Sunday, November 29, 2009

Feasting on the Word, Year C, vols. 1,2 -- Review


FEASTING ON THE WORD: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Year C. Vols. 1 and 2. By David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Louisville: WJK Press, 2009. 467 pp. and 557 pp.

Lectionary preachers have at their disposal a myriad of resources, including commentaries that focus specifically on the texts for each Sunday. Some of these resources are online and many come as books. So large a body of resources is available that one may wonder what to make of another competitor for space on one’s already bulging shelves. That being said, these two volumes of Feasting on the Word, edited by Bartlett and Taylor, for year C are worth having – following in the wake of the publication of four volumes published earlier for preaching Year B of the lectionary. When completed, there will be twelve volumes, four for each year in the liturgical cycle. With these two volumes, preachers will have at hand, commentary for Advent through Transfiguration (volume 1) and from Lent through Eastertide (volume 2).

The editors of these volumes are well known to preachers, especially Barbara Brown Taylor. Bartlett’s name may be less well known, but his Professor of New Testament of Columbia Theological Seminary, where Taylor is an adjunct professor of Christian Spirituality. What makes this series unique is its format, along with the breadth of contributors – especially to a print resource. The editors do acknowledge that the mainline church, for which this resource is intended, is heading into an already present digital age.

In terms of format, each lectionary text is explored in four ways, offering a theological, a pastoral, an exegetical, and a homiletical perspective. In the lay out for each text, the text itself is printed at the top of the page, and underneath is each of the four perspectives. The way this is laid out, the editors suggest, should make clear that each of these approaches is of equal value and importance, and that each is interdependent on the other. One can see the value of this format, in the suggestion that besides looking at a particular text for preaching, one could also follow – let’s say through the theological renderings – all four texts for the day and preach on the theological meaning of the four texts.

Each of these entries is written by a different person, writing from the perspective of that particular methodology. Therefore, most of the pastoral perspectives are written by pastors, the homiletical pieces by either preachers or teachers of preachers. Theologians write the theological offerings and biblical scholars take up the exegetical perspectives. The list of authors is broad and diverse. For instance, in volume one, for year C, there are eighty-six different authors, and their range of backgrounds runs the gamut from evangelical to Roman Catholic. There are liberals and conservatives. There are academics and non-academics. Some are well known, and others will be new to most readers. All of this makes for a rather unique resource. As one might expect from such a work, there will be differences not only of style and perspective, but also quality.

As a preacher, I’ve not used the volumes for Year B, and am only starting to wrestle with the texts and commentary from year C, but these volumes have already paid dividends. I appreciate the intent here that these are volumes intended not to make the preacher’s work quicker, but rather to take us deeper into the text. It is my opinion that these are resources that can be recommended highly for the preacher – young or old, novices or experienced.




3 comments:

Katie Z. Dawson said...

I requested year b last year for Christmas - it was an amazing help for my sermon preparation and weekly lectionary bible studies. I appreciate having the various perspectives because depending on the text and the needs of my community sometimes i take a pastoral route, sometimes more of a teaching sermon. It gives good background to spring off into many different directions.

pastormack said...

I used much of year b and I just began year c with Advent last week. Overall, I've been pleased with the series, though I find that the entries are sometimes inconsistent. Occassionally I've come across entries that are not particularly well-written or too driven by a narrow theological agenda; these are few and far between, however, and generally I find my time with 'feasting on the word' useful.

I do think it's a little misleading having BBT and Bartlett's names on the cover. Few of the contributors have the status of the editors, and I have my doubts as to how much the editors have actually shaped this work. Still, worth looking at. We need good resources like this that encourage lectionary preaching. Thank you for your review.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Katie and Mack,

Thanks for your thoughts on this resource. Mack you're right about inconsistency, but that's too be expected. I'm just finishing up co-editing a book -- and I know that the essays aren't all of the same caliber. Also, with such a wide variety of contributors, you're going to get a wide variety of perspectives, some of which won't be of the same mind.

Still, I like the layout and purpose!