Column entry, “A Map is Needed,” by Robert Stephen Reid

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Column Title: Communicating Faith in the Cross-Walk of Life

Column Entry: “A Map is Needed”

By Robert Stephen Reid, Professor Emeritus, University of Dubuque

Description: During most of Christendom people lived with some form of a theistic identity. But in our post-Christendom secular society most North American Christians are faced, sometimes explicitly but mostly implicitly, with a daily choice of whether to keep believing in God. Or, believing that, in Christ, God is still seeking to be reconciled with each generation of people in this world. If faith in God is to matter amidst the busy, bustling intersection of cross-purposes and cross-identities of contemporary secular life, my interest is to reflect on the diverse ways people communicate with others about this desire to pursue cross-centered lives of faith.

June-July 2024 | May 2024 |April 2024 | March 2024


A Map is Needed

My revision of The Four Voices of Preaching should be available for purchase before the end of next month, but on July 15th I have the privilege of presenting a workshop that engages the ideas of his book. My purpose is to provide a map as practical help for communication educators, preachers, and faith talk communicators who need help to find their way among the different approaches people take to communicating faith. Below, I have excerpted part of the closing portion of Chapter One that says more about why a map like the one I provide can really help. I made some minor changes in the excerpt to help it make sense. They are the italicized parts. They boil down a phrase I introduce earlier in the chapter—“faith consciousnesses”— I use to describes the different approaches people take in preaching and teaching meant to call forth faith from readers and hearers in their sermons, podcasts, blogs, and books. The question is, what are these different “faith consciousnesses” implicit in our talk about our faith? And how will understanding them help us to be better faith communicators or help we readers and hearers understand the one that we tend to respond to best?

That said, I post the following excerpt below as an invitation for you to considering joining us for the workshop of July 15th. So, on to the question of why…

A Map is Needed

A volume that still sits on my office bookshelf embodies what was once viewed as the “tall steeple” approach in teaching clergy how to better understand their homiletic task: Here is My Method: The Art of Sermon Construction. The book was edited by Princeton’s pre-eminent homiletician Donald Mcleod.[1] It was published almost three quarters of a century ago and offers insights from thirteen then prominent mid-20th century “tall steeple” preachers. Each briefly discusses their particular method of putting together a sermon. Most homiletic textbooks still offer a version of this. But rather than hosting a roster of pre-eminent pulpiteers, most contemporary homiletic Here’s My Method textbooks identify what the author believes to be an appropriate hermeneutic and an appropriate method of how to do it when preaching. Some textbooks go further, and provide a baker’s dozen of other strategies that have proved to be durable, often describing them as ways to bring variety in preaching. In one sense, what follows is a version of this. I will provide a variety of strategies. But my version of providing a collection of strategies of preaching has nothing to do with varying one’s style. Each collection provides a preacher with a set of patterns of preaching that can help them realize the expected response of the voice they bring to the task to be the most authentic expression of their own faith consciousness in offering witness to the gospel of Christ and the promises of God.

The philosopher Charles Taylor, who is known for his ability to synthesize the philosophical, cultural, and societal forces that influence modern identity once wrote that he intended his writing to serve as a map. He then adds that, “The proof of a map is in how well you can get around when you use it.”[2] The map I offer here is a cartographic reading of the contemporary homiletic landscape that highlights current voices of gospel proclamation that can be found in 21st century North American pulpits and in the digital frontier of new media forms of preaching. It is not a map that assumes that one way of preaching is to be discarded as if it is a fabled belief system so that people can shift to the next way that emerges. Each approach continues and develops its own trajectory as a faithful way of knowing alongside new expressions of Christian faith ways of knowing that have emerged. To understand what counts as an authentic expression of one’s own way of knowing and communicating faith, it helps to understand how each societal evolution of these different ways has been an adaptive to cultural changes from the Puritan to the Digital ages.

Fortunately, I am not venturing into an uncharted terrain. My ability to provide a map has been made possible because of research in the religious disciplines of homiletics and is supplemented by insights from studies in the sociology of religion and by philosophers who have reflected on the changes in religion in our society. In addition, I approach my “cartography” from the perspective of a being a rhetorician who studies religious discourse in the public square…. As a rhetorician I am less concerned with determining the right voice, focusing instead on what counts as excellence and authenticity in each voice. I am interested in explaining how revolutions in ways of knowing and preaching and what that means for both preachers, teachers, and those who listen and take heart from talk about why faith in God matters is helped by a map. So, it is enough to say that my intention is that The Four Voices of Preaching will provide a map of various sensibilities by which preachers and faith leaders frame their understanding of what counts as truth and what counts as the socio-cultural mooring of their ways of knowing in a secular age. For preachers or faith leaders who desires to speak or write with excellence and a clearer sense of authenticity my intention is to make a case for why understanding these different voices will allow them to take greater control of their own voice as a resource in communicating the gospel.


[1] Donald Mcleod, ed., Here is My Method: The Art of Sermon Construction (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1952).

[2] Charles Taylor, Philosophical Papers , 2 Vols. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985); cf. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

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