Buechner on Preaching
Frederick Buechner was an author, pastor, and writer who knew how to get right to the heart of the matter. In the third part of his autobiography, he writes about teaching a preaching class at Harvard Divinity school. Many of his students were professed atheists, and he reflects on how class changed his view of preaching.
I HAD NEVER understood so clearly before what preaching is to me. Basically, it is to proclaim a Mystery before which, before whom, even our most exalted ideas turn to straw. It is also to proclaim this Mystery with a passion that ideas alone have little to do with. It is to try to put the Gospel into words not the way you would compose an essay but the way you would write a poem or a love letter—putting your heart into it, your own excitement, most of all your own life. It is to speak words that you hope may, by grace, be bearers not simply of new understanding but of new life both for the ones you are speaking to and also for you. Out of that life, who knows what new ideas about peace and honesty and social responsibility may come, but they are the fruits of the preaching, not the roots of it. Another Unitarian Universalist student said once that what he believed in was faith, and when I asked him faith in what, his answer was faith in faith. I don't mean to disparage him—he was doing the best he could—but it struck me that having faith in faith was as barren as being in love with love or having money that you spend only on the accumulation of more money. It struck me too that to attend a divinity school when you did not believe in divinity involved a peculiarly depressing form of bankruptcy, and there were times as I wandered through those corridors that I felt a little like Alice on the far side of the looking glass.
- Frederick Buechner in Telling Secrets