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The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon

The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at The Divinity School, Duke University. He retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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Will Willimon: How Odd of God–God is the primary agent of preaching

December 11, 2015

My book, How Odd of God, is my attempt to show the relevance of Karl Barth's Doctrine of Election for today's preachers. Here is an excerpt from that book that gives you an indication of the encouragement and critique I hope to give contemporary preachers:

God is the primary agent of preaching.

Preaching is a fitting response to an interventionist, active, initiating God. Our relationship with God is based upon God's gracious choice to be for us and to speak with us through sermons of preachers. God's eternal decision to be God for us is not only revelation's substance but also its agent.

Preaching is not established by method or rhetorical technique but by the grace and mercy of God. Homiletical obsession with rhetoric appears to be waning; the best recent books on preaching are unashamedly theological. Interesting sermons begin in the conviction that God is revealed to be other than we expected. God is Emmanuel, God reiterating God's eternal, gracious choice to be for us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our proclamation is driven, not by our desire to be heard, but rather by God's determination-testified throughout Scripture and fully revealed in Jesus Christ-to be God With Us.

Praise characterizes much of Christian worship because the Christian life is responsive to something good that God has done. One need not be able to report having had the experience of election to be elected. Pietism and liberalism find it tough to beat the rap that their theology is merely a subjective claim about us and only secondarily a claim about God. The God we meeting in Jesus Christ is so against our natural inclination and imagination that it is unlikely we could have thought him up ourselves.

Moralism, the bane of homiletics in my church family, is defeated by God's election of us to which we make little contribution. When the gospel is reduced to something that we must think, feel, believe, or do, the gospel is warped beyond recognition. Election is a constant reminder to us preachers that we preach not in order to take our listeners somewhere they aren't but to announce where, by God's gracious election, they are and shall be.

From Will's blog, A Peculiar Prophet


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