Novelist, English professor, and committed Christian, Reynolds Price, died this week. He was 77, had battled spinal cancer, and spent much of his life in a wheelchair. When he went to Duke University 53 years ago he was offered a three year, non-renewable contract. But the success of his first novel changed all of that.
In the course of his career he was described as “an heir to Faulkner” by the New York Times, a comparison which Price skewered nicely, writing:
- “The search for influences in a novelist’s work is doomed to trivial results…A serious novelist’s work is his effort to make from the chaos of all life, his life, strong though all-but-futile weapons, as beautiful, entire, true but finally helpless as the shield of Achilles itself.”
That, it seems to me, is an apt description of the preacher’s task, as well. But over the years of sermons that I have heard (and often simply endured), I have rarely detected that kind of deep struggle and vulnerability.
There is much to learn about the craft of preaching. But grasping the nature of the task would profoundly change every preacher’s efforts; and no preacher’s skill can compensate for the absence of that inspiration.
There are countless arguments that we might offer for why people ought to listen to the Gospel, but none of them is finally convincing, if we aren’t engaged in the struggle to which Price devoted his life and work.
May light perpetual shine upon him.