Book: The Embodied Word

Charles L. Rice, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1991.144 pages.

This is not a general textbook on homiletics. Charles Rice sharply defines the focus and early forges the link between Word and sacrament. His basic thesis is that preaching cannot stand apart from the sacraments, and the aim of the sermon is to bring the worshiper to "make Eucharist."

Rice properly deplores much American worship which bills the sermon as the major attraction and views liturgy as preliminaries. He describes this undue exaltation of preacher and sermon as "a kind of homiletical ocean liner preceded by a few liturgical tugboats" (p. 31). His corrective is to elevate liturgy and to root preaching in the liturgical context, making people active participants rather than passive spectators.

Storytelling as a homiletical approach is Rice's forte. Taking the parables of Jesus as a model, he warns us of the power of story by describing parable as "a nice little story which when you are not looking knocks you flat... a verbal hand grenade" (p. 78). His treatment of parable, while not exhaustive, is stimulating.

The author urges an "intense engagement with the images and narratives of Scripture" (p. 106). Rather than using the Bible as a source for sermon texts, the preacher is encouraged to listen deeply and become totally absorbed by Scripture's message. "This means that the more we can come to the Bible as we come to the novel and short story—open, ready to go through the looking glass, willing to be surprised and carried into the mystery, unafraid to feel, to let language have its own way, suspending critical judgment and giving way to playful imaginationóthe more likely we are to experience the Scripture as the Word of God for us now" (p. 105).

Though Rice claims that he does not want to increase the distance between those who value preaching and those who are intentional about liturgy, his rather heavy sacramentari-an emphasis undercuts any supposed neutrality. While acknowledging that preaching must be judged by Scripture, he writes, "But even more than the canon of Scripture, it is the sacraments—in particular Holy Communion—that hold the preacher to Jesus Christ, by whom all Scripture, tradition, and preaching are judged" (p. 21).

Also the "concise homily" of about twelve minutes in length is lifted up as the emerging homiletical form. While this allows time for the Lord's Supper every Sunday and thus is "liturgy friendly," the concise homily will be unsatisfying to congregations used to more extended biblical-expository sermons.

Jay R. Weener is a professor of preaching at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.