Is preaching “all Jesus” or “all me”?

Jerusha Matsen Neal writes for preachers who stand in the messy middle.

On the first day of our introductory preaching course, my colleague presents a continuum. At one end is the view that the preacher has sole responsibility to make the gospel heard, to get Jesus to show up in the sermon. At the other end, it’s all grace; the preacher is an empty vessel. Then she asks this question: Is there a way to affirm something of both ends of the spectrum, to imagine the confluence of divine and human activity somewhere in between?

Jerusha Neal’s The Overshadowed Preacher plays beautifully in this messy middle. But it’s serious play, because there is real danger when we get it wrong. Neal, who teaches preaching at Duke Divinity School, suggests that one danger is the risk of collapsing the divine promise into the human performance, identifying Jesus’ presence in preaching with the preacher’s rhetoric and bodily presence.

Furthermore, preaching traditions have imagined that only certain bodies can express this identification—usually White, straight, male bodies. Women, people of color, and people who identify as queer know that most pulpits were not built for them. But there is room for them in Neal’s book, where their voices are movingly heard.