Friday, 15 March 2013

John Webster: Preacher *and* Theologian

It's not at all intended as a snide remark when I emphasise the *and* in the post-title: not all theologians are good preachers, and anybody who has been to church regularly for any length of time can tell you that not all preachers are competent theologians. John Webster, Professor of Systematic Theology at Aberdeen University (formerly Lady Margaret Professor at Oxford), is genuinely both. So I'm really excited about the arrival of this book with the postman this morning:


The Grace of Truth (Farmington Hills, Michigan: Oil Lamp Book, 2011) is a collection of 26 of Webster's sermons, mostly delivered when he was Canon of Christ Church, Oxford. Having only so far read the first couple I can't say too much with authority yet, but what I have seen is a rigorous attentiveness to the scriptural texts, and a keen eye for their application in human lives. There's also a great deal of creativity on display here too, which is as refreshing as it is intriguing: so, for example, the parable of the vineyard owner and the murder of his son in Matthew 21 is here understood as a critique of lying.

The preface is written by Webster himself, though most of the editorial work is done by two others: Daniel Bush and Brannon Ellis. In the preface, Webster outlines in brief why he thinks preaching is still integral to the life of the Church: because "the Gospel's God is eloquent, he does not remain locked in silence, but speaks." This speech is supremely encountered in the life, death, and resurrection of the Word made flesh - Jesus. It is to Him that the Church must look for its own life and direction. As such "the Church of the Word is a church in which, alongside praise, prayer, lament, sacraments, witness, service, fellowship, and much else, there takes place the work of preaching." Preaching draws our attention to scripture and to Christ in a very particular way.

It's all very Barthian, as we might expect from Webster, but it is good theology put into practice in service of God and God's people, and delivered in act of preaching. I'm looking forward to reading the rest!


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