The Bible in Worship by Victoria Raymer and A Preacher’s Tale by Jon Russell

by
06 July 2018

Victoria Johnson on the varied forms of biblical proclamation

WHEN it comes to worship, everyone thinks that his or her way is the only way. The joy of Victoria Raymer’s book is that it delightfully cracks open the assumptions of liturgical fundamentalists and, through the prism of scripture, exposes the rich variety of thought and practice across the Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Anglican traditions, and the diversity within each.

The book explores how the Bible is used, honoured, and proclaimed in worship through reading, hearing, singing, preaching, and ceremonial, and how the Bible forms the faithful explicitly and implicitly during the Liturgy of the Word.

Well-chosen vignettes are followed by detailed exposition in the context of each ecclesial tradition; these range from a televised funeral to the parish eucharist of the anonymised “St Titus”. There are reflections on biblical proclamation as a participative act, insights into the way in which texts are chosen and juxtaposed in our lectionary provision, and, at last, an explanation of why I, and many others, get so annoyed by the way the scriptures are introduced during worship: whether to give references to chapter and verse seems like a trivial point, but Raymer tells us why it isn’t.

There is also humour, with dry asides that you have to read carefully to catch, so that this book is much more lively and interactive than other purely academic considerations. That lightness of touch in no way detracts from the quality of research. Observations are informed by years of teaching in a theological college, and of in-depth liturgical study and praxis.

As an exercise in comparative liturgiology, this book makes an important contribution to the liturgical-studies corpus. The problem is that it leaves you wanting more. Raymer explains why the Orthodox and Pentecostal traditions are not covered, which is a shame, as this would certainly have added even greater depth to this study. One can only hope that further research ensues. This is a must-read for anyone who presides, preaches, teaches, or reads in church, for anyone with a love of liturgical theology, and for all who hear the word of God in worship.

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A Preacher’s Tale by Jon Russell responds to the word of God in worship by bringing the scriptures to life through the art of storytelling, in this collection of short sermons and reflections journeying through the liturgical year. Narrative preaching has long been embraced by the North American Churches to great effect, but, for some unknown reason, is looked down upon in the Church of England. Congregations are often delighted when a preacher is courageous enough to vary his or her standard delivery of a three-point lecture-style sermon and offer something more creative. Narrative preaching as a form deserves more respect as a vehicle for communicating the good news to those for whom the Bible has been made strange.

Russell has practised what he preaches here on training courses where preaching is taken very seriously as a theological and practical discipline. His sermons are easy to read and, one must assume, engaging to hear, offering space for dialogue and a more emotional and transformative response to the word of God which is being proclaimed. His short reflections combine practical wisdom and helpful insights from superstars of the preaching world: Barbara Brown Taylor, Thomas G. Long, Henri H. Mitchell, and Eugene Lowry, revealing the influence of the New Homiletic movement.

It would be a danger to underestimate the challenge in a book like this, but Russell gently provokes preachers to re-cast their preaching in a new light — letting their scriptural imagination run free, and reigniting their vocation.

Given the growing interest in preaching, there is a need to hear from those voices who have honed their skills on the ground. The real test of those who write, teach, and lecture about preaching is whether they are any good in the pulpit. A Preacher’s Tale suggests that Russell is, and is someone worth listening to.

The Revd Victoria Johnson is a Residentiary Canon of Ely Cathedral and a Tutor for the College of Preachers.

The Bible in Worship
Victoria Raymer
SCM £35
(978-0-334-05647-8)
Church Times Bookshop £31.50

A Preacher’s Tale: Explorations in narrative preaching
Jon Russell
SCM Press £16.99
(978-0-334-05653-9)
Church Times Bookshop £15.30

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