As David Day says in A Preaching Workbook, the preacher may be tempted to pass off his own opinion as if it were the word of God. “Here are three points which I am prepared to attribute to the Holy Spirit and inflict on you” (Goldingay).
Of course, we preachers cannot keep ourselves completely out of the frame. Our sermons communicate our theology. As in flower-arranging, there is scope for variety – not only in the choice of blooms, but also the arrangement of them. This is not entirely a problem – the preacher is not an automaton: he brings his personality, preferences and even idiosyncracies to bear on his preaching. Our personal spiritualities are multi-coloured just as is God’s wisdom, Eph 3:10.
Although we are taught exegesis (in contrast to eisegesis) of the text, there is an important role in the imagination in bridging the chasm between what the text meant and what it means. ‘The connection between the ancient text and the contemporary worlds is not procedural but poetic, not mechanical but metaphorical.’ (Thomas Long). Although the text is not a inkblot, waiting to have meaning read into it, it does invite a conversation between itself and the preacher, and the use of imagination in connecting its world with our own. The danger is that the conversation will become one-sided – the Bible will become silent under the onslaught of the preacher’s imigination.
Each preacher needs a map of this or her personal theology that takes into account fads and favourites and equips us to see if the ‘message’ that emerges is legitimate and faithful to the text.
A basic framework is supplied by the OU unit on Man’s Religious Quest. This prompts three questions of any religious tradition:-
From what? (E.g., from what must we be rescued?)
By what? (E.g., by what means is the rescue effects?)
To what? (E.g., to what desirable state does the rescue lead?)
Or, the following questions might be asked:-
- What are your major images of God? Disturber (David Jenkins)? Judge? Policeman? Lawgiver? Father Christmas? The Force? Daddy?
- What are your major images of Christ?
- What do you condemn?
- Where is your emphasis on salvation and transformation? Incarnation? Atonement? Resurrection? The Holy Spirit? The Bible? The sacraments?
- How do you characterise the life of faith? Triumph? Battle?
- What key phrase, term or image summarises your theological position as expressed in this sermon?
- What phrases disclose your theological likes and dislikes?
- Is Christianity, for you, more a question of private devotion or public expression. Will your sermon turn the congregation inwards towards church and home or outwards towards society. Where do your examples come from?
- Do you think that Christianity is a matter of the head, the will or the heart? What is the role of emotions?
- Do you place experience above, or below, received tradition?
David Day, A Preaching Workbook, 46-54.