Church Talk

I’ve been working through Walter Brueggemann’s wonderful book Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles. It’s a book comprised of various essays he wrote in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Though it is a book about the craft of preaching, it’s more a book on a theology of exile. Over the next few weeks I’m going to highlight a few insights the book provided for me, giving a foundation for conversations needed some 25-30 years after his original thoughts were expressed.

The context for the work as a whole is a comparison between the current cultural climate in America for Christians and the climate for the Hebrew people in captivity through exile, written about extensively throughout the Old Testament in books such as Isaiah. While we could debate this comparison, the move within our society away from a traditional Christian perspective on faith is apparent and has left many with a sense that they are no longer at home where they exist.

This prompts several necessary questions:

—How do we support and equip Christian believers within an exile context?

—How do Gospel-sharers speak to a society that no longer speaks the same language they do?

These are the questions we’ll be leaning into on this post and several to follow.

One big issue for Christians today is the lack of Gospel proclamation that speaks to both the believer and the lost. Our sharing of the Good News about Jesus that is only understandable to the believer becomes insulated. Our sharing of the Good News about Jesus that is only understandable to the outsider becomes worldly.

Brueggemann paints a picture of bridging this gap through “church talk” also functioning as “public talk” without ceasing to be “church talk” (pg 80). In this, I think he has articulated one of the great issues with how Christians engage the society they find themselves in. Here’s how he paints this picture:

“Preaching addresses exiles but believes at the same time that its claims addressed to exiles have pertinence and compelling authority to the Babylonians as well.”

Or to say this differently, the Gospel has something vitally important to say not just to believers, but to everyone!

One way I’ve tried to incorporate this perspective in my preaching ministry is by beginning with an overarching question about life that applies to everyone, whether believer or not, such as, “What’s the goal life life? or, “Is a life focused on simple pleasures actually fulfilling?” These questions provide grounding for me to say “we all long for the same things.” Then I spend the rest of the time showing how the Gospel stands in contrast with the prevailing notion of our day in answering that question.

This, however, must be bigger than just a preaching technique. It must be the way we approach conversations with everyone, whether people of faith or not. The saved need consistent reminders of how the Gospel speaks to their lives today, and the lost need the opportunity to hear how the Gospel can reframe their entire lives.

While some may question the power of the Gospel to speak to the hearts and minds of people today, often it is the Gospel proclaimer’s inability to bridge the gap between the world of the believer and the world of the lost that leads to an ineffective message. Gospel proclaimers must work to understand the times they are in so that the Good News has something to say to everyone, not just those who have already taken steps of faith.

Let your church talk always function as public talk without ceasing to be church talk.