Friday, October 4, 2013

Preaching, Performance, and the Life and Death of "Now"

Chapter 2 Paul Scott Wilson “Preaching, Performance, and the Life and Death of “Now” pp. 37-52.

Wilson builds a case for the present time being more than a momentary, static point in discourse. He views time more as a description of a cluster of events, or as a wave, with a crest, a front, and a back, all in motion. Performance is an important factor in dealing with a text which is living in a time which is also living. He suggests that presentation of a text is, in some way, performative, though he hesitates to say that our own performative and creative work is the same as the divine work. Following Nicholas Lash, Wilson ties performance and interpretation together. To accomplish this we must find an interpretation of “now” which includes our encounter with a text, our contemplation of the text, our presentation of the text, and the audience’s understanding and response. At this point in the book, I write the words “Mysticism 101” in the margin, as it seems that Wilson is suggesting that the text of Scripture may well have different meanings to different people and that the preacher’s role is to cause people to understand the Scripture, as they would not be able to receive God’s speech otherwise.

To move from the back to the front of the wave which Wilson is picturing, the preacher performs the text in such as way as to instill hope and change, looking to future events and conditions. To this end, Wilson insists that the preacher should use a manuscript or outline only as a guide, developing much of his sermon in the moment as he reads the response of the congregation and tries to point them in a particular direction.

In order to accomplish this, Wilson observes that we need to die to ourselves and accept the idea that God works outside of time. He terms this the “death of now.” It is not clear what Wilson intends us to think of as time. He seems to be reacting to a modernist construct of time as a linear series of points. Yet this mathematical definition of time does not account for the varied experience every individual brings to a situation. It does not allow for differences in responses and the timing of those responses. I fear in his reaction to a modernist concept of time, Wilson becomes a postmodernist rather than embracing a more biblical and premodern view of time, delivery of a message, and varying responses to that message. In his attempt to remove some of the limits from our concept of time, Wilson simply erases one concept without successfully proposing another.

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