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The Evolution of Preaching Styles and Their Role in Worship

  • 11 Pages
  • Published On: 1-11-2023

The Identity of a Preacher


The act of peaching is a rather complex one, and which is usually undertaken in various styles. The various preaching styles practiced over the years have typically been divided along the lines of doctrinal and political divisions that exist within the Church- giving rise to the plain preaching style commonly associated with the Puritans and metaphysical preaching style associated with the Laudians (avant-garde conformists) (Morrissey, 2002). This simple dichotomy of preaching styles is seen to rest on the transferal of theories that were premised on the notion that preaching has always been a branch of rhetoric instead of an act that employs the various rhetoric techniques. As such, the key aim of preaching (along with the preaching styles that preachers make use of) is the employment of ornamentative and argumentative oratory resources targeted at the persuasion of hearers (the congregation) (Morrissey, 2002). The implication of this is that preaching plays a critical role in public worship (McCullough, 1998), and that preachers, in a bid to persuade their hearers, adopted different preaching styles, which in turn resulted in their adoption of various identities. The three main identities associated with preachers include: the preacher as a teacher, the preacher as a herald, and the preacher as a liturgical artist. Preachers’ use of ornamental and argumentative resources of oratory as described above points to the critical role that preachers play in liturgy (public worship), thus their identity as liturgical artists. Whereas preachers may also simultaneously demonstrate the identities of a teacher and/or herald, this essay aims to illustrate the identity of a preacher as a liturgical artist as the most appropriate and viable identity that preachers can adopt.


Why the Preacher’s Identity as a Liturgical Artist Is the Most Viable One

On the basis of the modern era, Johnson (2014) proposes a liturgical artist as the essential and metaphoric identity that best suits a preacher. Johnson’s (2014) proposal is based on the argument the liturgical artist identity combines and also moves beyond the Herald and Teacher identities, both of which are conventional. According to Johnson (2014), the teacher identity of a preacher is an Enlightenment-rationalistic product of the St. Augustine’s rhetorical preaching approach adopted by the church, whereas the herald identity as a Barthian-revelatory approach to preaching and the word of God. In light of today’s era and modern congregation and pulpit, the herald and teacher identities are marked by key limitations and drawbacks, including: failure to take into account the dynamic and ever-changing human experiences and situations (in the case of the herald identity) and a lack of creativity and imagination (in the case of the teacher identity) (Johnson, 2014). Additionally, he asserts that both the traditional herald and teacher identities are not appropriate for today’s diverse and pluralistic society given that they significantly lack a communal sense to preaching and the preacher, such that it is only the preacher who pursues the truth regarding today’s broken world, albeit alongside fellow Christians.

In the Bible, Jesus is also presented as a model preacher and one whose preaching style portrays a vicarious liturgical artist. Jesus preached with a simple purpose- to bring the word of God to anyone who would listen. As a result, He revealed God to those who were open to listening to His word, brought light into darkness and helped those who listened to him to adequately understand and obey the commandments (Matzat, 1991). Jesus made use of a simple preaching style; one filled with stories and images which were relevant to His ordinary listeners and which they could easily relate to and understand. To enable the listeners to better grasp its real intent, Jesus based His preaching (words) on people, incidents and rules from the scriptures, as well as its translation (Matzat, 1991). Additionally, He drew on short stories and parables on which the listeners could more clearly reflect. Jesus’ creative use of parables and earthly raw materials, including vineyards, needle, rocks, seeds, wedding, sheep, coin, camel, birds, among others, for prophetic and aesthetic utterances is also a demonstration of His homiletic artistry (Johnson, 2014). Jesus, as a liturgist, also formed His messages in the context of the community where He preached- for the sake of the people- and among His hearers through various approaches such as active mutual dialogues, for example through questions and answers. Jesus’ use of dialogue is a clear reflection of liturgy (leitourgia), especially in relation -to its ancient Greek meaning- the work by the people or community (Johnson, 2014).

On the premise of the persuasive orientation of the act of preaching, preachers are required to adopt the identity of a liturgical artist so as to convey the word of God, which is God’s plan and way of bringing salvation to humanity, in a manner that persuades the hearers. Given that a preacher’s preaching is only as persuasive as the preachers are relational and sensitive to the needs, experiences and situations, preachers need to adopt and employ preaching styles and an identity that will enable them to preach a proclamation that relates to the hearers’ lives, faith and needs (Riley, 2015). Therefore, a preacher must frame the message and its contents in the context of their hearers’ situations and needs, and in a persuasive manner. This calls for them to take up the fundamental identity of a liturgical artist.

The preacher as a liturgical artist is also the most viable identity option given that preaching is a dynamic act in the manner in which it proclaims the word of God, similar to how God’s spirit dynamically enables them to persuasively proclaim that word. Therefore, following the wide acknowledgement that the proclamation of the word cannot be statically understood, and that preaching is not to be a duplication of the word of God, or a communication of information, or monological treatise, but rather should be understood in its original dialogical and conversational form (Wenzel, 2013). Preaching is perceived as a persuasive ac given that it proclaims the word of God, and as written in John 16:8 and 2 Corinthians 5:17, convicts, through the power of the spirit, the hearers of their sins and frees them in Christ for newness of faith and life. Therefore, according to Miller (2010), preaching is widely recognized as a form of art since the preacher, through the guidance and power of the spirit, is enabled to draw on their multiple rhetoric skills, scriptural and pastoral understanding and their understanding of and relationship with their hearers so as to better interpret and apply the word of God in a manner that suits their faith and life situations.

The choice of a preacher as a liturgist as the most viable identity is also informed by the identification of preaching as a liturgical act or event that is undertaken in multiple levels, and which is a multi-layered concept as an aspect of a multi-faceted approach (Louw, 2016). The first dimension is the kerygmatic dimension, which is associated with the conventional understanding of preaching as involving proclamation and rhetorical reasoning. According to Kim (2015), the proclamation of the word of God brings to light the essence of hermeneutics and exegesis, and preaching, by virtue of depending on the cognitive and understanding levels, lays an emphasis on the preacher’s (as well as the hearer’s) relational and analytic ability. The kerygmatic dimension of preaching, significantly linked to Karl Barth (and therefore known as Barth’s theology), emboldens and inspires preachers to ‘throw the sermon at the situation like a stone’ (Tillich, 1951, p.7). According to Barth (2004), preaching requires preachers to take up a liturgical identity, which would require them to prepare for summons with ‘the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other’. This assertion by Barth’s theology reflects the need by preachers to become cognizant of and take into account the hearers’ life situations and model their message in a context that is relevant and applicable to the modern age and the hearers’ faith and situations.

The other dimension of preaching as the homiletic event that it is, and which makes it critical for preachers to take up the identity of a liturgist, is its emphasis of performance and action (Louw, 2016). Preachers should undertake the act of preaching in social and concrete contexts, as well as cultural settings, and in a manner that pays attention to praxis and social issues rather than simply practice. As a consequence, Louw (2016) posits that preaching is deemed as an act that lays emphasis on transformation, change, social reconstruction and liberation, all of which serve as means for practical witness, which in turn deliberate and pore over ethical and moral issues, and stress motivation.

It is against this background, along with the use of creative use of earthly materials as Jesus did in His time, that Johnson (2014) encourages preachers to take up homiletical aesthetic praxis. This is vital since it will facilitate the preacher’s development of a deeper theological and methodological understanding of the preaching practice, and therefore their identity without which the preachers’ preaching will amount to nothing more than oratory entertainment (Yang, 2015). The transformation of preachers and their adoption of the liturgical artist identity will contribute to enhancing their preaching effectiveness by way of promoting their effective and dexterous use of earthly materials that emanate from the artist-saturated modern world (Johnson, 2014). This way, the identity of a liturgical artist will enable preachers to better and more effectively proclaim the word of God in today’s world.

Based on the traditional approach of preaching (homiletics), which lays emphasis on verbalization, rhetoric reasoning and speech rationality, a preacher is essentially regarded as an orator, and who should purpose to entertain their hearers with clear and logical expositions, as well as engage them in rational discourse. Grab (2013) therefore accentuates the significance of rhetoric reasoning in preaching, and asserts that the word of God should be proclaimed through rhetoric reasoning and religious discourse. This thus poses among preachers the challenge of finding words with which to contextualize biblical texts and today’s intricate realities into dialogue with one another.

In this regard, there have been proposals for the imaging of the biblical text through iconic imagination, an endeavor that is significantly hinged on the preachers’ artistic capabilities, thus, the need for them to assume the identity of a liturgical artist. Long (1989), for example, identifies the sermon as the main aspect of preaching, which he describes as ‘an action, a spoken event, that the preacher performs in Christ’s name’ (p.23). With preaching enfolding and enveloping as an audible wording event, preachers are thus, storytellers and witnesses of the word of God. However, in order to witness (to behold and attest, or proclaim), preachers must first perceive, which according to Long (1989) surpasses merely verbalizing, reasoning and hearing. Perception leads to imagining, seeing and imaging, and in the context of preaching, it is centred on the image of God. According to Louw (2014), preaching is essentially concerned with imaging God- ‘the poetics of hopeful ‘seeing’, probing into the ‘unseen’’. Louw (2016) add that this framework of preaching (creative imaging and poetic speech) paints the picture of a preacher as a wise fool, thereby portraying preaching as an art of foolishness. According to Campbell and Cilliers (2012), who explored preaching as a means through which the fixed perceptions promoted by orthodox thinking, in reference to Enid Welford’s notion, perceive the art of foolishness as an engagement that melts the world’s solidity. Therefore, given that the world has significantly shifted into virtual reality that emphasizes seeing and an imaginative experience that fosters symbolic thinking, it is suggested that preachers should also try to find and use images that illustrate a living God’s presence as a way of giving people more hope. The implication of this is that preachers should endeavor to integrate ‘iconic seeing’ into their preaching, which in turn demonstrates the significance of their adoption and portrayal of a liturgical artist identity.

Thus, whereas it is recognized that modern culture and art has prominently been excluded from preaching and the church in general, this does not imply that art has not significance in relation to the religion, spirituality and preaching dimension (Grab, 2007). According to Grab (2007), aesthetics signs form a vital component of practical theological reflection and should be critically regarded as so, and he adds that aesthetic signification and symbolization are integral aspects of Christian reflection on key life perspectives and represent religious experience of God’s presence. Additionally, Steinmeyer (2011) suggests that images become tracks and signs in the human mind, while creating experiences and making impressions real, thereby resulting in consequential images changing human beings’ lives. Steinmeyer (2011) further describes what he terms as ‘eyes of wording and language’ where he suggests that words facilitates individuals to see, while art makes seeing invisible (poetic seeing, or seeing the unseen). Steinmeyer’s (2011) assertions have given rise to the question of whether preaching should be dogmatically fixated- only involve and compile fixed notions or ideas- or preachers should attempt to imaginatively and creatively associate spiritual reflection and the word of God to earthly events.

To answer the above question, emphasis has often been laid on the aesthetic facet of preaching. Following Steinmeyer’s (2011, p.254) definition of preaching as a ‘public-homiletic reflection and a contextual, cultural and civil event’, scholars such as Hoeps (2012) suggest that preaching most needs imagination and creativity as a means of probing new or different options. Therefore, despite the skepticism surrounding the use of imaging in theologizing, Hoeps (2012) acknowledges that it is possible to use art (by integrating imagination, imaging, poetic and artistic reflection) as a practical approach to homiletics. Consequently, with regard to undertaking preaching in praxis, Hoeps (2012) proposes art as a more attractive alternative. This is because images: offer an intricate web of translation and hermeneutic interpretation that transcends the shortcomings of verbalization; produce a distinctive constellation of metaphorical speech; and, owing to their metaphoric nature, enables humans to acknowledge consummate experience and generate some form of spiritual well-being that results in initiative and motivation (Hoeps, 2012).

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Following homiletics’ perception as a practical theological act of communication that involves engaging with life, Grethlein (2012) suggests that art contributes to the human mind imagining and experiencing new and/or varying points of view. This, according to Steinmeyer (2011), is important as it enables one to consider or think about multiple options in the face of the prevalent contingency. Therefore, preachers, by adopting and demonstrating the identity of a liturgical artist, are afforded an increased degree of flexibility that iconic and poetic thinking and imaging (arts) provide ,and which are useful in practical homiletics.


With the above arguments and findings, it can be concluded that of the three most common preacher identities (i.e. herald, teacher and liturgical artist), the identity of a preacher as a liturgical artist is the most viable one in the face of the modern world. This is because the preacher as a liturgical artist identity enables him to form their message in the context of the modern age and the hearers’ situation, as well as enjoy diverse points of view and flexibility that art provides them with in order to more effectively preach and proclaim the word of God.


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