Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A book by Duke Divinity School Professor Jerusha Matsen Neal, Ph.D., on the presence of the living Christ in preaching as is potently exemplified through Mary in conceiving, bearing, and naming of Jesus in Luke’s nativity has received Jesus Creed 2020 Book Award from Christianity Today.

The volume, The Overshadowed Preacher: Mary, the Spirit, and the Labor of Proclamation, was selected as one of two books to receive an award in the preaching discipline category by “Jesus Creed,” a blog on the national Christian magazine’s Blog Forum that explores the significance of Jesus and the orthodox faith for the 21st century. Neal’s book was published by Eerdman’s Publishing Co. in October 2020.

In announcing the award, blogger Scot McKnight of “Jesus Creed” described the book by Neal, an assistant professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity, as stimulating, suggestive, and paradigm-altering. “For many preaching is a given–'what’s the issue?,' so many ask. The issue is this: Does it make enough difference in daily life to have so much of the service devoted to it? Perhaps rethinking it some will help,” he stated.

In calling out the presence of the living Christ in the sermon as one of the most important, unexamined affirmations of preaching, Neal argues in the book that Mary’s example calls preachers to leave behind the false shadows haunting Christian pulpits and be “overshadowed” by the Spirit of God.

The Overshadowed Preacher asks gospel proclaimers to own the limits and promise of their humanness as God’s Spirit-filled servants, rather than disappear behind a “pulpit prince” ideal. It is a preacher’s fully embodied witness, lived out through Spirit-filled acts of hospitality, dependence, and discernment, that bears the marks of a fully embodied Christ, Neal demonstrates.

This affirmation honors the particularity of preachers in a globally diverse context—challenging a status quo that has historically privileged masculinity and whiteness. The book also offers the hope to ordinary souls who find themselves daunted by the impossibility of the preaching task because “Nothing, in the angel’s words, is impossible with God.”

An ordained American Baptist minister with broad ecumenical experience, Neal previously served as a Global Ministries missionary to the Fiji Islands through the United Methodist Church. Her scholarly work examines the action of the Spirit on the performative borders of body and culture. Her research interests focus on postcolonial preaching, preaching and gender, and the implications of Mariology for a Spirit-dependent homiletic.

See a video of Neal discussing the book "Why Preaching Matters."