Preaching the Gospel

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.

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About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an Episcopal priest), live in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and five grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, Sophie, and Drew, with a sixth on the way.