Dr. Alcántara graciously sat down with me to provide a taste of what’s to come in his Book Talk on January 26, 2016 at noon. On Tuesday in the library lobby he will give us opportunity to discuss and reflect on topics raised in his new book Crossover Preaching.
Crossover Preaching: Intercultural-Improvisational Homiletics in Conversation with Gardner C. Taylor has been available since November 8th of last year. Here is a brief description from Amazon.com.
As society becomes more culturally diverse and globally connected, churches and seminaries are rapidly changing. And as the church changes, preaching must change too. Crossover Preaching proposes a way forward through conversation with the “dean of the nation’s black preachers,” Gardner C. Taylor, senior pastor emeritus of Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. In this richly interdisciplinary study, Jared E. Alcántara argues that an analysis of Taylor’s preaching reveals an improvisational-intercultural approach that recovers his contemporary significance and equips US churches and seminary classrooms for the future. Alcántara argues that preachers and homileticians need to develop intercultural and improvisational proficiencies to reach an increasingly intercultural church. Crossover Preaching equips them with concrete practices designed to help them cultivate these competencies and thus communicate effectively in a changing world.
The Draw of Studying Gardner C. Taylor
Dr. Alcántara was first introduced to Gardner C. Taylor by a professor who encouraged him to listen to his sermons. When he did he found himself challenged spiritually and by the profound competence Taylor exhibited. Dr. Alcántara was struck by how effectively Gardner C. Taylor navigated cultural, ethnic and ecclesial differences while at the same time remaining faithful to the word of God. Taylor was widely received by different races, ethnicities, and ecclesial traditions and Dr. Alcántara was compelled by these competencies having personally grown up in a multi-cultural setting.
What enabled Gardner C. Taylor to effectively navigate these differences?
Taylor’s preaching performance was improvisational. Dr. Alcántara explains a distinct difference between a written word and a preached word. He uses a word picture, explaining, a written word is blood turned into ink while a preached word is ink turned into blood which communicates the necessary en-fleshing of the sermon text through its delivery. This performative aspect of the sermon is used by God to personally affect the hearers. Scripture points us in this direction when we are told “give attention to” the reading of scripture. Taylor treated his sermons as melodies, accented by unplanned riffs much like improvisational jazz. Taylor’s ability to improvise helped him communicate a meaningful word to diverse audiences.
Dr. Alcántara also explained how Taylor made the gospel his central identity marker. There is one central aspect of our identity and for Taylor it was the gospel. That being said, Taylor did not banish his racial distinctiveness altogether but honored his racial identity marker as significant, just not primary. He was rooted in but not restricted by race. Being fixed in Christ allowed him to interact and engage with cultures outside of his own without abandoning his identity. Dr. Alcántara noted that race becomes idolatrous when it claims the central place of our personhood; then, as an idol, it inhibits our ability to meaningfully engage with cultures different than our own. Taylor exemplified this gospel centrality within his own identity.
Taylor was interculturally competent. In Crossover Preaching Dr. Alcántara defines intercultural competency (IC) as, “the cultivation of knowledge, skills, and habits for effectively negotiating cultural, racial, and ecclesial difference.” He goes on to write, in order “to cultivate IC, one commits to a combination of knowledge acquisition, behavioral aptitude, and transgressive action.” Taylor modeled these three concurrent practices of learning, skillfully applying the knowledge he acquired, and decentering his cultural identity, so that he could meaningfully engage present cultural differences.
The Affect of Gardner C. Taylor on Dr. Alcántara’s Sermon Preparation
Dr. Alcántara is mindful of what his preaching may sound like in different contexts. He mentioned two specific categories he keeps in mind. The first is Sacred Speech, a category that Cleophus J. LaRou, one of his professors at Princeton, brought to his attention. It is the phenomenon present in Black congregations where the combination of words themselves inspires a sense of the holy. In Black congregations, well-crafted rhetoric moves people into the conscious sacredness of a moment in much the same way as an organ call in other traditions (The Heart of Black Preaching, LaRue, p. 10). When delivering a sermon to a Black context Dr. Alcántara gives more attention to his crafting of phrases so that he may speak meaningfully to his hearers.
The second area he keeps in mind is his illustrations. He asks himself how these illustrations will sound in the ears of his hearers. Will they connect with this illustration? Sometimes this means, for example, choosing an illustration with a protagonist that is particularly meaningful to the audience instead of the first one that comes to mind.
Demographics are shifting at lightning speed in the United States. This shift alerts those preparing for pulpit ministry of the importance of being able to connect meaningfully to various cultural contexts. Dr. Alcántara shows us how Gardner C. Taylor is a very helpful case study for giving us a way forward.
Join this important discussion on January 26th at 12:00 PM.