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Preaching the Gospel in an Awkward Age
William H. Willimon Duke University Chapel, Durham, North Carolina In The Nature of Doctrine: Religion in a Post-Liberal Age, (Westminster) George Lindbeck notes that North American Christians live in an awkward age. The age is awkward because, Christianity, having once been established in this culture is not yet clearly disestablished. Perhaps that explains why the majority of my sermons begin in Lindbeck's "experiential-expressivist" mode, beginning with the congregation's unformed and uninformed experiences and subjectivity, as if the old Constantinian synthesis were still in place, only to end as if I am a missionary speaking to pagans. Having begun in the recesses of human experience - are you depressed? Do you want self-esteem? How can we get the attention of Congress? -1 end with the renewed realization that the gospel does not merely want to speak to the modern world, it wants to assault, confront, convert, remake that world through the church and its preaching. As Lindbeck might put it, I begin, as all liberals do, as "experiential-expressivist," providing poetic articulation to what people already know, only to realize belatedly that the gospel is more "cultural-linguistic," demanding conversion into a new culture and a new mode of speaking and thinking which cannot be known without conversion. Most Sundays, in my neo-gothic, middle-of-the-university pulpit built in the heyday of North Carolina Constantinianism, speaking to a campus which is undeniably pagan not only in what is done in the dorms on Saturday night but more troublingly what is said in the classroom on Monday morning, I feel, well, awkward. Missionary bishop Lesslie Newbigin names the paganism to which I preach: [Ours is not] as we once imagined a secular society. It is a pagan society, and its paganism, having been born out of the rejection of...

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