Tag Archives: Pluralism

Psalm 16- Remaining Faithful in a Pluralistic Setting

Giovanni Francesco Barberi (il Guercino), King David (1651)

Giovanni Francesco Barberi (il Guercino), King David (1651)

Psalm 16

<A Miktam of David.>
1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.
4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.
5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy;
 in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
When I was growing up I assumed that the world of the Hebrew Scriptures (or the Old Testament) which was written to the people of Israel and Judah was a world that was as monolithic as I assumed things were growing up in my own childhood. Just because everyone I knew growing up was associated with a Christian church and I think the church was still, at least the Lutheran churches I grew up within, operating out of a Christendom concept where everyone at least had a church that they belonged to (even if they didn’t regularly or ever attend). I was wrong about the world that I grew up in and I was wrong about the Hebrew Scriptures. Perhaps being a pastor I have a heightened awareness to the other things that have placed their claims upon people’s lives and I do believe that the church is losing the privileged place it once held in society. There are so many competing voices that the church deals with (and perhaps the church has always dealt with) and I know I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can address the questions that are a part of our world while remaining faithful to the core ideas of my faith.

In Psalm 16 the Psalmist is attempting to remain faithful in the midst of an atmosphere that has several religious choices. The Psalm itself may be from a priest or from David (as its it is attributed to) but in their attempts at faithfulness they feel isolated. The holy ones of the land, presumably those who are remaining faithful, seem to be in conflict with those who are either turning away to other religious options or who are trying to blend together the worship of the LORD with gods like Baal and Asherah (treating the LORD as one among many). Perhaps the Psalmist is trying to distinguish between himself and the others who are willing to present offerings to other gods and take their names upon their lips. The Psalmist in their gut (in verse seven where it speaks in the NRSV translation of my heart instructs me this is literally my kidneys, the guts-where feelings come from in Hebrew thought) knows that what they are doing is right, but it may be unpopular. The more I spend time with the Hebrew Scriptures, the more I realize that there were few, if any, times where the people exclusively worshipped the LORD.

In our own day we too have to struggle with how to remain faithful in a pluralistic world, where many of the other messages may not be associated with another religion but instead may be reflective of the consumeristic society, the allegiance to states, various political ideologies or the continued pressures of a society where entertainment and sports occupy a huge amount of the public’s loyalty. None of these are bad things but they are penultimate (less that ultimate, secondary things). There are many things that may demand our tribute, our own blood offerings. Yet, I think the challenge in this and every age is to trust in the LORD, to know in one’s gut that one’s faith in the LORD is well placed, and even in the midst of other alternatives to let our heart be glad, our soul rejoice and our body secure in the portion that the LORD has allotted to us.

Review of David Lose’s Preaching at the Crossroads

preaching at crossroads

PREACHING AT THE CROSSROADS HOW THE WORLD AND OUR PREACHING IS CHANGING, by David J. Lose. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013. Pp.112. (paperback)

Postmodernity, Secularism and Pluralism are three topics often discussed in relation to understanding the changes that have taken place in society and the lives of individuals in the last half of a century but they are rarely brought together. David Lose provides an incredibly useful introduction to three of the major influences that are shaping the world of the people both inside and outside of congregations and in a brief and helpful way illuminates the impact of these three massive shifts in the way the world is viewed and identity is constructed. In addition to being a descriptive book, where the nature of a postmodern, secular and pluralistic world is described, the book is also suggestive in responding to how a preacher might constructively engage each of the challenges and opportunities presented by our changing world.

Dr. Lose’s proposal in this book is that rather than looking at preaching through a list of problems that are described and solutions that are prescribed to look at the mystery of preaching and the questions of our age.  He invites the reader to enter into, “an ongoing, curious, and lively engagement with the questions that people living at particular times are asking” and then enter into the questions of the current age and understand those questions so as to speak from the mystery and wisdom of faith to those questions in a way that is helpful. (6) The structure of Preaching at the Crossroads deals with each of the three topics with two chapters, one descriptive and one suggestive. In each descriptive chapter the author describes the way each influence is seen in our daily lives and how it impacts the way the church has been able to interact with the world and the second chapter he presents some hopeful suggestions for the road ahead.

Postmodernity is the subject of the first two chapters of the book and in a very quick manner David Lose describes both postmodernity and its predecessor modernity (since postmodernity is a deconstruction of modernity). Modernity depended on rational verifiability as the standard of truth in an ordered world that was searching for certainty in rising scientific and technological revolutions that spanned several centuries. Postmodernism emerges from the disappointment with the costs of the modern age and as a skepticism about the ability of humanity to solve the crises of the world through reason, science, industry and technology. Where modernity sought some unified truth, postmodernity would say there is no unified reality or truth but rather truth has often been the values of the dominant culture. Postmodernity view language and culture are not merely descriptive of reality but are forces that are utilized in the construction of reality and instead of Francis Bacon’s famous dictum “knowledge is power” the postmodern philosopher Michael Foucault reverses this to “power is knowledge.” (18) In a postmodern world where all truth is at best penultimate and that the foundations which our truth and knowledge is based upon may need to be revised in the light of a more plausible alternative. The postmodern world is one of competing stories and narratives of which the Christian story is merely one possible narrative whose validity must be proven through interface with the hearer’s experiences and contact with other competing narratives. In a world where the certainties that humanity can save itself through continued progress and development are stripped away it calls for a different preaching that is willing to courageously wager about God’s engagement of the world and to see how that narrative is received in the experience of the postmodern hearer. Following Paul Ricoeur’s move of employing a hermeneutic of suspicion and trust simultaneously David Lose invites the preacher to consider a centered, communal, and humble approach to preaching.

Secularism is dealt with in chapters three and four of Preaching at the Crossroads. While postmodernity questions modernity’s assumption that humanity can save itself secularism represents a loss of confidence in the divine to allow humanity to escape from its crises. It is a world where the immanent has triumphed over the transcendent and the religious stories that once helped individuals look outward for their sources of meaning no longer have the same power forcing people to turn inward on their quest for meaning and identity. Where postmodernity presented the Christian faith with a crisis of authority secularism present that same faith a crisis of relevance. Many feel that with the triumph of the immanent that the transcendent no longer has a role to play in their lives. The triumph of the immanent over the transcendent has come at a high personal cost leading many to despair at the loss of meaning in their lives. This is where David Lose sees opportunity in the secularism that has come to dominate so many people’s lives, faith gains its relevance when it responds to the secular crisis of hope. In a world full of meaningless stories we are the bearers of an incredible story that does have the audacity to speak hope into hopelessness. Secularism has heightened our awareness of the mundane and ordinariness of life but particularly speaking from the perspective of vocation we have the ability to speak of the transcendent God who is present in the day to day tasks. Rather than restricting God’s activity to the realm of the church, Dr. Lose argues this frees us to point to the places God is at work in the lives of the people we encounter beyond the congregational walls.

Pluralism is the final topic tackled in the final two chapters of Preaching at the Crossroads. With pluralism the place of Christianity is no longer privileged as the one dominant story but is rather placed along with countless competing narratives: some religious, others may be centered on nationality, wealth, ethnicity or even the narratives used in advertising to place a product. This has been heightened by the rise of the digital age where a more robust variety of stories are instantly available at any one time. In light of the near unending choices available the culture has shifted from one of obligation to discretion. Now the center of identity is no longer inherited but rather constructed by the choices of what one affiliates with and which stories one values. We no longer live in a culture that values tradition but rather experience is the touchstone of value in this age. As with the previous shifts, David Lose points to the opportunity in this movement as well. In an age where identity is constructed we have the ability to ask the questions of how to “meet their deepest needs, construct meaningful identities and experience the living God”.(93) In a time where Christianity no longer benefits from the society reinforcing our story it is a chance to help people find themselves in the story again and to tell our story in a way that helps people make sense of their lives. David Lose ends these chapters with some suggestive ideas of how participatory preaching might provide a space for people to make sense of their lives in light of the biblical story.

David Lose’s book is a wonderful introduction to the interconnected movements of postmodernity, secularism and pluralism. It is a concise and quick summary that is helpful both for the preacher who has studied and lived with these swirling movements and for the student learning about preaching and wanting to understand the world that is changing around them. This was a book I wished I had years earlier but I am glad to have found as a helpful resource for today.