Monday, March 9, 2009

The Need For Evangelical Preaching

A couple of weeks ago when I was in Melbourne, I purchased a copy of The New Evangelisation - Developing Evangelical Preaching, published by Connor Court. It contains edited transcripts of talks given by Roman Catholics whose ministries include evangelical preaching at Australia's Third Colloquium on the New Evangelisation in 2008.

Edited by Bishop Julian Porteous of the (RC) Archdiocese of Sydney (who also contributed a chapter), the other contributors are: Archbishop Mark Coleridge (Canberra), Fr Ken Barker (Missionaries of God's Love, Canberra), Shayne & Shanelle Bennett (Net Ministries, Brisbane) Fr Anthony Robbie (Archdiocese of Sydney), and Robert Falzon (Men Alive, Brisbane).

I read this book through in one sitting and was gripped by all that it conveyed about the importance of preachers learning to preach "evangelically." Certainly, a great feature of the second phase of the Oxford Movement - or "Catholic Revival" within Anglicanism - was the gripping evangelical preaching of parish clergy like Father Stanton and Father Dolling. Over time such preaching gave way to harmless antiseptic homilies . . . theologically correct, no doubt, but without the power to convert seekers to Jesus. I am sure that every priest and lay preacher (RC as well as Anglican) needs to buy this book and learn its lessons in order to understand what is required of us today.

I give you here one of the key passages in the book (p 111 ff):

Sometimes we hear about homily programmes in Dioceses where a series of doctrinal and moral teachings cover the whole Catechism in the course of a couple of years. This is using the homily time as an instructional sermon. It is a deliberate attempt to combat the so-called endemic Catholic problem - ignorance. We need to know "the faith". However, if we only give doctrine with clarity we may be tempted to think our problems are solved. To the contrary 1 maintain that, no matter how much good instruction we give, the Catholic people will remain sadly impoverished if they do not experience evangelical preaching. The language of evangelical preaching is not instructional. It is imaginative.

The aim of evangelical preaching is to call to deeper conversion by proclaiming the kerygma and making the mystery of Christ effectively present. This cannot be done by the language of instruction. A different type of discourse is necessary. Instruction tells us about Jesus. But the Catholic people are saying, "Sir. we want to see Jesus"! This means we want to come to know Him; we want the preacher to reveal Him to us in such a way that our hearts are opened and we are given new life and hope" . . .

The Holy Spirit is moving in the Church in these days, raising up new preachers who have fire in their bellies. This fire has been ignited by the love of God and a living encounter with the Risen Christ. They preach with boldness and a deep conviction of the truth they proclaim.
They do not use the arguments of philosophy but claim only to know Jesus, and more specifically, Jesus Crucified. They unashamedly proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus, trusting in the inherent power of the Gospel to save. They have a profound love for the people to whom they are sent, and they know the culture in which they move. They are sensitive to the entry points for the transforming power of the Gospel. They are not afraid to share of themselves; however, they are not preaching themselves but Christ, who is the power and wisdom of Cod. Their language is creative and appealing since it is image-laden, metaphoric and poetic. These preachers bring a message of the healing love of God into the broken hearts of their contemporaries, who are drawn by the compelling message of love to open their hearts to Christ as their Saviour and Lord. This style of . . . preaching gives birth to faith in Christ, and renews the Church at its core. Of all the gifts that are needed at this moment in the Church's history, surely we must pray ardently for the gift of evangelical preaching to be released more powerfully . . . we can pray confidently that the promise of Jesus will be fulfilled in our midst: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and then you will be my witnesses...' (Acts 1:8). May this anointing set fire to an ever-increasing band of evangelical preachers for the Church's mission in the world today.


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