A Review of
Engage, Embrace, Transform
Paperback: Judson Press, 2012
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Reviewed by Jordan Kellicut.
Preaching is a dangerous task, not only because the preacher dares engage the Word of God, but because he would dare to share it as a prophetic voice. Al Tizon challenges us to take up that prophetic voice in Missional Preaching: Engage, Embrace, Transform. This is not a manual on “how to preach a missional sermon,” instead it explores missional principles and then relates them to the practice of preaching. The book is divided into two sections: Part 1 “The Essentials of Missional Preaching,” and Part 2 “The Goals of Missional Preaching.”
The first section, which is significantly smaller, focuses on theologically grounding preaching within the mission Dei – the mission of God. Tizon criticizes contemporary preaching because, he argues, it does not engage the world as though it matters. Preaching must be reformed “for the people of God in the context of the world-at-large.” First, Tizon engages the theological necessity of the Church as a partner with God in mission. Second, truly Missional preaching will shape the identity of the church in such a way that it understands its existence as missionary. Tizon then directs us to understand that the entire canon is gospel centered mission Dei:
- God’s Rule in Creation and the Fall (Gen 1-11)
- God’s Rule in Israel (Gen 12-Esther)
- God’s Rule through Sages and Prophets (Job-Mal)
- God’s Rule in Christ (Matt-John)
- God’s Rule through a Spirit-Empowered Church (Acts-Jude)
- God’s Rule in the New Heaven and New Earth (Rev)
This is central to Tizon’s thesis since everything flows from understanding the gospel in terms of God’s rule. This drives the holistic component of mission. If the whole of scripture is the story of the expanding “Rule of God,” that must be the telos of all biblical preaching. Finally, he argues that worship and mission are inseparable. Christian liturgy, whether high or low, must bring us to the point that with Isaiah we cry, “Here I am, send me!”
The last two-thirds of the book seeks to envision how God’s rule would “engage, embrace, transform” our culture so that preaching might echo it. Tizon focuses on missional themes: inculturation, alternative community, holistic transformation, justice and reconciliation, whole life stewardship, shalom, and the scandal of Jesus. Each topic is concisely laid out in a kind of practical theology followed by an exemplar sermon. For instance, in the first chapter he argues we must be “preaching for inculturation,” which means preaching must speak the vernacular of the people. There must be, on the part of the preacher, an understanding of the values, beliefs, commitments, and history of a people before a sermon can speak in a way that will touch the listeners. As Paul so famously quips, “I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some.” Ruth Padilla DeBorst gives an exemplary sermon of inculturation in “Reformed Heart: Open Homes.” She argues, using Acts 10:19-48, that as Peter was confronted with a vision challenging his beliefs about “clean and unclean,” so we are also confronted to see the unclean as clean. We who are the “insiders” must seek to embrace the “outsiders,” the “unclean,” the “unequal.” The Gospel of God’s rule confronts our cultural castes of exclusion by calling us to be the boundary breakers. For God’s kingdom to come our hearts must be reformed. Each chapter follows this pattern and is successful in drawing the reader into seeing both theory and practice.
Tizon is clear, well thought out and concise. He often fails, however, to focus on how exactly these principles can be exercised in a sermon. As a preacher looking for instruction and ideas, merely having an example sermon at the end left me wanting more homiletical instruction. I would also have loved to see more Biblical engagement. But perhaps this seems lacking because Tizon already shares with his target audience scriptural underpinnings. With that said, Missional Preaching is a fine practical introductory work on linking missional principles to preaching, something desperately necessary if we are to carry out the Missio Dei.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com