One of those added benefits of my education in North Carolina was the proximity of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to the campus of Duke University some thirty miles away. One of the frustrations concerned the unwillingness of my pastoral ministries professor — in spite of my many and sustained protestations — to utilize the most comprehensive and valuable text I’ve ever read on pastoral theology and ministry. In Willimon’s book, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, the man who’s been called one of the greatest preachers in America had this to say about the pastor as prophet:
The prophetic community is composed of young and old, maids and janitors, sons and daughters, those who have not had much opportunity, in the world’s scheme of things, to speak. In other words, the Holy Spirit produces uppity speech. When I once asked an African American friend of min, “Why does African American preaching tend to get loud and raucous?” he replied “Because my people have been told so often, for so long, that we ought to be seen and not heard, or better, invisible and quiet. We are to stand politely on the margins while the majority culture does its thing. So the church gathers my people and enables them to strut and shout, to find their voice, to stand up and be heard.
…The consequences of Spirit-filled speech tend to be political, economic, and social, therefore we must discipline ourselves to read Scripture congregationally, ecclesially, and therefore politically, rather than therapeutically, subjectively, inductively, or relevantly, as the world defines relevance. Harold Bloom has demonstrated that the peculiarly American religion is the notion that we and God are tight. We sense little disjunction between us and God…. The world, when it is in the mood for change, seeks some efficient, significant, usually legislatively coerced means of modifying itself. When Jesus wanted to change the world, he summoned a rather ordinary group of inexperienced, not overly talented folk to be his disciples. This is the typical way Jesus does revolution. Although to the world means such means may seem hopelessly ineffective, unrealistic, and impossible, the church is, for better or worse, God’s answer to what is wrong in the world. Just let the church begin telling the truth, speaking the truth to power, witnessing to the fact that God, not nations, rules the world, that Jesus Christ is really Lord, and the church will quickly find how easily threatened and inherently unstable are the rulers of this world. If Christians were not being persecuted in China and the Sudan, and being ridiculed in Hollywood and Athens, we might think that the age of prophecy had ended. That thousands still pay for this faith with their lives and their freedom is proof positive that God is still able to raise up a family of prophets. At least give the principalities and powers, as well as the rulers in high places, credit for being able to look at the poor old church and see there a threat to everything upon which their world is built.
2 thoughts on “William Willimon for Southern Baptists…”
His little book with Hauerwas is one of the best things I’ve ever read.
Excellent words, and if I might paraphrase: “…the (local) church is, for better or worse, God’s answer to what is wrong in the world. Just let the (local) church begin telling the truth, speaking the truth to power, witnessing to the fact that God, not nations (or denominations), rules the world, that Jesus Christ is really Lord, and the (local) church will quickly find how easily threatened and inherently unstable are the rulers of this world (or denominations).
Just a thought.