Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence’s “Preaching as Testimony”

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s former Associate Pastor for Youth and Young Adults (1988-93), Dr. Rev. Anna Carter Florence, has published Preaching as Testimony (Westminster John Knox Press 2007). (See http://www.amazon.com/Preaching-Testimony-Anna-Carter-Florence/dp/0664223907.)

Current and prospective ministers are the primary audience for this book. After all, it is about preaching and creating better sermons.

But it is also addressed to lay Christians because we all are called to testify as to our religious faith and our faith in God and Jesus Christ. As Florence says, “the distinctive witness of Christianity is that God is manifest in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God shows us and calls us to share the news with others. God shows us and calls us to claim the freedom we would like to be. God calls us to testify.” (p. 64 (emphasis added).) To the same point, “Everyone in the faith community is included in the call to preach whenever and wherever there is hunger for freedom. Everyone in the faith community is capable of proclaiming jubilee, either in the pulpit or out in the world. Our stories of encountering God are meant to be shared and must be shared.” (P. 108 (emphasis in original in italics; emphasis added in bold).) For this purpose, she defines “testimony” as “a narration of events and a confession of belief: we tell what we have seen and heard, and we confess what we believe about it.” (p. xiii)

Sermons in this approach begin with what she calls “living in the [lectionary’s Biblical] text” and then testifying about that encounter with God’s Word. Such preachers “go to the text to live in it, to encounter it, to get inside the passage itself and experience what the text is saying to them. The sermon is the aftermath of that encounter: we tell what we have seen and heard in the text, and what we believe. We offer our testimony.” (p. 133)

For “living in the text” or “attending to the text,” Florence provides practical exercises. During all of these exercises, the person should listen for ideas of what the text means.  1. Write the text in hand in a journal. 2. Write a small copy of the text to fit in your pocket. 3. Memorize the text.  4. Underline words and phrases in the text that stand out for you. 5. Read the pocket-sized text when you have spare time and share it with friends or strangers for their reactions. 6. Read the pocket-sized text somewhere you do not usually frequent, “dislocate” the text. 7. Imagine possible or impossible subtexts for the texts; what were the actors in the text saying to themselves. 8. “Block” the text as a play; how the actors in the text (and bystanders) locate and move themselves; have a dress rehearsal of this drama with volunteers. 9. Throw your whole body into the text. 10. “Push” the text with a partner; explore different interpretations and react to the other’s interpretations. 11. Read the text with someone with different characteristics (gender, age, race, sexual orientation, etc.). 12. Search for other Biblical texts that appear to be contrary to the text at hand. 13. Draw images that are prompted by the text. 14. Study the commentaries on the text. (pp. 135-43)

The next step for the preacher, according to Florence, is describing this encounter with the Word of God. Again she offers exercises. 1. Make a list of images in the text and see what words or pictures they evoke and write them down.     2. Rewrite the text in your own words. 3. Rewrite the words in the slang of young people. 4. Write a character sketch of someone in the text; imagine what that character is thinking. 5. Put yourself into the shoes of one of the characters in the text and imagine that person’s monologue about what is happening. 6. Create a dialogue for two of the characters in the text and have two people read it aloud. 7. Write a short dramatic scene from the text and stage it or “text-jam” it. 8. Write a series of short letters based on the text. 9. Read the text and pray in its words and images before you go to sleep and in the morning write down any dreams you had about it.  10. Write journal entries about the text. 11. Rewrite the text as you wish it were. 12. Ask yourself what you would say about the text “if only you could.” (Pp. 143-50)

Florence also argues that long before women were “authorized” to preach, they testified as to their encounters with God and were really preaching, and three such women in America are discussed. (Pp. 1-58) In addition, Florence summarizes theories of Biblical testimony that have been offered by contemporary theologians. (Pp. 59-108)

Anna received a B.A. in 1984 (History with Theatre Studies) from Yale University and M. Div. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1988 and 2000. After leaving Westminster, she was a Teaching Fellow and Instructor at Princeton Seminary until 1998 when she joined the faculty of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. She is now its tenured Peter Marshall Associate Professor of Preaching. (http://www.ctsnet.edu/FacultyMember.aspx?ID=14)

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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