Paul Scott Wilson, Professor of Homiletics at Emmanuel College, has been awarded Sabbatical Grant for Researchers from The Louisville Institute, a Lilly Endowment-funded program based at Louisville Seminary. Its programs support “those who lead and study American religious institutions.” He is the first Canadian to receive this research grant. It will support, in cooperation with the College, a nine-month sabbatical leave, beginning April 1, 2013.
His project is entitled, “Preaching Poetry in an Age of Math.” Preaching, like worship in general, seems less compelling for postmodern generations. Traditional doctrines have less appeal than they once did. Christian faith is arguably more poetry than math: it is invitational, fluid, open, dramatic, and transformative. Drawing on developments in various fields, this project maps fresh approaches to the place, purpose, and outcomes of preaching. The sermon, like liturgy, may need to be reconceived in ways beyond ‘one size fits all’.
Prof. Wilson hopes to develop a theology and fresh practices of preaching using three classical values (as opposed to doctrines) that arguably have appeal in society at large: beauty, goodness (justice), and truth. The primary question addressed in his project is: How can preaching be more effective in communicating the gospel to a postmodern world?
Each section of the study will respond to more specialized questions. For example, the section on beauty asks, How can preachers be more poetic when their attempts at creativity often falter? One response is that when beauty is conceived in relationship to God, the focus of sermon composition shifts from merely expounding a single text, to expounding the coherence and drama of faith. A text becomes an essential lens with which to view life, as opposed to the focus itself. Creative energy of the preacher can be devoted to weaving a tapestry of faith and justice, on making fluid connections between events and texts that communicate a prophetic vision of the whole, and that point to the renewing beauty of the gospel in the midst of a broken world.
Prof. Wilson was asked why his topic was important to him and to the church. He responded, “Like many people, I have seen many youth and finally my own children depart from the church and have experienced uncertainty as to how best to lead. The church belongs to Jesus Christ, and its future is not up to us, yet we are its stewards.” He believes that notions of preaching may have become too fixed, and viable alternatives that could positively affect the mission of the church often are not explored. “This project does not have final answers, but it opens constructive discussions and offers practical directions for faithful alternative practices. Without such discussions, discipleship may falter.”
He hopes to host four retreat sessions at the College with lay and ordained preachers of various denominations. These session will be in the spring, late summer, and fall of 2013 to discuss the issues and to test the practices advocated.
The Louisville Institute’s Sabbatical Grant for Researchers Program enables scholars to conduct a major study that can contribute to the vitality of Christianity in North America. Grants of up to $40,000 support year-long research projects that address Christian faith and life, pastoral leadership, and/or religious institutions.
The Louisville Institute is funded by the Religion Division of Lilly Endowment and based at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary (Louisville, Kentucky). The Institute's fundamental mission is to enrich the religious life of North American Christians and to encourage the revitalization of their institutions, by bringing together those who lead religious institutions with those who study them, so that the work of each might inform and strengthen the other.