Research Update: The Future of Homiletical Theology
Updated Research Questions for the HTP
Original research questions served the work of the Consultation from 2013-16, whose work now appears in The Promise of Homiletical Theology series with Cascade Books. That doesn’t mean there are no more questions. Research in homiletical theology, and this project have only gotten started.
One of the big questions for me is how theology and preaching relate.
Over the next few years a hope to develop a fully theo-rhetorical view of preaching—one where theology and rhetoric are in real dialogue over the basic elements of the preaching task. This will begin with a series of articles on topics important for understanding preaching today: the unique shape of narrative, imagery, and argument in preaching; Christian preaching of the Hebrew Bible in today’s pluralistic context; and the struggle of naming grace and justice in the evangelical conversation and commitments of the people of God.
I hope you, along with the many people who have taken part in the Homiletical Theology Project over the years, have found the journey helpful. More important, I hope you will stick with it as we probe more deeply into the future of preaching, the future of homiletical theology.
Original Homiletical Theology Project Research Questions(2013-2016)
Below are some of the generative research questions for the HTP consultation at the Academy of Homiletics from 2013-16. They will give you an idea about some of the questions that got our conversations rolling. Questions 1, 2, 4, and 5 became the focus respectively of volumes 1-4 in the Cascade series, The Promise of Homiletical Theology.
#1: NAMING HOMILETICAL THEOLOGY
What is homiletical theology?
David Buttrick once argued that homiletical theology turns Barth on his head. Where Barth argues that all “theology is sermon preparation,” Buttrick contends that all “sermon preparation is theology” (Foreword to Barth’s Homiletics). Papers relating the project of homiletical theology along with interests in preaching practices and theories to developments in constructive theology, practical theology, contextual theology, correlational theology, and traditional and confessional theological traditions are encouraged.
#2: THE UNFINISHED TASK OF HOMILETICAL THEOLOGY
How does homiletical theology help the ongoing unfinished theological task of interpretation?
The default position is that the task of preaching is simply about applying a fixed deposit of tradition, whether of scripture or doctrine, to contemporary life. Ronald Allen has argued that even when preaching a text like Acts, preachers are actually writing its “29th chapter” (Acts of the Apostles for Preaching, forthcoming). Barbara Lundblad in her published Beecher lectures (Marking Time: Preaching Biblical Stories in Present Tense, 2007) argues that this unfinished theological task is built in to the mutual relationship of marking, which guards both our interpretations and the words of scripture as the witness of the other. How can we conceive homiletical theology’s role with respect to the sources and norms of Christian theological reflection? Papers with a view toward envisioning homiletical theology as practical theology, constructive theology, or theological method, and others are welcome.
#3: HOMILETICAL THEOLOGY AND TRAUMA
How does the emerging literature of theology and trauma impact and inform the task of a homiletical theology?
Theologians like Shelly Rambo (Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining) and Serene Jones (Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World) have helped to place trauma at the center of theological discussion. Homiletical theologians must not only do their work with respect to contemporary moments of trauma (e.g., in situational or crisis preaching), but also work with texts and traditions that themselves have emerged in moments of trauma, posing unresolved, knotty problems for sustaining the Christian witness both for the church itself and in the presence of others. How might the emerging theological literature around trauma assist the unfinished theological task of preaching with respect to its own memory, its naming of grace in crisis, or trauma, especially in the traumatic spaces between Good Friday and Easter?
#4: GOSPEL, CONTEXT AND HOMILETICAL THEOLOGY
How should we understand the relationship of gospel and context in homiletical theology?
Contemporary homiletics explores context in relation to matters of identity, social-political world, ecclesial interpersonal realities, and shared situations, among others. What impact do these important studies have on theologies of the gospel for today in all their diversity? Assuming gospel is not some fixed, unchanging entity (Farley, Practicing Gospel, 2003), how does the gospel unfold historically and in the presence of our diverse hearers, contexts, and situations? How does that gospel relate to the scriptures and tradition that precede and underlie the church, hearers, and concreted communities in context? Papers that do theological reflection on the gospel with reference to theories of culture, identity, context, and situation are encouraged.
#5: TOWARD A HOMILETICAL THEOLOGY OF PROMISE
How might homiletical theology describe grace and justice in light of God’s “promise” in preaching?
The language of promise is key for a theology of grace that runs from Paul through Augustine to Luther and into the modern period. At the same time, language around promise has also shaped the eschatological hopes for justice and reconciliation in liberation and political theologies (e.g., Moltmann). Homileticians as different as James Kay, David Lose, Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm, Paul Wilson, Christine Smith, and David Schnasa Jacobsen relate promise in various ways to their theological reflections on matters like the gospel, the authority of scripture, the task of narration, commitments to justice, and prophetic preaching. How might a homiletical theology of promise aid our struggle with the relationship of God’s justice and grace in context? Papers focusing on a theology of preaching, a theology of the gospel, the place of eschatology with respect to a homiletical theology of grace and justice are welcome.
#6: THE PREACHER AS HOMILETICAL THEOLOGIAN
How can we teach future preachers to be homiletical theologians?
From time to time members of AH have posed important questions about pedagogy from Wardlaw and Baumer’s Learning Preaching in the 1980s to Long and Tisdale’s recent volume, Teaching Preaching as a Christian Practice : A New Approach to Homiletical Pedagogy. But how does a focus on the preacher as homiletical theologian help us think about teaching and learning in the homiletics classroom? Homileticians like James Harris (Liberation Preaching, 1995), John McClure (with Burton Cooper, Claiming Theology in the Pulpit, 2003), Michael Pasquarello III (We Speak Because We Have Been Spoken: A Grammar of the Preaching Life, 2009), and Christine Smith (Preaching as Weeping, Confession, and Resistance)—all in quite different ways—have asserted that the preacher is first and foremost a theologian. Papers that seek to envision how theology shapes and focuses the homiletical classroom in ranging from its subject matter, process, formation, use of imagination, assessment, to the use of technology are encouraged.