Preachers Dare: Speaking for God
William H. Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School and a retired United Methodist Church bishop, has written a new book on the theology of preaching based on the fruit of his four decades of preaching and teaching homiletics at Duke.
The book, Preachers Dare: Speaking for God, was published in October by Abingdon Press. It is adapted from what would have been Willimon’s Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale University Divinity School earlier in the month that was postponed until next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The theme for Willimon’s lectures is “Preachers Dare” and was inspired by theologian Karl Barth’s lectures on reformed theology in Germany in the 1920’s. Barth opened his lectures with a thunderous “Preachers dare.” Preachers, unlike most public speakers, dare to speak about the living, revealing God in Christ. Theology, as human talk about and from God, said Barth, keeps preaching as risky as Jesus means it to be. Preachers hand over to their congregations what they have received from their discipline, expectant listening for God’s word.
In his new book, Willimon also dares preachers to be bold and speak about the God who speaks to humans through Jesus Christ in a world in which sermons too often become hackneyed conventional wisdom or tame common sense.
“My aim is to stress the centrality of preaching as if God matters,” says Willimon. “I show why preaching is the most significant theological endeavor of the church, the main purpose of pastors, and how theology is preaching’s most important guide and critic.”
Using fresh biblical insights, creativity, and pointed humor, Willimon draws upon his decades of preaching, as well as his many books on the practice of homiletics, to present a bold theology of preaching. Emphasizing preaching as a distinctively theological endeavor that begins with and is enabled by God, he argues that God speaks, preachers dare to speak the speech of God, and the church dares to listen. By moving from the biblical text to the contemporary context, preachers dare to speak up for God so that God might speak today.
Willimon dedicated the book to Fleming Rutledge, an American Episcopal priest, author, theologian and preacher who was ordained to the diaconate in 1975, becoming one of the first women to be ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. Willimon invited her to preach at Duke Chapel in the 1980s when he served as chapel dean and professor at Duke Divinity.
A widely published author, preacher, and teacher of preachers, Willimon has written more than eighty books, many of which have been translated into many languages and have sold over a million copies. His first widely acclaimed book, The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything, will be republished in November by Paraclete Press after original publication in 1978. Other recent books are Leading with the Sermon: Preaching as Leadership (Fortress Press) and Aging: Growing Old in the Church (Baker Academic), both published earlier this year.
For twenty years Willimon served as dean of Duke Chapel and professor of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School. He has served congregations in Georgia and South and North Carolina and is a retired bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.
See a video of Willimon talking about Preachers Dare.