President’s Newsletter

“Preaching Builds Bridges” Spotlight: March 2024

As part of our efforts to focus on this year’s theme, “Preaching Builds Bridges,” we are featuring books, articles, podcasts, and videos throughout the year that speak to some aspect of how preaching builds bridges. This month we feature the trilogy of books on the “dangerous sermon” by Frank Thomas: How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon (2018), How to Survive a Dangerous Sermon (2020), and The God of the Dangerous Sermon (2022), all published by Abingdon Press.

Frank A. Thomas currently serves as the Director of the Compelling Preaching Initiative and the Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Homiletics at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Indiana. He has written a trilogy of books on the “dangerous sermon” that each contain insights for how preaching can build bridges. In How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon, Thomas discusses the qualities of equality, empathy, sources of wisdom and truth, and language that elevates the human spirit – keys to having the “moral imagination” that is necessary for countering the divisions of white supremacy and working toward a world of peace and justice.  But preaching that peace and justice is dangerous.

A dangerous sermon is one that “challenges unjust moral orders and dominance hierarchies and the resulting misallocation of freedom, resources, assets, and legitimacy” (How to Survive a Dangerous Sermon, xviii). Such a sermon “disrupts the legitimacy of the oppressive moral order that operates smoothly, efficiently, and often silently in the economic, political, cultural, and religious structures of a given society” (ibid, xvii). Thomas says that a dangerous sermon requires preachers to have “moral imagination” enabling them to empathize with those who are not seen as equal in a society, whether they are individuals or subgroups.

In How to Survive a Dangerous Sermon, Thomas delineates the different moral worldviews and “working gospels” that shape people’s values and political viewpoints.  Once a preacher can see the moral worldview and working gospels from which they are preaching and can assess those in their congregation, they can develop “moral dexterity” that can speak in a nuanced way to issues of public concern. Such an approach increases the chances that the sermon can be heard by people of different moral persuasions and bring people together “by inspiring wonder, mystery, and hope.” (ibid, xxix).  While the relationship between different working gospels and moral worldviews is complicated and not easily compartmentalized or neatly aligned, Thomas reminds us that if we’re going to preach a dangerous sermon, we must think about how to construct arguments that build a bridge to others with a different worldview.

In the third book, The God of the Dangerous Sermon, Thomas homes in on the theological aspect of preaching a dangerous sermon by elucidating the difference between the “universal” God of scripture and the “tribal” gods of White Christian Nationalism.  Again, understanding the theological underpinnings of those who occupy different positions on the political and theological spectrum can enable preachers to build rhetorical bridges.  These bridges can, in turn, lead to repentance, healing, reparations, and restoration.

President’s Newsletter — February 2024
President’s Newsletter — January 2024