What is the function of preaching? When people are seeking justice and hope in social and political contexts, where is the church? Frank Thomas argues that the church has not served the people well, and that people still do not understand how to change their lives and how to transform the world through their Christian faith. Therefore, Thomas issues a call to conscience, imploring Christians to preach according to their moral imaginations.
Thomas believes that “preaching from moral imagination is the ability of the preacher, intuitive or otherwise, in the midst of the chaotic experiences of life and existence, to grasp and share God’s abiding wisdom and ethical truth in order to benefit the individual and common humanity” (76). Thomas shows that there are four qualities of moral imagination in a sermon: envisioning equality, using empathy as a bridge to create a chance for peace and justice, demonstrating wisdom in the past and present, and employing the language of poetry (17). In chapter one, Thomas reclaims the concept of the moral imagination and the meaning of freedom. He then explores the speeches of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. and extrapolates the four qualities of the moral imagination in their speeches. Next, he applies the qualities of the moral imagination to discuss what he posits as a new understanding of moral leadership and preaching.
This book has a strong philosophical and theological foundation and includes well-researched historical, social, and cultural observations. Thomas believes that moral imagination raises preachers’ awareness of their own limitations while challenging the injustices of individual and institutional structures that affect people’s lives. The author exhorts preachers to address difficult issues with their congregations. Every preacher who is interested in having their words penetrate the hearts and the souls of God’s people urgently needs to read this book, which is applicable to a variety of cultural contexts. To be sure, the book is not without certain drawbacks, especially when it comes to diversity. For example, Thomas divides racial groups by color, and he only mentions white, brown, and black. Although I know this color code has nothing to do with the actual color of people’s skin, it is still hard for Asian Americans to identify their position within these categories. Are Asian Americans white supremacists? Or do people recognize that Asian Americans also face oppression? Is there a less problematic way to identify different racial and ethnic groups?
Overall, the book provides a valuable, deep conversation about preaching, which is, for most of us, unconscious or irresolute. How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon may not have many of the expected homiletical methodologies or the biblical insights of other works, but there is something powerful about recognizing preachers’ responsibility to use their moral imaginations, speaking clearly and forcefully about today’s social issues. Adopting Thomas’s words, I want an Asian/Asian American theology like “white and black theology that takes up the genuine challenge of equality—material, political, rhetorical, and representational” (12).
PhD Candidate, Graduate Theological Union
Categories: (W) Book Review