept saying, "the institution requires... ." The institution requires? Are we not the institution? What is this entity that requires things from us?

Thing is, the institution is a power. It collects certain narratives and values within a particular self-interest that expresses itself in policies and procedures so that somewhere along the line it becomes a character, an entity. It becomes a power that shapes us, rather than just the other way around.

Charles Campbell's book, The Word Before the Powers, is a book on preaching. But its not a book on preaching technique. We won't find much here in terms of deductive or inductive strategies. What we have here is a view of preaching connected to understandings of the kingdom of God.

Jesus came proclaiming. He came proclaiming the kingdom, or reign of God. He came with a word, not a sword. His word announced and demonstrated a new ordering, a new constellation of powers, a new way of being in and with power. Jesus came proclaiming, a powerful but non-violent way of being with others.

This book brought a lot of things together for me. Tumblers fell into place and some new territory was opened up. The big thing for me was Campbell's suggestion that a word before the powers allows preaching to be prophetic and pastoral simultaneously. We have a word over/against. But it is a word over and against powers for the sake of people, not over against people in a display of power. This one shift had massive implications for my preaching. We are all pressed against, and potentially dehumanized, by the same powers. From that perspective, it is hard for there to be an us and a them in proclamation. There is only an us with a liberating word about the possibility of life under new management, the kingdom of God.

1 comment:

seanpalmer said...

Interestingly, I just found this book on my shelf. Unread! I think it might have been for a class with you that I never took. I'll have to put it in my dock...it'll only be about 12 deep.

I'll get there eventually.