Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Preaching as Oral-Aural Event

One of the delights of research, and indeed life, is finding someone else who agrees with you. At least it is for me. Especially when they express themselves well. And also when they carry a degree of authority. Not sure just how authoritative Bruce E. Shields is but he certainly fulfils the other two criteria.

I have become quite attached to the bee in my bonnet that is the importance of the Oral-Aural nature of the preaching event. That happens when a bee has been buzzing around your bonce for a long time. Clyde Fant set me off with his Preaching For Today back in the early 80’s and Bruce Shields has just had me shouting “Amen” as I type. Here’s a couple of snippets from his, From The Housetops: Preaching in the Early Church and Today
… we preachers … at the end of the twentieth century find ourselves in many cases conceiving of the sermon as a document, that is, as a set of written symbols on a page, which will then be read, with more or less directness, either off the page or from memory, to a silent audience. Thus we “finish” a sermon one day in a given week and deliver it to a congregation on Sunday. “Preparation and delivery,” seems to be a commodity-orientated way of thinking about preaching, and it is hard to imagine a first-century Christian thinking in these terms.
Perhaps the single biggest failure in the teaching of preaching is that young ministers are not fully impressed with the difference between textuality and orality. Shaped by mountains of books, called upon to write scores of papers, and graded largely by what they commit to the page, aspiring preachers train the eye but neglect the ear. Yet it is to the world of sound that they will go, plying their wares acoustically. The major moments of public ministry (the sermon, the funeral eulogy, the marriage ceremony) are all rhetorical [oratorical to be more accurate] moments.
If we try to hear the preacher producing the epistle as we study the text, then some of the passion in the original setting should begin to bleed through into our preaching. Our contemporary hearers are not, of course, first-century Roman believers, but that is no excuse for presenting cadavers instead of breathing organisms as sermons.
We preachers need to break out of our literate ways of thinking and prepare for effective communication in this borderland between the older culture of primary literacy and the coming culture of secondary orality.
Preach it brother!


Craig Gardiner said...

Although i still invariably use a complete text I couldn't agree more about aural (and indeed visual) awareness necessary in the preaching event itself. (That notwithstanding the evidence of certain great revival preachers effectively hiding behind a helf up page.)

So true too on the fact that the classic skills of rhetoric etc are not so widely appreciated or practised this days (at least in the pulpit: Rev Barack Obama seems to be on form though!)

The book better live up to your recommendation now ... its not cheap! Only question now is the time to read it!

Angela said...

Amen! I don't want you to read me your academic essay, I want you to expound the living word of God, please.

By all means prepare a fairly detailed 'script' - but only as a framework [to stop rambling and to ensure all points covered] - but be open to being led by the Spirit beyond the end of your carefully crafted sentences sometimes.

And pause sometimes, so that those of us in the pews have space to mutter an appreciative agreement.

- well that's how I see it anyway [mostly from the pew, but occasionally from the pulpit]

Jon said...

Glen, why so quiet around here?

Glen Marshall said...

Been on Sabbatical, gave it a rest, got out of the habit. Will def post again come Nov (next series of Baptist Times articles) but also been thinking about doing something before then. Watch this space. But not too intently.