Living with the Lectionary: Preaching through the Revised Common Lectionary
Eugene L. Lowry
Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Quick Summary: This short book provides many helpful suggestions from a seasoned scholar and preacher in utilizing the Revised Common Lectionary. In my previous review (The Homiletical Plot), I mentioned that Dr. Eugene Lowry is an ordained United Methodist minister and retired professor of preaching. Having taught at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City for over thirty years, his vita includes many scholarly books and articles on preaching, as well as various honors and lectureships. This book was published in 1992; the same year as the Revised Common Lectionary debuted.
Once again, Lowry produces a work relevant to those pastors who preach from the Revised Common Lectionary or who are interested in preaching from it. He describes his own relationship with the lectionary as a “love-hate relationship” (11). Yet, he admits, “The greatest single variable I am able to detect in this ‘substantially better’ preaching is the increased use of the lectionary as the basis for the sermon” (11). In this relatively short book (less than 100 pages), he addresses several practical issues of “living with the lectionary”.
Chapter one discusses the liabilities and assets of preaching the lectionary. I question the historical accuracy of this statement, “But the emergence of lectionary use in preaching now signals a new direction in the life of the church” (35). Many Christian traditions already used their own lectionary, so I am not sure that the current turn toward lectionary is quite this dramatic. Yet, Lowry says that “lectionary use bespeaks a new centering, a new mentality in the life of the church - and the Bible is at the core, not as resource but as source” (35). Within the certain traditions, this may well be the case.
Chapter two considers the obstacles of lectionary preaching. Admittedly, issues arise with lectionary preaching, which any preacher who has used the lectionary will understand. Lowry gives voice to these issues and provides some possible solutions for them. The bottom line is that the lectionary sometimes omits important verses (in a single passage) or passages (in successive Sundays) which greatly affect the understanding and interpretation of the text.
Chapter three addresses three temptations and four claims upon preachers. While two of the temptations seem of critical importance, I would somewhat disagree with Lowry’s concern that the preacher may “preach whatever theology” appears in the text (67). The claims form the central concern of the chapter. He reflects upon four claims of the text, the pastoral situation, the sermon form, and the Gospel. Generally, I find some helpful comments, but these also serve to highlight differences between Lowry’s theology and evangelical theology.
Evangelical Assessment: From an evangelical perspective, the Word of God does form the central emphasis of the church. So, it may be that the lectionary has helped non-evangelical churches to return to the Scriptures for which we can be thankful, but it raises concerns as to what has been central in these churches (35).
In contrast to Lowry’s concern that the sermon may arise from the text (66), an evangelical assumption is that the sermon should arise from the text! The text is considered within the overall canon of Scripture, but not to change the theology of a given text. The goal is to understand the text in its ever broadening context (passage, chapter, book, other writing by the same author, place in redemptive history, etc.). This does not necessarily lead to conflict and contradiction, but when it does, the preacher, as the chief theologian of the congregation, should work to resolve it.
Another concern with Lowry’s theology is his view of revelation. It seems to lack an objective basis. He does recognize that it is historical and relational, but if questioned directly about the historical accuracy of revelation, I wonder what his answer would be. He seems to embrace revelation as a subjective experience which may lack historical accuracy. This is more consistent with a Neo-Orthodox or Post-Liberal approach.
Lastly, I appreciate his emphasis on the Gospel, but I am not sure what he means by it. The Gospel is the saving work of God through Jesus Christ’s virgin birth, perfect life, atoning death, bodily resurrection, and ascension, which provides forgives for our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. While the implications of the Gospel in texts may vary, the central Gospel message remains the same. Evangelicals believe that the Gospel is an objective, historical reality, but I am not sure that Lowry could agree with it.
In reading and considering both the Homiletical Plot and Living with the Lectionary, I think that narrative preaching of the lectionary could be a valuable tool for evangelicals, who desire to emphasize Christian Year Spirituality centered on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
Who might this book interest? Specifically, I think that this book may interest pastors who use the Revised Common Lectionary or who are interested in using it. In my experience, the more that I have grown to appreciate the Christian Year; the more that I have grown to appreciate the lectionary, with all of its faults.