Preaching as Folk Art
At its best, Christian preaching is not only an act of theological construction; it is also a work of art. Through its language, images, and form, preaching creates a world and invites the one hearing it to enter it. As Elizabeth Achtemeier asserts, “in the art of preaching, the English language is framed in such a way that the congregation is allowed to enter into a new experience—to exchange their old perceptions of themselves, their world, and God for new perceptions, to step outside an old manner of life and see the possibility of a new one.”1
Charles Rice says that artistry in the sermon is inescapable because the mystery of divine revelation propels the preacher toward speech which, in some way, reflects that mystery.2 Preachers, like artists, are engaged in a vocation that requires them to express the inexpressible. Their quest is for symbols which can communicate both the deepest longings of the human spirit, and the deepest mysteries of God and God’s revelatory presence in the world. In order to undertake this task, preachers rely upon discipline, imagination, and the illumination of the Spirit.
While agreeing with Achtemeier and Rice that preaching is (at its best) art, it is the particular concern of this book that preaching, given its congregational locus, should also be conceived as folk art. Most contemporary authors in the homiletical field speak of the artfulness of proclamation by making reference to the “fine arts.” Achtemeier, for example, urges preachers to read fine literature to improve their preaching. Rice encourages pastors to pay greater attention to contemporary literature, plays, and cinema in their proclamation. In homiletics classrooms across the country students are urged to consider the fine arts as prime material for sermon illustrations.
On one level, encouraging such attention to the fine arts is good for preaching. If, as we have suggested, preaching is primarily an act