Preaching As Though We Had Enemies

Here are some excerpts by an article by Stanley Hauerwas on "Preaching As Though We Had Enemies":

  • Christianity, as the illumination of the human condition, is not a Christianity at war with the world....  Psalms such as Psalm 109, which ask God to destroy our enemies and their children, can appear only as embarrassing holdovers of "primitive" religious beliefs.  Equally problematic are apocalyptic texts that suggest Christians have been made part of a cosmic struggle.... Most of us do not go to church because we are seeking a safe haven from our enemies; we go to church to be assured we have no enemies.  Accordingly, we expect our ministers to exemplify the same kind of bureaucratic mentality so characteristic of modern organizational behavior and politics....  The ministry seems captured in our time by people who are desperately afraid they might actually be caught with a conviction at some point in their ministry that might curtail future ambition.  They therefore seek to "manage" their congregations by specializing in the politics of agreement by always being agreeable.  The preaching such a ministry produces is designed to reinforce our presumed agreements, since a "good church" is one without conflict.
  • I am suggesting that our preaching should presume that we are preaching to a Church in the midst of a war.
  • Humility derives not from the presumption that no one knows the truth, but rather is a virtue dependent on our confidence that God's word is truthful and good.  Ironically, in the world in which we live if you preach with such humility you will more than likely be accused of being arrogant and authoritarian.  To be so accused is a sign that the enemy has been engaged.  After all, the enemy (who is often ourselves) does not like to be reminded that the narratives that constitute our lives are false.  Moreover, you had better be ready for a fierce counteroffensive as well as be prepared to take some casualties.  God has not promised us safety, but participation in an adventure called the Kingdom.  That seems to me to be great good news in a world that is literally dying of boredom.
  • Theories about meaning are what you get when you forget that the Church and Christians are embattled by subtle enemies who win easily by denying that any war exists.  God knows what He is doing in this strange time between "worlds," but hopefully He is inviting us again to engage the enemy through the godly weapons of preaching and sacrament....  May we preach so truthfully that people will call us terrorists.  If you preach that way you will never again have to worry about whether a sermon is "meaningful."

Read the entire essay to absorb its weight and significance for the Church.

HT: John Piper - "one of the best essays on preaching I ever read."