preaching reimagined

February 15, 2006

I’ve been interested in reading Preaching Reimagined, by Doug Pagitt, since it was released. When a course syllabus listed it as one of the options for a book review, my decision was quick and easy. I’ll spare everyone the entire book review, but below are a few thoughts from it.

The main thesis of the book is that preaching needs to move from “speaching” to “progressional dialogue.” Pagitt defines speaching as the common understanding of the sermon today. One speaker delivers a message that has been prepared in advance, and solely by the preacher, in the form of a speech. Contrary to speaching is Pagitt’s concept of progressional dialogue. He describes the difference on page 23:

Speaching stands in contrast to what I call progressional dialogue, where the content of the presentation is established in the context of a healthy relationship between the presenter and the listeners, and substantive changes in the content are then created as a result of this relationship.

Though the format of the book is a bit unique, Pagitt’s ideas are well presented and thought-out. He presents his major argument in the first few chapters, without expanding completely on his thinking. The remainder of the book is broken into forty smaller chapters that more fully explore some of the ideas presented. These smaller chapters are referred in parentheses within the initial argument to allow the reader to interact with the ideas of chief interest as she reads through the book.

Pagitt does not believe he is reducing the importance of the sermon. Rather, he is elevating it to be a more useful tool in shaping and transforming the life of the church community and those within it. The dialogical form of sermon he prescribes allows the congregation to explore together how the truth of the sermon can shape their community, rather than just some practical individual application offered by a single voice.

He challenges the speech making act as one that focuses too much on what one person has to say. The one who is preaching can have little to no understanding of what is going on in the minds of his audience, and therefore has less of an opportunity to connect with them in a way that will reshape their lives. On the other hand, through a sermon that includes dialogue, the sermon participants are allowed to actively engage in the sermon. The diversity of views contributed can lead to a better understanding of the content of the teaching for all involved.

I would have liked to more clearly see Pagitt lay out some ideas of what progressional dialogue can look like. He offers some brief and general suggestions of what it may look like, but never gives the finer details of the shape that it takes even in his own church community. I understand that it might not take the same shape in every congregation, but I would have appreciated a fuller picture of how he has put these ideas into action.

Many won’t agree with everything Pagitt has to say, and some just won’t be willing to make the changes necessary to fully implement some of his ideas. However, for anyone really wanting to think through reshaping and/or improving their sermons, this book provides some good thoughts to process.

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