Preaching the Gospel
by Norman Pittenger


This book is a discussion of preaching, one of the central responsibilities of the ordained ministry of the Christian Church. Its concern is with what is sometimes called ‘liturgical preaching’, but I do not mean this in the narrower sense of preaching upon the appointed lections in the celebration of the Eucharist. Rather, I shall be considering preaching in a liturgical context, which is the celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday morning or at whatever time the main service of worship is conducted on the Lord’s Day. Because of that particular focus, I shall not speak in this book of preaching on other occasions or in other contexts, although I am of course aware of the importance of such opportunities to proclaim the gospel. But in a brief study like this one it is impossible to say everything; I have thought it better to concentrate on preaching in the particular connection which I have indicated.

Preaching, like everything else within the Christian tradition, does not stand by itself alone. It requires an awareness of certain presuppositions, having to do with the nature of the Christian community to be sure but also with respect to the whole enterprise of religious faith. Anybody who has read other writings by me will know that for me the so-called ‘Process’ conceptuality provides the general presuppositions with which the entire Christian enterprise may most satisfactorily be approached in our own time. Hence I must begin with a chapter which looks at such presuppositions and will outline briefly and succinctly the way in which such a Process conceptuality understands what we are ‘up to’ in our Christian profession of faith and a fortiori what is for preaching the wider background of thought and understanding.

The chapters which follow take a line which ought to be clear enough: what it is that we preach; to whom we preach it; the setting of this preaching in worship; preachers and their responsibility; the relation of preaching to the biblical witness to and the ongoing tradition about the originating event of the Christian community; certain problems which we face in preaching today; the relationship of preaching to theology, which seeks to provide a consistent and coherent statement of faith’s implications as well as the ethical consequences of the gospel that is proclaimed; and finally what I have called ‘the end of preaching.’ As to the last of these topics, I am using the word ‘end’ in both its senses: what is its basic purpose, on the one hand; and on the other hand the way in which all genuine preaching has its conclusion in the worship of God enacted in Jesus Christ.

Although my entire ministerial career has been spent in the teaching of ordinands, in theological colleges and seminaries and then in a university setting. I have been privileged to preach in many chapels, churches, and cathedrals over more than half-a-century. In doing this I have learned a good deal about what such preaching should intend and what it inevitably requires of the one who is asked to preach. I hope that this experience is reflected in what I have written. I hope also that what is said may be helpful to others to whom has been committed this exacting aspect of Christian ordained ministry.

Finally, I have written as a priest of the Anglican obedience and much but not all of what I say is naturally a reflection of that particular allegiance. But I do not think that this has narrowed my perspective nor that it has given it an insularly Anglican quality. Certainly I trust that this is not the case.

Much of my preaching in recent years has been in the Chapel of King’s College in Cambridge. of which I am a member and in whose worship I take part almost every day. It is for that reason that I have ventured to dedicate this book to the present Dean of that Chapel. John Drury has been a good friend to me. So also have been his three predecessors with whom I have been associated: Alec Vidler, David Edwards. and Michael Till. I am grateful to all of them for much encouragement for more than the last twenty years.

Norman Pittenger

King’s College