The Color of Preaching
The benefits of preaching with aesthetic value.
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“They that walked in darkness sang songs in the olden days—Sorrow Songs—for they were weary at heart … a haunting echo of these weird old songs in which the soul of the black slave spoke to men. Ever since I was a child these songs have stirred me strangely. They came out of the South unknown to me, one by one, and yet at once I knew them as of me and of mine. Then in after years when I came to Nashville I saw the great temple builded of these songs towering over the pale city. To me Jubilee Hall seemed ever made of the songs themselves, and its bricks were red with the blood and dust of toil.”
These are the words of black sociologist, W. E. B. DuBois, from his enduring work The Souls of Black Folk. In them he describes the ability of the African American spiritual to both captivate and comfort its hearer. The music of black Americans from this bygone era almost photographs the intersection between despair and hope. In these lyrics the truth of God’s Word meets the specific needs of a troubled people.
The story of black preaching
Much like the history of black sacred music, the story of black preaching illustrates how preaching can fit every shade of need. There is no circumstance of culture or iteration of society that cannot find within good preaching the balm for all its ills. Preaching is not limited to our imposed confines of provincial preferences, epistemology, or social location. Its effectiveness is not measured by our academic craftiness or linguistic command. Preaching is bigger than that. It operates in two worlds simultaneously. It lifts the soul beyond the circumstances of the body. It meets our most profound needs, whatever they may be. The preaching of black Americans evidences this very idea. That, in part, is why we call it black preaching. If studied, it can help you more effectively reach your people with the gospel in their places of multi-colored circumstances.
Does preaching have pigment or is it colorless? That is a fair question. One of my preaching heroes, a black preacher, once asked me, “What is black preaching?” I almost fell out of my seat when I heard the question. I assumed he knew that it was colorful preaching, a kind of proclamation that exposed the truth of the biblical text illuminated by the specific struggle and nuances of the black experience in America. It is somewhat unique in that black preaching’s subsequent generations innovate within the stream of its historical witness. Then it occurred to me that he assumed something altogether different. His assumption was an assertion that all preaching is the same color or shade. But preaching is not without color. The formulation of homiletics and hermeneutics are not devoid of cultural influence.
The aesthetic of colorful preaching