Jun 22, 2017
Guest post by Robert Dean
If you clicked on the title hoping to hear more about the phenomenon sweeping across a Virginia nudist resort, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re going to be disappointed. (And no, I didn’t make that example up, although “phenomenon” might be a bit of an overstatement!) Nor does this post have anything to do with the “Naked Chef” Jamie Oliver or even with a recent shaving accident that left me unexpectedly sans facial hair before a recent high-profile preaching engagement.
Rather, it was Wycliffe's Director of Communications, Patricia Paddey, who put me up to writing on “naked preaching.” (Although in Patricia’s defense, she did suggest the somewhat less audacious title, “(Nearly) naked preaching.”) Patricia had picked up on a sentence from the introduction to my new book, Leaps of Faith: Sermons from the Edge, where I wrote, “Preachers who run the risk of appearing naked in the pulpit discover that to be clothed only in the Gospel is to be resplendently apparelled.”
Such “naked preaching” is risky business—for the great temptation for all preachers is to manufacture a sermon that works regardless of whether God shows up. Perhaps that’s why there’s so little bold proclamation of the Gospel in contemporary churches. Instead, preachers, often unknowingly, default to the prevalent cultural models of “entertainer” or “therapist,” alternatively delighting hearers with amusing anecdotes and offering up eminently practical tips for better living. Interestingly, many of the scholars and Christian leaders who provided endorsements for Leaps of Faith commented upon this current crisis in preaching.
Leaps of Faith is my attempt to contribute, in some small way, to the recovery of the practice of preaching to its place at the heart of congregational life. I hope that the book may serve to embolden preachers in their calling, nourish the faithful longing for more substantial fare, and contribute in some modest way to the recovery of the local congregation as a site of serious biblical engagement and theological reflection. Such a recovery is essential for the health of the church and even the life of the world. As Herman Melville famously observed in Moby Dick, “the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.”
Robert J. Dean (ThD, Wycliffe College, 2014) will be teaching the “Introduction to Preaching” course at Wycliffe this Fall. You can read more of his musings on theology and preaching on his blog: thinkingafter.com. Copies of his book, Leaps of Faith, are available for purchase at Crux Books.