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THE RUSH TO RELEVANCE: POST MODERN HOMILETICAL REVOLUTION
What is Post Modernism? "The controversy over Post Modernism is one example of class
struggle at the cultural and political level. On the political level Post Modernism is an attack
on Marxism. On the cultural level it is a repudiation of the Modem Movement: abstract
expressionism in painting, the international style in architecture, and existentialism in
philosophy. Most Post Modernists reject the following models: the existential model of
authenticity and inauthenticity, the semiotic opposition between signifier and signified, the
Freudian model of latent and manifest, and the Marxist one of appearance and essence. . .
these depth models have been replaced by a conception of practices, discourse and textual
play." (Madon Sarup, An Introductory Guide to Post Structuralism and Post Modernism
(Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press), 1989: 144)
How is Post Modernism related to Post Modem Homiletics? The term "New Homiletic" in
Richard Eslinger's collective phrase is used to describe the work of recent homileticians
whose theory represents a move away from rationalistic presuppositions that give rise to the
propositional model of preaching. (Richard L. Eslinger, A New Hearing: Living Options in
Homiletical Method (Abingdon. 1989): 13-14)
Post Modem Homiletics did not appear in the 1980's/l 990's without a history of
developmental replacement from the classical, Christendom, Modem and finally the Post
Modem mode. Every language, culture and private interest group has either an implicit or
explicit World View. Every world view gives explanatory power to at least six crucial issues:
(1) Ways of perceiving the world; (2) Ways of thinking; (3) Ways of expressing ideas; (4)
Ways of acting; (5) Ways of channeling the message and (6) Ways of deciding (see esp. D. J.
Hesselgrave's Communicating Christ Cross Culturally (Zondervan, 1978). Of course all
world views legitimization structures, integration structures, and theory hypothesis, etc., are
repudiated by Post Modem epistemology. For our more limited and specific area of Post
Modem Homiletics we propose a brief trek from classical communication theories (esp.
Aristotle, Cicero, Quintillian) to Gutenberg, McLuhan, Lyotard, Heidegger, Gadamer and the
later influence on Post Modem homiletics as expressed in the works ofLoren Mead, Thomas
Kuhn, R. L. Eslinger, Fred Craddock, Eugene Lowry, and David Buttrick.
Three classical communication theories are (1) Aristotle's Rhetoric Phaedrus (persuasion,
proof, argument); (2) Cicero's On Intention and Partitions of Oratory: and (3) Quintillian's On
The Education of the Orator. There are at least five factors involved in classical Rhetoric: (1)
Invention (planning, discourse, argument); (2) Arrangement (parts, effective whole), (3) Style
(choice of words and sentences, figures), (4) Memory, and (5) Preparation for delivery of the
truthfulness of the context of the communication. There are three universal factors in any
rhetorical or persuasive situation: (1) Speaker/Writer; these factors are found in speech of all
cultures; (2) Audience (compare with Post Modem audience analysis). Each communication
context has at least three features—SOURCE - primary, secondary tertiary Encode - verbal
and non verbal. MESSAGE - method, feedback, context, and RESPONDENT or Decoding.
Three features to relate only to individual not group or community of incoders and decoders.
In any form of communication there are three cultural models - Bible - SMR. Missionary
culture - SMR and Respondent culture SMR (see especially Hesselgrave, Communicating
Christ Cross Culturally (Zondervan, 1978); Charles Kraft, Christianity in Culture (Orbis,
1960); and Eugene Nida, Message and Mission (Harper & Row, 1956). (3) Discourse or
message (see my paper "Hermeneutics and Discourse Analysis") What message is being
proposed and in what way(s) is the message related to the audience, e.g.. "needs" of
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Generation X or any species of post modem audiences. This is a crucial issue in Post Modem
Homiletics. There are three categories:
(Aristotle, 1.2, 1356a) (1) Ethos, character, credibility of the communicator; (2) Pathos,
inherent in the audience's emotional reactions, e.g.. judgment, promise, threat, hope. This
category is crucial in communicating to any form of Seeker Friendly audience. (3) Logos,
logical argument and within the discourse. This category is completely rejected by Post
Modem homiletics. Rational discourse has supposedly fallen to the blade of Post Modem's
anti foundationalism. (4) Context - contextualization was added in the 18th century rhetorical
theory. In our postmodern Homiletics Wars the post Kantian development is surely the most
demanding challenge for any form of community of communication (see my
"Contextualization in Context"). From Kant's First Critique to the Historicism/Positivism
controversy in the 19th century the exclusive claims of the Christian gospel have been under
attack. This issue drives us beyond mere diversity to meta-narrative, which is totally rejected
by post modem homiletics.
Since the Scriptures are "Word" oriented, this presents Christians with a demanding situation.
The classical work of Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of The Word and Neil Postman's
Amusing Ourselves To Death provide us with tools to engage the communication revolution.
This revolution has progressively developed from Gutenberg to McLuhan. The three building
blocks of our communication/information revolution are (1) Oral - present, (2) Print - past,
and (3) Electronic - future (see Groothuis' brilliant critique. The Soul in Cyber Space). We
must take note that computers are digital, i.e., structured-programmed and Post Modem
Homiletics rejects all forms of theory, hypothesis, paradigm, world view presuppositional
approach to "induction."
Fred Craddock is surely the guru of post modem homiletics (Overhearing The Gospel:
Inductive Preaching (Abingdon, 1990). But his work shows a total misunderstanding of the
"Logic of Induction" in scientific investigation. It is also grounded in a dubious
Kierkeggardian phenomenology. Truth is completely psychologized/subjectivized by the
Kierkeggardian method. His cultural critique is important against the dominate 19th century
positivistic mode of scientific knowledge/truth claims, but is no foundation for what science
actually does when it generates verification and is capable of predictive phenomena. In fact,
the positivistic model of science now was defeated by the advancements from Einstein,
Plank, Heisenberg, et.al. We certainly do not need Kierkeggard's phenomenology to save
Christian truth claims from a false view of scientific knowledge claims.
COMMUNICATION WITHIN THE GUTENBERG GALAXY: FROM AUDIBILITY
TO VISIBILITY
In Gutenberg's Galaxy, McLuhan divides human history into several periods. These periods
are characterized by him according to the senses (sight, taste, sound, touch, smell) which
dominate and stimulate life and learning. Earliest human life was life in a world dominated
by the sense of hearing. It was a world in which the ear was the paramount sense for
accumulating the knowledge and wisdom necessary in order to function in life. McLuhan
characterizes this early culture as a magical world of sound—sounds which were absolutely
indispensable for human life and existence (e.g.. Jewish teaching, cf. reading scripture aloud
requires both sound and sight).
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Pre-Post Gutenberg Galaxial World — Some of the characteristics of the Gutenberg Galaxy
world that we have inherited are (1) it put accent on the individual. Print is the technology of
individualism; (2) Learning becomes visual, the world of sound becomes superfluous, indeed
intrusive, for the acquisition of knowledge (e.g.. library sign "Be Quite"); (3) Grammar and
dictionaries become indispensable—no one ever made a grammatical mistake or misspelled a
word in an ear oriented culture. (3) Grammar and dictionaries fix and freeze the meaning of
words (note the linguistic controversy over the Kittel enterprise) (4) That which is logical is
that which is linear. "I don't follow you.", "where are you going with that idea?" A linear
progression of thought obviously makes sense to us. (e.g.. Jay Leno and David Letterman and
the film, "Air Force One") These three media events represent modern communication,
post modern communication and the last example of revisionist history, i.e., trying to
present the President as a national hero and savior of the world—there could be nothing
farther from the truth!!! (4) The printed text assumes that the "meaning" is in the text. This
claim is precisely what is denied after the influence of Fish, Lyotard, Foccault, and Gadamer
reached the academic arena. Their influence is at the heart of Post Modem Homiletics. (6)
Text of Scriptures understood as light on phenomenon that the readers of the text are to fix
attention with a high degree of intensity. This perception of communication changes when we
orbit out of the Gutenberg Galaxy and into the world of electronic media.
THE MEDIUM IS THE MASSAGE
What comes after Gutenberg? We now live in an electronic world which massages all of our
senses at once. From the telegraph to the telephone to the radio (1939), The War of the
Worlds, to the movies to television, we have lived through a period of human culture that has
electrically stimulated our entire nervous system with all its sense (e.g.. negative political
advertising, all forms of information control, propaganda, advertisement, etc.. When the
senses are stimulated (massaged) change, humanity and cultural changes. A culture in which
the eye is predominately massaged is different from a culture in which the ear is
predominantly massaged. A culture is which all our senses are massaged by electronic media
is different from the world of Gutenberg and the ear. In other words, the Medium (method) is
the massage? No method is not and cannot be neutral. Herein is the Post Modem Churches
greatest challenge. Media's power fused by pragmatic epistemology (whatever works is true)
is death to True Truth! (e.g.. Dewey, Peirce and James, Church Growth and the Magna
Church Model: see my paper, "Whatever Happened to True Truth?")
McLuhan uses two metaphors—"Hot" and 'Cold' to summarize his view of communication.
"A hot medium is one that extends one single sense in high definition. High definition is the
state of being well filled with data. . . . Hot media is therefore low in participation and cool
media are high in participation or completion by the audience." By this use of the words "hot"
and "cold" McLuhan is trying to say that electronic media has revitalized our senses; e.g..
Israel and the Arabs; Bush and Hussein, Liberia, etc. The teenager enmeshed in his or her
stereophonic world is certainly caught up in an auditory environment! Gutenberg parents,
please, "Please turn that down! It hurts my ears!" Life should approximate a library.
MCLUHAN'S SOUNDINGS IN THEOLOGY AND PREACHING
There are at least three factors within McLuhan's soundings: (1) Verbal inspiration and
prepositional revelation are positions at home in the Gutenberg world of thought. Is biblical
preaching "Hot" or "Cold" communication? (2) The task of preaching under the cultural
impact of The Gutenberg press is, necessarily, "Hot" "linear" and "Didactic" (cf. Left/Right
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hemisphere of the brain). (3) Hot literary bores "Cool People" (Protestant/Catholic liturgy is
'hot.' We have bulletins to "order the services." Preaching controlled by Gutenberg
Hermeneutics is predisposed to a "Didactic form of Homiletics: Gutenberg homiletics would
have the following characteristics: (1) The goal of preaching is to teach the lesson of the text;
(2) In order to teach the lessons or meanings of the text the points to be made are usually
abstracted from the text; (3) The sermon aims is primarily at the "hearer's" mind; (4) The
sermon is developed in a logical, sequential and linear manner; (5) The sermon is prepared
under the criteria for written materials: and (6) Faith engendered in the hearer is 'faith' that
the ideas are true. God forbid that the True ideas are references to True Truth deriving from
the outside of the auditory listener or reader.
Major players in our communication revolution are Cooley, Innis and McLuhan. These
communication specialists trace our civilization from Oral to Literate to Electronic culture.
Any structural analysis of the thought of the three previously mentioned gurus of
communication will entail their position regarding: (1) Time, (2) Space, (3) Thought, (4)
Diffusion, (5) Expressiveness, (6) Social Organization, (7) Authority, (8) Sensorium, (9)
Truth, (10) Information Storage. In McLuhan's perspective — (1) Time - future impermanence; (2) Space -globalism; (3) Thought - visual - visceral - sensorial; (4) Diffusion
- equipment - ownership -access; (5) Expressiveness - Immanence; (6) Social organization chance - being there - mass society; (&) Authority - photogenic - heroes - media baron; (8)
Sensorum - nervous system; (9) Truth - cult of disbelief - there is no true truth in our
multicultural pluralism; (10) Information -computers - Groothuis' Soul in Cyber Space
(Baker, 1997).
James D. Strauss
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