The Reconciling Word: A Theology of Preaching
This dissertation seeks to disclose the reconciling power of Christian preaching, and examine the homiletical task through the lens of Jesus' command to "love your enemies." Because the heart of Christian preaching lies in the Word of God revealed as the Prince of Peace, Gospel proclamation and reconciliation are perpetually intertwined. God's message of reconciliation has irrupted in history through a Son who not only forbids the killing of enemies, but also commands his followers to love them. Yet, in the wake of history's bloodiest century, Christians continue to sanction divisive, violent responses to those considered strangers and enemies--even those who also claim the name "Christian." The time is ripe for an analysis of the proclaimed Word of God as a potent catalyst for reconciliation.
The church needs a theology of preaching that offers an alternative to the world's language about enemies. My contention is that a theological investigation of enemy-language will have a positive impact on the theory and practice of Christian preaching, while unearthing new possibilities for churches and other faith communities beset by seemingly insurmountable conflict. I challenge presumptions about who our enemies truly are through descriptions of the rhetorical, theological, and homiletical elements of gospel proclamation in communities torn by conflict. What I finally hope to show is that because God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation, preaching is then an inherently reconciling practice, unintelligible apart from its nature as an address to God's former enemies. Reconciling sermons address and sustain churches with cruciform speech, or gospel-shaped language redeemed by God's Spirit, through which disciples are summoned to recognize and embody the forgiveness of the crucified yet risen Jesus, and equipped to exemplify, as ambassadors of reconciliation, the radical consequences of Christ's lordship.
Methodologically, the dissertation pursues a theological analysis of preaching based on the relationship between the God of Jesus Christ and humankind. This reconciliation encompasses all things, past, present, and future. Such an assertion proceeds from a paradox: the world rejects Christ, and yet God has reconciled the world through Jesus on the cross (2 Cor. 5:18). Consequently, as Richard Lischer has said, reconciliation is the "animating principle" of preaching. God's reconciling action in Christ is the essential, constitutive homiletical thrust. Thus, sermonic language must align itself with God's reconciling action in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
The dissertation advances these claims through a theoretical analysis of the "enemy" as it occurs in theological discourse, biblical interpretation, homiletical rhetoric, and constructive theologies of preaching and reconciliation, as well as through theological investigations of the preaching of Will Campbell, and sermons directly related to The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Overall, the dissertation combines the traditional disciplines of homiletics, theology, biblical interpretation, and rhetoric with contextualized field studies of "reconciling sermons." The ultimate hope of this work is to invite the field of homiletics and the church it serves toward a more comprehensive acknowledgement of the crucial, reciprocal relationship between preaching, reconciliation, and peacemaking.
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