The 'I' in Sermons

By Buchanan, John M. | The Christian Century, March 6, 2007 | Go to article overview

The 'I' in Sermons


Buchanan, John M., The Christian Century


I AM NEVER quite sure what postmodernity is, but I was struck by Pamela Fickenscher's delightful essay on postmodern ministry (p. 20) and especially by her observations about preaching: "While many traditions have taught preachers to leave the 'I' out of their sermons, postmodern audiences are hungry for the messenger and the message to draw closer together. Personal experience is granted more authority than academic learning or even scriptures themselves."

I was taught to avoid the personal pronoun in sermons, and never to use personal illustrations. "They come on Sunday to hear about God, not you," the homileticians declared, frowning on those emotional storytellers whose tales of spiritual adventure made the preacher into a religious superstar. Some of those stories were so good that skeptical observers couldn't help wondering if they were fabricated. And of course, some ministers were simply show-offy: "In my recent book ..."

So a generation of us eschewed the personal pronoun, never told a personal story, never even ventured an "I believe ..." Sermons were carefully researched and written essays, relying on the most recent biblical scholarship, bristling with quotations and citations from academia.

Mine were too until I met James Forbes. …

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