Take & Read: Theology

New books that are shaping conversations in theology

A few years ago, while I was on medical leave with cancer, I had two epiphanies. First, I rediscovered—I felt it in my bones and my belly—that the gospel of Jesus Christ really is the best news out there in the world. The message of grace not only gladdens the heart, but it is the power by which the living God rectifies creation. Second, I realized, to my shame and regret, that I had not been preaching it. I had muddled the gospel with the law into a kind of glawspel, assigning my listeners to-do lists rather than presenting Christianity as the announcement of what has already done for them. To use a distinction Fleming Rutledge often talks about, my preaching was hortatory rather than proclamation. Instead of comforting my hearers, I was exhausting them.

The gospel is the promise in which God gives Christ to us, making proclamation a matter of life and death. Preachers therefore have no choice but to stand before their listeners like Nathan to David, killing and making alive with God’s own words.

In The Essential Forde: Distinguishing Law and Gospel (Fortress Press, edited by Nicholas Hopman, Mark C. Mattes, and Steven D. Paulson), the late Lutheran theologian Gerhard O. Forde shows how a sacramental piety of the word forces a rethinking of theology, proclamation, and even church history. If the gospel is an aural sacrament, proclamation is much more than reporting, albeit with rhetorical polish, on the past acts of God. It is an apocalyptic event in which preachers deliver Christ himself to their hearers.