The Congregation at Duke University Chapel

A Conversation about Preaching and Politics

For the ears, you can listen to an audio recording of this presentation. [high fidelity audio playable under all personal computer operating systems via VLC media player, Microsoft Windows Media Player with the codecs for FLAC et al, OS X QuickTime with the XiphQT plugin, etc., on many Android-based mobile devices, and on iOS-based mobile devices via apps such as FLAC Player or Golden Ear]

A Conversation about Preaching and Politics

presentation at Adult Forum by
Professor Ellen Davis
Duke Divinity School
February 12, 2017
  1. Relationship between preaching/biblical interpretation and politics
  2. How to speak about what is going on, about "the political" without being charged with "politicizing"?
  3. Prophetic preaching - how does that inform what we do in the pulpit?

Preaching / Biblical Interpretation and Politics

We are preaching not our own opinion or position but a story that comes to us from outside ourselves, that we as a church body are willing/constrained to accept as truth.

  • Bible speaks to us as a body, which is to say, it is inherently political. Speaks to us as people who live in community, must together negotiate matters of the moral life:
    • power,
    • economics,
    • human flourishing,
    • flourishing of biosphere.
    Does that leave anything out?
  • There is such a thing as truth, and not just fungible facts, which can be endlessly debated. But the conviction that there is such a thing as truth, which can be denied only at the greatest cost - that means that there is such a thing as the moral life, and not just the negotiation and exercise of brute power.

The Difference Between Politics and Politicizing

Politicizing suggests something imposed from without, extraneous.

Who has enough to eat and who doesn't? Who has access to land and water? First stories of Israel as a people: Exodus 15 and 16, purifying the poison water; then manna - everyone has enough to eat, no one too much.

Gnosticism (the first heresy identified by the church)
the notion that our material and political existence can be separated from matters of faith

"Poor and vulnerable"


Subaltern ("under-another") perspective in both Old and New Testaments

Question for any preacher: what does it mean to appropriate that story, that language, in our own "imperial culture"?

Prophetic Preaching

Elements of a prophetic perspective:

  • Listening to God
  • The God-given integrity of the created order, which we cannot violate with impunity
  • The imperative for moral, religious, and economic integrity within communities
  • The theological significance of those who do not share in Israel's covenant with God

Reference was made to the book Biblical Prophecy: Perspectives for Christian Theology, Discipleship, and Ministry by Ellen F. Davis, 2014.