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Advent 2018 Foreword
In his recent book Miracles: God’s Presence and Power in Creation (Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), Luke Timothy Johnson avers that we preachers who have been inured to “historical criticism” (along with much of our congregations) function with a “double-mindedness.” In his splendid book, Johnson means that we readily talk the talk of biblical imagination, but we concede (on Monday) that the “real world” is governed by the rules of Descartes and Hume, a world in which miracles do not happen except as “violations of the laws of nature.” Thus there is a quality of unreality about our “biblical talk.” Johnson urges that we preachers need to end that double-mindedness by proclaiming that the real world is fully open to the miracles of God as it was open for the prophets and apostles. That would require the rejection of Cartesian reason in which our “critical” sensibility is based. That sounds to me like a good word for Advent and Christmas, for in those momentous events, the miraculous rushed against the control of Rome in massive ways. The end of our double-mindedness would permit bold preaching that recognizes that the claim of the secular world (that we mostly take for granted) is a mistaken normalcy.
Our new issue of the Journal offers rich resources for this preaching season. Thomas Currie afﬁrms that hope is tenaciously countercultural. Amy Butler sees clearly from Isaiah that our hope for the future does not derive from our present circumstance; the alternative is an apocalyptic vision of newness that is underived from the present, a stubborn insistence on what we cannot see. We are treated to three sermons from Luke, our most familiar text for the season. Jennie Barrett Siegal sees that the congregation gathers together to refuse the present chaos as it convenes around prom- ises still to be kept. David Cozad asserts that the future is carried by this baby who will not be restrained by the care of his parents. Samantha Gonzales-Block appeals to our baptismal identity to speak of the “plunge” to which faith invites us. Michael Brown ponders in a most intimate way the stiff demand of doing words well that will speak up for the Word entrusted to us. In two short pieces Ted Wardlaw and I have delivered sage gems (!). Wardlaw summons his seminary graduates to let the poetic run toward the political, not in a partisan way, but as does the Christmas narrative itself that evoked both Gentile awe and Roman hostility. My little piece articulates the basics of covenant faith that stands in complete contradiction to the dominant world around us. Our issue concludes with two regular features. Joshua Rice contemplates the crisis among Pentecostals but then turns to the crisis among all believers as we short-change the force of the Spirit of God. Ben Sparks leads us into the richly laden world of Marilynne Robinson.
This rich fare is an invitation to break old habits. Maybe the last habit among us is our double-mindedness. Nothing less is entrusted to the preacher than the declara- tion that the world as God’s creation really is the way it is said to be in the Bible. Or as Johnson has it, it is the task to imagine the world the way the Bible imagines the world, fully open beyond our reason and control and certitude to newness from God.