Preaching as Spiritual Discipline: A Modern Challenge

 on June 13, 2024

One of the things that encourages me, as a parish priest, is the joy I see in people when they engage with solid theological and biblical formation. How many times have I heard it said, “I’ve been Anglican my whole life, and I’ve never heard this before.” I’m not disparaging the past. I’m not suggesting that the generations before us were not faithful or uninterested in formation. It’s just that things have changed in the post-Christendom setting. Nothing can be taken for granted any longer.

I often say that theology is best done in the local setting and that parish priests need to be the primary spiritual directors and theologians in their parishes. In all likelihood, if you are a priest ministering in an Anglican church today, you’ve attained the degree of Master of Divinity. This means that each parish priest has been trained to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest scripture and tradition for the sake of preaching (teaching) the Gospel within the local communities they are called to serve. To borrow an adage from the Dominican tradition, we are called to contemplate and to share with others the fruits of contemplation. For this reason, we who are parish priests are expected to have a consecrated and disciplined life of prayer and study—not for our sake as a form of self-care, but that our disciplined approach to wisdom will facilitate fruitfulness in the lives of those we are called to serve.

But often it is difficult to locate resources that act as good interlocutors for this purpose. Some are so dense, they are of no practical purpose in the spiritual life, and some so bad they inspire nothing but disbelief. Neither are good tools for sharing the fruits of contemplation. For those willing to wade into the adventure of theological thinking with an excellent priest and scholar, I recommend John Behr’s John the Theologian and his Paschal Gospel: A Prologue to Theology (Oxford University Press, 2021). Behr accomplishes what so few are able when writing a commentary on one the Bible’s most challenging books, the Gospel of St. John. As an Orthodox priest, grounded in both the Eastern and Western traditions of Christianity, fluent in Latin and Greek, and sensitive in avoiding the use of exclusive language, Behr’s work is challenging and highly rewarding, refreshing and exciting. He really sets a new standard of forging faithful biblical interpretation in a culture that has lost confidence in its ability to interpret its sacred story.

By returning to ancient sources and languages, Behr’s research avoids the trope-traps of becoming stuck in one particularly dominant theological tradition on one hand, and succumbing to modern mediocrity in the other. I found his ability to represent Eastern Christian interpretations to a largely Western readership an outstanding example of receptive ecumenism. And while the book might (and I use this word cautiously) be outside the grasp of the average lay-person, in the hands of a prayerful, thoughtful priest who wants to set a new standard in preaching, be just the right resource to enhance their library and inspire faith. I cannot recommend John the Theologian and his Paschal Gospel: A Prologue to Theology more highly for teachers of the bible who want to enter more deeply into the joy of prayer and study as a spiritual discipline for the life of the Church.

  • Daniel Tatarnic

    The Reverend Dr. Daniel Tatarnic is priest-in-charge at St. Alban's, Beamsville.

Skip to content