Preaching the Word: Contemporary Approaches to the Bible from the Pulpit
Reviewed by Nadine Ellsworth-Moran
Nadine Ellsworth-Moran serves as the associate pastor at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia, where she lives with her husband and a circus of cats.
Preaching the Word begins and ends as invitation. Here, you will find a hand extended for the journey through Karoline Lewis’s chapters that promise not tips or gimmicks, but rather a call to conversation with “new dialogue companions in our homiletical journey.” I can often tell how effective and engaging a book is for me by the amount of highlighter I use, and Lewis’s book has, at this point, been heavily marked. Throughout the chapters, Lewis attempts to lift our eyes to the possible perspectives present in our Scripture. Quoting Justo González in her introduction, she writes, “Precisely because perspective cannot be avoided, when it is not explicitly acknowledged the result is that a particular perspective takes on an aura of universality.”
In an effort to introduce homiletical perspectives that are still largely relegated to the fringes of biblical interpretation, this book not only brings fresh interpretations, new questions, and diverse conversation partners to a preacher’s preparation, but it also affords the congregation an opportunity to receive and consider the “significant homiletical impact” these approaches may offer.
As a resource for preachers, Lewis invites readers to turn a gemstone of homiletical approaches toward the light to reveal nine facets for reflection: literary/narrative approaches; postcolonial biblical interpretation; feminist interpretation; African American interpretation; Latinx and Asian American interpretation; queer interpretation; ecological interpretation; the Bible and disability; and lastly, the Bible and trauma theory.
One of the strengths of this book is the deliberate and consistent layout of each chapter following the formula: introduction, summary of approach, sample text(s) (all of which come from the Gospel of John), homiletical implications, and further reading/resources. As an aside, Lewis is also the author of several other books, including a 2014 preaching commentary on the Gospel of John. She employs her extensive knowledge of this Gospel as she engages John’s viewpoint, looking deeply into the narrative and its context from various perspectives.
Lewis’s research and sourcing is transparent, and each new chapter invites further exploration, dialogue, and an embrace of vibrant, sometimes challenging, perspectives that will hopefully allow the preacher to develop a “generous homiletic.” This is particularly beneficial for those pastors who, like me, may have consciously or unconsciously established well-worn patterns and perspectives that might just need shaking up from time to time.
Lewis’s book is an excellent resource for those desiring to grow and expand their homiletic with an awareness of perspectives from the margins, with care and caution to avoid the danger of slipping into performative allyship or to speak from perspectives that are not one’s own. Thinking critically about a text by taking a genuine and thoughtful look from a different perspective does not give license to presume you personally know what that lived experience may be if it is not your own. Lewis cautions about avoiding assumptions about the experience of another, as well, allowing for what she calls the “not knowing-ness” of those preaching from the outside. Lewis calls for readers and preachers/teachers receiving her work to examine their own fears, biases, and limited awareness as they approach texts from another’s homiletic perspective. This does not mean we should avoid preaching that incorporates these homiletical perspectives, but it does call us to authentic and intentional reading that honors the perspective we are attempting to embrace as a community of faith and names it with respect and honesty.
If there is a weakness, it is found in the chapter on Latinx and Asian American interpretation. While there is a thematic thread of displacement and in-betweenness in both Latinx and Asian American hermeneutics, these categories are also distinctly different and include many distinct perspectives and identities within each of them. Experiences of displacement and otherness diverge as much or more as they converge among these perspectives. I appreciated the connection between these perspectives, but they deserved their own chapters in order to prevent them from being viewed as monolithic or interchangeable.
This critique aside, there is something important to be gleaned from each chapter. Chapters I found particularly engaging were “Postcolonial Biblical Interpretation” (“Jesus spoke, Jesus preached, as a colonized person and as a citizen of a colonized community”); “Queer Interpretation” (an embodied hermeneutic, drawing on incarnation, relationship, identity, and “unbinding”); “Ecological Interpretation” (questions of stewardship, understanding of kosmos, re-ordering of our relationship with a living planet); and “The Bible and Disability” (considerations on historical context in regard to sin; healing/cure; resurrection).
Lewis opened my eyes, mind, and heart to a variety of considerations and interpretations I had heretofore not explored. Having this opportunity to investigate my own biases and theological tendencies for interpretation will undoubtedly help me become a more well-rounded, homiletically inclusive, and thoughtful preacher. I hope that others called to ministry will seek out Preaching the Word: Contemporary Approaches to the Bible for the Pulpit and accept its invitation into conversation with these perspectives for their own benefit and for their congregations.