The Common Good
June 2012

How to Proclaim Restoration

by Andrew Wilkes | June 2012

Missional Preaching: Engage, Embrace, Transform, by Al Tizon.

AL TIZON’S Missional Preaching, as one might expect, is designed for those who proclaim the gospel. The text, moreover, should prove useful to homiletics professors, local ministerial groups, and church bodies seeking to encourage more reflective approaches to the craft of sermon-making. Tizon, an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church and professor of evangelism and holistic ministry at Palmer Theological Seminary, writes with lively prose, frequently deploying humor and hyperbole to complement biblical exposition and theological reflection.

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For Tizon, missional conviction is about joining “God’s mission to transform the world, as the church strives in the Spirit to be authentically relational, intellectually and theologically grounded, culturally and socio-economically diverse, and radically committed to both God and neighbor, especially the poor.” Tizon’s commitment to mission is both theological and autobiographical: The author spent nine years doing community development in the Philippines and currently serves as the director of the Word and Deed network of Evangelicals for Social Action.

Structurally, Tizon begins with three chapters on missional theology, covering liturgy, biblical perspectives on mission, and the missio Dei (the mission of God). For Tizon, missio Dei signifies God’s restorative purposes for the world, beginning with Israel and consummating in Christ. To complement the opening essays, each subsequent chapter pairs Tizon’s reflection on a missional topic with a sermon on the same subject matter. In a particularly compelling chapter, the author’s insights on whole-life stewardship are concluded by a riveting homily from Shane Claiborne.

Tizon’s work occupies a distinctive space within the subgenre of thematic books on preaching. Most texts within the genre focus on the form or theology of preaching. Rarely does one find a volume that combines a theological treatment of preaching and well-executed sermons, intimating possible ways of—and compelling reasons for—constructing a missional sermon.

Tizon contends that sermons are “an exposition of a biblical passage, story, and/or principle for the edification of the church, the transformation of the world, and the glory of God.” This threefold motif—edify the church, transform the world, and glorify God—offers an important rationale for the preaching act itself. The shape and exact content may differ across denomination, region, and so on, but surely the highest and best aims of proclamation include strengthening the faithful, honoring God, and incorporating what homiletics professor Henry Mitchell calls a “behavioral imperative” to make a positive difference within our respective spheres of influence.

Nevertheless, Missional Preaching could be strengthened by incorporating a broader range of Christian grammar. His construal of mission often foregrounds an action-oriented view of the church, one that perceives a strong correspondence between our world-changing efforts and a world that is altered because of those efforts. This viewpoint, while true in many instances, does not sufficiently create theological space for lament, loss, and loneliness. To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., our participation in God’s mission of restoring the world is punctuated by at least as many Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays as Resurrection Sundays. This critique does not suggest a deficiency with Tizon’s theology (I imagine that he would agree) as much as it highlights the difficulty of painting nuanced images of preaching in a book of 165 pages.

The core argument of Missional Preaching is this: Christians are sought after by God’s missional love and sent out within the power of the Spirit to participate in God’s shalom project of restoring the world. This argument, despite its omissions, is a solid one and worthy of careful consideration.

Andrew Wilkes (@andrewjwilkes) is the faith and community relations associate for Habitat for Humanity-New York City and an affiliate minister at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York.

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