Al Tizon’s book Missional Preaching extends the conversation about the missional church in some interesting ways, and provides a good solid introduction to missional theology. I’m not quite sure it qualifies as a homiletics text, as it isn’t really about preaching per se, but is more like a theology directed for preachers. As long as you get that caveat up front, this can be a very useful book.
Tizon doesn’t shy away from his purpose for writing, but forthrightly states that the book isn’t meant to be a how-to manual about preaching. In the book’s conclusion, he writes,
In truth, I set forth to write nothing less than a theology of mission, but one with preachers in mind. As a missiologist, I have shelves and shelves of books on God’s mission, but strangely, not too many of them preach very well. And as a preacher, I also have shelves and shelves of commentaries and books on homiletics, but strangely, not too many of them are written as if the world matters. But the world does matter, so the study of mission must not be relegated to seminary halls and libraries alone. It must ultimately grab hold of pastors in the trenches, who in turn inspire the people of God under their care to engage the world in mission. (159-160)
With this target in mind, there isn’t too much of a surprise in how Tizon proceeds in the book. He begins with three chapters that lay out essential characteristics of missional preaching—its connection to the Missio Dei, the missional hermeneutic that defines its approach to scripture, and its liturgical setting within worship oriented towards the people’s participation in God’s mission. Of these initial chapters, the first two are good, but are perhaps more standard fare; they’re well done, but about the sort of thing you’d find in a lot of the missional literature. The one on missional worship is the most useful, I think, probing the connection between missional worship and preaching that happens in that context in ways that I found fairly innovative. Drawing on the work of N.T. Wright and Marva Dawn, Tizon’s work here gave me something to chew on for a little while, and I’m still fairly challenged as to how approach adapting our church’s worship praxis to be more missionally attentive.
After those initial chapters, Tizon goes on to lay out a set of missional goals for preaching. These are themes that will emerge in truly missional preaching, and in these chapters Tizon is really sketching a fairly thorough missional ecclesiology—he’s describing the sort of church that will be formed over time by missional preaching. After each chapter in this section, he includes a sermon that exemplifies the particular goal in question. Like all collections of sermons, these vary in their usefulness, but a couple of them are indeed very good, in my opinion. The offerings by Brenda Salter McNeil and Tony Richie particularly shined, and the sermons by Ron Sider and Shane Claiborne also hit their marks. As regards the goals themselves, I imagine that many readers will find the chapters on inculturation and shalom as provocative and particularly challenging.Throughout the book, Tizon assumes the correspondence between what is preached and what the church becomes, and I think he takes that a little too easily. He too easily dismisses methodology, assuming that exchanging missional content in preaching will necessarily make it missional. That’s an assumption that needs to be probed a bit—it may very well be that there are significant how questions that need to be explored before preaching really becomes missional, or at least before it becomes effectively missional.
A final bit of criticism is that he book too easily thinks of missional theology as a set of propositions—it gets a little separated from a missional narrative. This is true both of the early chapters on missional hermeneutics and the Missio Dei, as well as the later chapters about preaching goals. The narrative component is there, but it doesn’t ever really get to the front of the stage. I don’t want to push too far here, because this may be just a matter of preference and expression, but I mention it because I think it holds a key to the direction Tizon’s book leaves unexplored for the rest of us—the how of missional preaching. Perhaps another goal to include here is that missional preaching helps God’s people see themselves within the story of scripture. At any rate, I think this is
a bit of a missing element in the book as it stands.
Overall, I think this is a fine book, and one that can serve as a great introduction to missional theology fro preachers who haven’t delved too much into that literature, and contains provocative points even for those who have. It leaves the methodology questions unresolved, but that’s less a point of fault for the book than an issue with my own expectations of it.