Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized
by William H. Willimon
(Eerdmans, 1992, 136 pages)
I recently offered a pretty negative review of Will Willimon’s recent novel, Incorporation. I figured it was only fair that I balance that out with some positive comments on one of his classic books on preaching. Willimon believes that preaching should present a challenge to its hearers – not simply a challenge to live moral lives or to be better people, but a challenge to live and to see the world according to the alternative values and vision that Christians are initiated into at their baptisms. He is emphatic about the political and social nature of the church, and he wants preaching to reinforce and sustain the kind of discipleship that is called for in that alternative community.
The kind of preaching that Willimon calls for ensures that the church’s message will clash with the prevailing messages of late capitalism and the liberal state. He sees this as necessary because the values and vision of Scripture present an alternative basis for society. Baptism creates a new starting point for ethical and social reflection, a clear distinction between church and world. Willimon states the vital connection between baptism and preaching in this way:
“We are born, drowned, adopted, clothed, gifted so that we might be a people worthy of listening to a peculiar account of human life called Scripture.” (22)
At times I think that the distinction that Willimon sees between Christian and non-Christian values is overstated. At the very least, there are other helpful angles from which to approach the same issue. However, the basic link that Willimon draws between baptism and preaching is extremely helpful. He writes with a frankness and sarcastic sense of humor that perfectly fits the challenging tone of the book. Three of the four chapters are followed by sermons delivered on various occasions, providing helpful illustrations of the kind of “peculiar speech” that Willimon calls for.