Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Antecedent Word

There is a brilliant passage by John Webster quoted over at Resident Theology. It has to do with that odd thing Christians call preaching, reminding us that the Word which is spoken and heard in church is the Word which created (and which now sustains) our world. It was there in the beginning and it is here now, longing to be heard by a community of faithful listeners with ears to hear.

[E]ntrusted with and responsible for the message of reconciliation, what does the preacher do? It is tempting to think of the task of preaching as one in which the preacher struggles to 'make real' the divine message by arts of application and cultural interpretation, seeking rhetorical ways of establishing continuity between the Word and the present situation. Built into that correlational model of preaching (which is by no means the preserve of the liberal Christian tradition) are two assumptions: an assumption that the Word is essentially inert or absent from the present until introduced by the act of human proclamation, and an assumption that the present is part of another economy from that of which Scripture speaks. But in acting as the ambassador of the Word, the preacher enters a situation which already lies within the economy of reconciliation, in which the Word is antecedently present and active. The church of the apostles and the church now form a single reality, held together not by precarious acts of human realization, but by the continuity of God's purpose and active presence. The preacher, therefore, faces a situation in which the Word has already addressed and continues to address the church, and does not need somehow by homiletic exertions to generate and present the Word's meaningfulness. The preacher speaks on Christ's behalf; the question of whether Christ is himself present and effectual is one which—in the realm of the resurrection and exaltation of the Son—has already been settled and which the preacher can safely leave behind.

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