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The current revival of William Stringfellow 's theological ethics is a challenge for preachers.

Stringfellow's theology of the powers provides a compelling contemporary interpretation of the demonic forces that shape human life and confront Christian preachers. His work has extraordinary implications for those who seek to proclaim the Word amidst the chaos and death of the contemporary world.

Principalities, Powers, and Preaching

Learning from William Stnngfellow
Charles L Campbell Assistant Professor of Homiletics Columbia Theological Seminary In the face of death, live humanly In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word Amidst babel, I repeat, speak the truth C onfront the noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the truth and potency and efficacy of the Word of God Know the Word, teach the Word, nurture the Word, preach the Word, defend the Word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word And more than that, in the Word of God, expose death and all death's works and wiles, rebuke lies, cast out demons, exorcise, cleanse the possessed, raise those who are dead in mind and conscience ] I N A COMMENT o n Isa 40:6, Martin L u t h e r wrote, "how difficult an occupation p r e a c h i n g is I n d e e d , to p r e a c h the W o r d of God is n o t h i n g less than to b r i n g u p o n oneself all the furies of hell a n d of Satan, a n d therefore also of . every power of this world. It is the most d a n g e r o u s kind of life to throw oneself in the way of Satan's many teeth." 2 Few preachers today would describe the vocation of p r e a c h i n g in these terms. L u t h e r ' s language seems antiquated; sophisticated c o n t e m p o r a r y preachers d o n o t often speak a b o u t S a t a n m u c h less a b o u t Satan's teeth. At a d e e p e r


Principalities, Powers, and Preaching

level, however, L u t h e r u n d e r s t a n d s p r e a c h i n g as something m o r e dramatic than the sermons o n e hears in many c h u r c h e s today Preaching has b e c o m e r a t h e r tame in most mainline, middle-class congregations Popular homiletics texts focus o n sermon form a n d homiletical aesthetics T h e goal seems to be to find ways to h e l p the gospel "go down" painlessly, without creating too m u c h conflict As a result, the s e r m o n is in d a n g e r of b e c o m i n g just a n o t h e r appealing commodity foi middle-class consumers T h e n o t i o n of p r e a c h i n g as a weekly eschatological battle with Satan seems o u t of place Recently, however, I found myself in a context where L u t h e r ' s words came to life I taught a course in which students g a t h e r e d weekly with homeless p e o p l e to worship o n the streets of Atlanta As a part of those services of worship, the students p r e a c h e d o n the streets, amidst the traffic a n d the skyscrapers, a m o n g the homeless, and with police officers a n d security guards keeping an eye on o u r strange gatherings In that setting, students discovered dimensions of p r e a c h i n g they h a d n o t discerned in o t h e r homiletics classes where they h a d p r e a c h e d in the comfort a n d security of the seminary chapel In this context p r e a c h i n g became a risky e n g a g e m e n t with the powers of the world T h e words of Ephesians became contemporary " o u r struggle is n o t against enemies of b l o o d a n d flesh, b u t against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places Therefore, take u p the whole a r m o r of God Take the h e l m e t of salvation, a n d the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6 12-17) Maybe L u t h e r was right "It is the most d a n g e r o u s kind of life to throw oneself in the way of Satan's many teeth " William Stnngfellow, the Harvard-educated lawyer, lay theologian, a n d radical Christian, u n d e r s t o o d the reality a b o u t which L u t h e r spoke Stnngfellow's p r o p h e t i c theology of the principalities a n d powers provides a compelling contemporary interpretation of the d e m o n i c forces that shape h u m a n life a n d confront Christian p r e a c h e r s * Currently enjoying a significant revival in the U n i t e d States, Stnngfellow's work has extraordinary implications for those who seek to proclaim the Word amidst the d e m o n i c babel a n d d e a t h of the c o n t e m p o r a r y world Following a brief overview of Stnngfellow's theology of the powers, I will e x a m i n e some of these implications

William Stringfellow on the Principalities and Powers

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Stnngfellow moved to East H a r l e m , where h e lived a n d practiced street law for seven years Listening to the p e o p l e of East H a r l e m a n d immersing himself in the Bible, Stringfellow b e g a n to develop his theology of the powers 4 In H a r l e m the people on the street first clued him in on the biblical import of the principalities He would hear folks speak of the gas company the slum real estate lords, the social bureaucracies, the city administration the Mafia, and police Interpretation 385

agencies as though they were predator) beasts arrayed against the neighborhood and human beings, eating them ah\e His writings have since become no tonous, among other things for explicating a biblical doctrine of the poweis as precisely that fallen and predatory creatures, acting with an independent life of their own Although in his early book, tree in Obedience, Stringfellow defined these predatory creatures as ideologies, institutions, a n d images, his u n d e r s t a n d i n g of the principalities was b r o a d a n d unsystematic, as b e c a m e evident in his later writing 6 In An Lthic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, his most mpoitant t r e a t m e n t of the powers, Stnngfellow emphasized that the powers are legion The very array of names and titles in biblical usage for the principalities and powers is some indication of the scope and significance of the subject for hu man beings And if some of these seem quaint transposed into contemporary language they lose quamtness and the principalities become recognizable and all too familiar the} include all institutions, all ideologies, all images, all movements all causes all corporations all bureaucracies all traditions, all methods and routines, all conglomerates, all races, all nations, all idols T h e powers, in short, are many-faceted a n d versatile, they are "potent a n d mobile a n d diverse, n o t static or neat " 8 As Walter Wink has written, "the powers comprise all of social, political, a n d corporate reality, in b o t h visible a n d invisible manifestations " ] Although these principalities a n d powers are creatures of God, with the vocation of sustaining life in society, they are fallen, they exist in a moral state of death, which characterizes the fall Claiming a u t o n o m y from God a n d d o m i n i o n over h u m a n beings a n d the rest of creation, the principalities a n d powers have forgotten their creaturelmess a n d r e p u d i a t e d their vocation They have b e c o m e relentlessly aggressive against all of life, particularly h u m a n life in society 10 Assuming the place of God in the world, the powers want to d o m i n a t e h u m a n beings a n d seek to crush any resistance to their d o m i n i o n Deathphysical, political, social, personal, a n d especially moralis their ultimate power a n d sanction u T h e principalities a n d powers ultimately b e c o m e d e m o n i c , having such d e h u m a n i z i n g purposes that they must be said to be governed by the power of death 12 For the powers, finally, the only morality that matters is their own survival "The principalities have great resilience, the d e a t h g a m e which they play continues, adapting its m e a n s of d o m i n a t i n g h u m a n beings to the sole morality which governs all d e m o n i c powers so long as they existsurvival " n In this fallen state the relationship between h u m a n beings a n d the powers has b e c o m e inverted from God's original intention Rather t h a n h u m a n s exercising d o m i n i o n over the powers, the powers now exercise d o m i n i o n over h u m a n beings, restricting, controlling, a n d c o n s u m i n g h u m a n life "in o r d e r to sustain a n d e x t e n d a n d prosper their own survival " In relation to these aggressive p n n 386

Principalities, Powers, and Preaching

cipahties, h u m a n beings have the status of captives a n d victims, w h e t h e r we serve gladly as acolytes to the powers or simply acquiesce to o u r captivity in silence a n d complacency 14 T o retain this control over h u m a n beings a n d ensure their own survival, the powers use a variety of tactics, many of t h e m verbal I n d e e d , the verbal is "definitive in all the ploys of the principalities", babel b e c o m e s the prevailing form of existencea fact that should be of particular interest to p r e a c h e r s lo In the place of truthful speech, we e n c o u n t e r the p r o p a g a n d a of the state, the exaggerations of Madison Avenue, the doublespeak of politicians, the false claims of expertise by bureaucrats, the code language of racism, the silent secrecy of corporations, a n d the diversions of e n t e r t a i n m e n t l b T h e result of these a n d o t h e r tactics is the demoralization of h u m a n beingsliterally, the d e a t h of the moral conscience The relentlessness of multifarious babel in America for example has wrought a fatigue both visceral and intellectual in millions upon millions of Americans By now truly demoralized, they suffer no conscience and they risk no action Their human interest in living is narrowed to meager subsisting, their hope for life is no more than avoiding involvement with other humans and a desire that no one will bothei them They have lost any expectations for society, they have no stamina left for confronting the principalities, they are reduced to docility, lassitude torpor profound apathy, and default The demoralization of human be ings in this fashion greatly conveniences the totalitarianism of the demonic powers since the need to resort to persecutions or imprisonment is obviated, as the people are already morally captive ] Although violence a n d war remain the ultimate sanctions of the powers, babel can also p r o d u c e the moral d e a t h that is the province of the principalities a n d powers For Christians, however, the reality of d e a t h e m b o d i e d in the powers is n o t the final word Rather, Christians also know the reality a n d power of the resurrection, which enables believers to live now in resistance to the power of d e a t h In his life, death, a n d resurrection, Jesus engaged the powers a n d won victory over t h e m Participating in Christ's victory, Christians can similarly resist the powers 1S Despite Stnngfellow's stark portrayal of a fallen world in the grip of the powers of death, h e remains a theologian of h o p e "The good news to the world is that we can stop living in thrall to the powers now, even u n d e r the conditions of death T h e gospel is that God sets us free from the d r e a d of death, the cajolery of death, a n d the seductiveness of death, even t h o u g h we are c o m p i l t with d e a t h ' s power " l q In the power of the resurrection, we can, in Stnngfellow's terms, begin to live h u m a n l y in the face of d e a t h 20 In Stnngfellow's sacramental u n d e r s t a n d i n g of the world, the living W o r d of God is present a n d active in every m o m e n t , even in the midst of d e a t h "So, m the same event, in any h a p p e n i n g whatever, there is the moral reality of d e a t h Interpretation 387

and there is the incarnation of the Word of God, the demonic and dehumaniz mg and the power of the Resurrection, the portents of the Apocalypse impending and the signs of the imminence of the Eschaton " n For Christians the fundamental ethical challenge and possibility becomes discerning the incarnate, living Word of God amidst the realities of death and, in response to the Word, living free from the bondage of death Such "resistance to death is the only way to live humanly in the midst of the fall " ? Because for Stringfellow there is no such thing as an individualistic Christianity, the church plays an essential role in this resistance 93 In the midst of death, the church's vocation in and for the world is to witness to the Word and be a community of resistance The church is called to be a community of "resident aliens, separate from the world so it can tell the truth to the principaliH ties and powers " The eschatological gifts of the spiritdiscernment, glossolalia, healing, and exorcism, all politically mteipretedempower the church's discernment, resistance, and hope "These gifts dispel idolatry and free human beings to celebrate Creation, which is, biblically speaking, integral to the worship of God The gifts equip persons to live humanly in the midst of the Fall The exercise of these gifts constitutes the essential tactics of resistance to the power of death "2 The church exists in the tension between bondage to death and freedom in the Word On the one hand, Stringfellow had stinging criticism for the institutional church m America The church not only often serves the powers of the world, particularly the nation, but even functions as one of the powers itself '( The church is far too often obsessed with its own survival and "engaged in the elaborate worship of death " '" The only hope seems to he in a "confessing movement" scattered here and there, now and then in some congregations, paracongregations, and communities 28 On the other hand, Stnngfellow had a grand vision of what the church is by the Word of God and the gift of the Spirit The church as church is the "foretaste and forerunner of the reconciled society", it is "the image of God's own Kingdom, of the Eschaton " The church, particularly as it gathers in its eucharistie worship, is an embodiment of the beloved community 2) Called to be the "holy nation" that resists the powers and embodies an alternative, the church lives in the tension between its bondage to death and its freedom in the Spirit Stnngfellow thus argues that the principalities and powers provide the fundamental ethical context for the Christian life, which is characterized by resistance and hope His interpretation of the powers, which makes such profound sense of the contemporary world, likewise suggests a fundamental ethical framework for the preaching of the gospel Karl Barth's words about Stringfellow, spoken at a panel discussion during Barth's visit to the United States in 1962, should be heeded by preachers and homileticians "You should listen to this man'' H0

Principalities, Powers, and Preaching

Keepers of the Word

In his eulogy for Stnngfellow, Daniel Berngan praised him as a "keeper of the Word "S1 There are probably few higher compliments that can be paid to a Christian There is also probably no better statement of the vocation of the preacher As preachers we are called to be "keepers of the Word," guardians of the integrity of the gospel and proclaimers of the truth Moreover, as Berngan's words suggest, an essential part of that calling involves "keeping the Word" in our lives Berngan's eulogy highlights an important challenge Stnngfellow offers to preachers to be faithful preachers of the Word, we are first called to be keepers of the Word *2 Preaching on Sunday morning is inseparable from the life of discipleship we lead during the week Preaching the Word is necessarily framed by a host of other "practices of the Word," as the opening quotation of this article suggests "Know the Word, teach the Word, nurture the Word, preach the Word, defend the Word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word " In a time when homileticians focus on matters of technique, Stnngfellow reminds us that preaching is part of a larger fabric of personal and communal practices Stnngfellow's life further suggests the importance of particular practices of resistance and hope in confrontation with the principalities and powers It is not surprising, for example, that Stnngfellow's insights into the powers came from the conjunction of two practices listening to the poor, the most visible victims of the powers, and immersing himself in the Bible, which exposes the powers It was the conjunction of social location and Bible study that opened Stringfellow's eyes to the predatory character of the principalities Here Stnngfellow offers a challenge to all mainstream, middle-class preachers " Although few preachers will actually move to a place like East Harlem (what powers hold us captive and prevent such radical discipleship^), even small attempts to be with and listen to the poor entail active resistance to the powers within the context of contemporary ministry Indeed, the very effort to spend significant time among the poor immediately confronts the preacher with the realities of the powers, including the institutional church, which are actively at work in the world to keep middle-class pastors and the poor apart If these two groups were to spend much time together, the fallout for the churches might be enormousand threatening Moreover, the ploys of the powers are subtle and deceptive One of these ploys is particularly prominent today busy-ness Pastors today are busy with many important things There are sermons to prepare, people to visit, meetings to attend, classes to lead, and on and on it goes Being the pastor of a church is, after all, a full time job Moreover, such busy-ness is not limited to pastors, but seems to be a characteristic of middleclass life in general Almost everywhere I go I hear complaints about how busy people's lives areand I echo those complaints myself almost daily The thought of spending time among the poornot "doing for them" but listening to and



learning from themis almost unimaginable for most people Normally, however, we treat this busy-ness as an unfoi tnate characteristic of life and ministry today Stringfellow's work reminds us, however, that "diversion" is one of the stratagems the powers employ to maintain their power When seen from this perspective, busy-ness takes on a more insidious appearance It is one way the principalities divert us from seeing and responding to the realities of death in the world It is one of the ways the powers demoralize human beings When people become too busy to notice or care about anything beyond their daily routines, the powers have diverted one more potential challenge to their dominion in the woild As one woman recently commented to me, "By the end of the day, when I can finally sit down at home, I'm too tired to care about anything else going on in the world " Such busy-ness is not simply an unfortunate aspect of contemporary life, it is rather one way middle-class folks, including preachers, are held captive by the powers u One of the most important acts of resistance in which preachers can engage is taking the timeliterally taking it back from the powersto become apprentices to the poor, the prisoner, the abused Such a commitment announces a clear "no^" to the powers who would kill our moral conscience Moreover, this commitment not only presents to the congregation a model of resistance, but also provides the essential background for confronting the principalities and powers in sermons As Stringfellow reminds us, it is primarily among the poor that we learn about the aggressive, predatory character of the powers This resistance to the deadly idolatry of busy-ness is also required for the other crucial practice Stringfellow emphasizes Bible study In conjunction with hearing the voices of those on the margins, recourse to the Bible becomes "a primary, practical, and essential tactic of resistance "*' From this practice too the powers will seek to divert us, for the Bible not only names and exposes the principalities that hold people captive, but also provides the memories of God's faithfulness and the promise of Jesus' resurrection, which give believers hope Indeed, faithful confrontation with the powers of death requires constant immersion in the "world of the Bible " When preachers resist the diversions of busy ness in order to be with the poor and immerse themselves in the Bible, they become "keepeis of the Word," empowered for resistance and hope, and the worried powers begin to assemble "all the furies of hell " This way of life consequently requires community, for no individual is a match for the ploys and pressures and sanctions of the powers Jesus himself enacted this resistance and hope in his practice of table fellowship with sinners, who consisted largely of poor people unable to follow all the legal regulations of the day And, not surprisingly, the hospitality of table fellowship became an important aspect of Stnngfellow's later life, as his home became a place of hospitality for many and diverse people In small, alternative communities gathered

Principalities, Powers, and Preaching

around the eucharistie table of Jesus, resistance and hope are nurtured and sustained in the face of the power of death Such communities may even be necessary to help preachers resist the pressures of the institutional church The church, like all the powers, is obsessed with its own survival and prefers "safe" preachers who will not threaten its comfortable existence Whether subtly or directly, the institutional church will pressure preachers to conform to the status quo Despite their best intentions, preachers easily become servants of the institution, driven by its demands and aspiring to its standards of success Salary, buildings, membership, titles, peiks, popularity, and influence become the focusnot unlike the standards of success in other institutions Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the powers wear preachers down and make them numb, the rough edges of the gospel are worn away, as a jagged rock becomes a smooth stone in a stream In this context, pieachers who would dare confront the principalities and powers will need to find or create small communities of resistance that will nurture them, sustain them, and hold them accountable ib Rooted in such alternative communities, preachers may be built up in the practices of resistance and hope And preaching may become the faithful expression of disciples who are "keepers of the Woid "

Raising the dead

When the "actors" in the preaching occasion are discussed, two are usually highlighted along with the preacher the worshipers and God (in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit) Stnngfellow's work suggests the significant presence of a fourth group of aggressive actors who have regularly been overlooked the principalities and powers As creatures, the powers exist ndependentl} of human beings, they are not made by human beings, nor are they simply groups of people duly organized Although difficult for humans to acknowledge, the powers are independent creatures with their own existence, personality, and mode of life ^7 As such, they are present and active whenever the Word is preached According to Ephesians, one of the church's tasks is to proclaim the gospel to these very powers, "so that through the church the wisdom of God in all its rich variety might now be made known to the principalities and powers" (Eph 3 10) ^8 The presence of the powers may be more obvious when preachers step out of the comfort of the sanctuary to preach in public spaces However, while they may be less obvious among the Sunday morning congregation, the powers are no less present and active The powers that would hold believers captive are aggressive participants in every sermon that is preached The\ do not want the gospel to be proclaimed or heard, and they will spare no effort to prevent this from happening Just as Jesus confronted the powers in his life, death, and resurrection, so every sermon involves a confrontation between Jesus and the powers of death As Luther reminded us, "when Christ appears the de\ils start to speak "iq
Interpretation 391

Congregation m e m b e r s , including those in positions of power, are probably at least vaguely aware of these principalities at work in their lives Much to his surprise, Stnngfellow discovered this fact in a lecture h e gave to students at the Harvard Business School a n d Divinity School T h e divinity students felt the language of "principalities a n d powers" was archaic imagery with n o c o n t e m p o r a r y relevance, b u t the business students, who lived a n d worked withm the spheres of great corporate institutions, u n d e r s t o o d w h e n Stnngfellow b e g a n to n a m e these principalities 40 By focusing o n personal, private, therapeutic matters, p r e a c h e r s today may fail to see the larger realities that shape the lives of worshipers a n d hold t h e m captive W h e n the powers are recognized as participants in the occasion of preaching, the fundamental p r o b l e m faced by p r e a c h e r s is n o t so m u c h evil minds as paralyzed consciences, n o t so m u c h immorality or malevolence as the demoralization of people "who have b e c o m e captive a n d immobilized as h u m a n beings by their habitual obeisance to institutions or o t h e r principalities as idols "41 W i t h m this framework, sin primarily involves complicity in o u r own moral death, it is the h u m a n inability or refusal to step into the freedom a n d life m a d e possible in Jesus Christ a n d enacted in baptism T h e p r o b l e m is as m u c h weakness or powerlessness as active evil In the grip of the powers, p e o p l e a n d often the c h u r c h itselftragically b e c o m e t r a p p e d in a t o m b to which the stone has already b e e n rolled away Stringfellow m a d e this perspective clear in a speech a b o u t racism, o n e of the powers h e most aggressively challenged The monstrous American heresy is in thinking that the whole drama of history takes place between God and [human beings] But the truth, Biblically and theologically and empirically, is quite otherwise the drama of this history takes place among God and [human beings] and the principalities and powers, the great institutions and ideologies active in the world It is the corruption and shallowness of humanism which beguiles Jew or Christian into believing that [humans] are masters of institution or ideology [R]acism is not an evil in the hearts or minds of [human beings] racism is a principality, a demonic power a representative image, an embodiment of death, over which [humans] have little or no control, but which works its awful influence m the lrves of hu man beings 42 In a similar way, o n e might say that the m o n s t r o u s homiletical heresy in the c h u r c h today is the assumption that the whole d r a m a of the gospel takes place between God a n d h u m a n beings T h e aggressiveness of the powers a n d the moral captivity of persons gets little or n o attention W h e n the powers are taken seriously, a fundamental p u r p o s e of the s e r m o n b e c o m e s the r e d e m p t i o n of p e o p l e from b o n d a g e to d e a t h Preaching moves beyond c o n d e m n i n g or challenging individuals a n d toward n a m i n g a n d confronting the powers that hold people captive ^ R e d e m p t i o n retrieves its original con392

Principalities, Powers, and Preaching

notation of release from bondage, and the purpose of preaching becomes empowering the community of faith to step out of that open tomb and begin to live in the way of the crucified and risen Jesus Preaching, in Stringfellow's terms, comes to involve "raising the dead in mind and conscience" and empowering the church to live humanly in the face of death Withm this framework, the ethical dimensions of preaching assume a specific shape Preaching that takes the powers seriously is not simply a matter of "preaching on social issues," as important as that kind of preaching may be "Social issue" sermons all too often function naively within the world of liberal idealism, which assumes that if we can just get people of good will to work together we can solve our social problems 44 Such sermons often simply tinker with issues, without addressing the powers of death that shape a fallen world They operate withm the world of death, rather than setting the church free from bondage Such preaching, from the perspective of Stringfellow's work, is inadequate as a response to the principalities and powers When dealing with the powers, preaching does not simply address specific issues or offer principles of decision making The ethical thrust of preaching, to use traditional terminology, is not about decisions but about character As Stringfellow put it, "[T]he Christian, and the whole company which is the Church, need not worry about what is to be done The task is, rather, to live withm the victory of all that has been done by God For the Christian the issue is not so much about what he [or she] does in this world but about who he [or she] is in this world There is no serious distinction between who the Christian is and what he [or she] does, between being and doing These are virtually the same "4 The ethical dimensions of preaching are therefore much broader and deeper than the typical "social issue" sermon "Ethical preaching" does not simply direct people to specific decisions or the means to make them, though that may be necessary Rather, preaching seeks to liberate the community of faith to see and live in the world differentlyto be a different kind of people The ethical purpose of preaching concerns the formation of an "alien" people who see and live in the world in a distinctive way Preaching involves the weekly formation of communities of resistance and hope, it builds up the church as a people who can resist the powers and live free from bondage to death

Preaching as resistance
In the midst of death, in the face of the powers, Christians adopt a stance of resistanceoften "audacious, extemporaneous, fragile, puny, foolish" resistance Preaching is one form of this resistance 1( Moreover, because of the verbal nature of the powers' tactics, preaching, as the counter speech of the Word of God, is a particularly important form of resistance As Stringfellow encourages, "Amidst babel, I lepeat, speak the tiuth " Preaching is precisely such truth telling in the midst of babel r
Interpretation 393

Homiletical resistance to t h e principalities a n d powers takes two forms ex posing t h e powers of d e a t h at work in t h e woild a n d envisioning t h e alternative of G o d ' s r e d e e m e d creation Essential to this twofold resistance is t h e gift of disc e r n m e n t , t h e most basic gift of t h e Holy Spirit to t h e c h u r c h , which enables Christians to expose a n d r e b u k e t h e powers of d e a t h while also affirming t h e hv ing, p r o m i s i n g Word of G o d i n c a r n a t e in t h e world

O n t h e cross Jesus exposes

the principalities a n d powers for what they a r e n o t t h e divine regents of t h e world, b u t r a t h e r t h e violent purveyors of d e a t h In t h e resurrection Jesus is victorious over t h e powers of d e a t h a n d grves a vision of t h e p r o m i s e d future, which can be glimpsed even now in t h e living Word i n c a r n a t e in t h e midst of d e a t h I h e gift of d i s c e r n m e n t enables Christians to see this crucified a n d risen Jesus in the world P r e a c h i n g that is s h a p e d by t h e story of Jesus a n d e m p o w e r e d by t h e Spirit of d i s c e r n m e n t will e n g a g e in this twofold exposing a n d envisioning In t h e midst of babel, Christian p r e a c h i n g exposes t h e powers of d e a t h T h e p r e a c h e r n a m e s the powers a n d r e b u k e s t h e m Like t h e cross of Jesus, this " n o ' " to the powers, which uncovers their false claims a n d deadly lies, marks t h e beginn i n g of h u m a n f r e e d o m from t h e b o n d a g e of d e a t h

This " n o T " takes away t h e

" m i n o r s " by which t h e powers d e l u d e us i n t o t h i n k i n g they are t h e divine regents of t h e world T h e powers are exposed as e m p e r o r s without any clothes, a disarming humiliation for those w h o rely so heavily o n p r e t e n s i o n s of dignity a n d control I n d e e d , such disarming p o r t e n d s t h e ultimate defeat of t h e powers by Jesus As t h e writer of Colossians puts it, o n t h e cross Jesus "disarmed t h e rulers a n d authorities a n d m a d e a public e x a m p l e of t h e m , t r i u m p h i n g over t h e m " ( C o l 2 15) P r e a c h e r s may expose t h e powers in m a n y ways, t h o u g h two examples will have to suffice h e r e First, t h e principalities may be exposed by direct, c o n c r e t e speech, which cuts t h r o u g h t h e distortions of babel I n a s e r m o n d u r i n g t h e Gulf War, Michael Baxter, a R o m a n Catholic priest, proclaimed, The church demands that Catholics not rail) around their leaders once war is waged What the church fears in this time of war is our complacency The church fears our instinct to follow the held to march in lockstep with [who ever] is in charge The church fears that we will in these times, become so Am e ican that we will cease to be Catholic to be followers of Christ The church fears that we will lose our vocation ] In t h e midst of t h e diveisions, deceit, a n d idolatry of t h e n a t i o n , Baxter exposed the powers of d e a t h t h a t would h o l d Christians captive, a n d h e called t h e c h u r c h back to its vocation of resistance Such direct, c o n c r e t e , truthful speech is req u i r e d amidst t h e deadly babel of t h e world T o o often, however, such speech is missing from t h e pulpit Walter Wink has suggested a second way of exposing t h e powers, o n e drawn from Jesus' own Sei m o n o n t h e M o u n t b u r l e s q u e Because t h e powers stand o n


Principalities, Powers, and Preaching

their dignity, nothing disempowers them more quickly than burlesque or lampooning Wink notes the burlesque character of Jesus' command to "give your inner garment also" (Matt 5 40) The economic powers have so milked the poor that all they have left to be sued for are their garments When their outer garment is claimed in court, Wink argues, Jesus counsels them to give the inner one also That is, the victim of the economic svstem, who has no other recourse, takes off the inner garment and walks out of the court stark naked In this way the victim not only retains his or her status as a moral agent, but also unmasks the system's essential cruelty and "burlesques its pretensions to justice, law, and order " As the person walks out of court naked and people begin to ask what is going on, the economic system itself stands naked and is exposed for what it is a system that treats the poor as "sponge [s] to be squeezed dry by the rich "'* By presenting this ethical option in his sermon, Jesus engages in a homiletical burlesque of the economic system Such a comic and burlesque style can be a powerful way to expose the powers Through the use of risky humor, preaching may unfold the logical consequences of the way of the powers and thereby unmask them for what they are and free worshipers from their tyi anny Rather than somber, self-important sermons dealing with such matters as capitalism or individualism, preachers may offer startlmgly comic or burlesque depictions of the powers, lampooning the absurdity of their claims Then a space may be created for the redemptive power of the Word, not just for the hearers, but for the powers themselves 4 Whether through direct speech or other creative approaches, preachers confronting the powers will find ways to expose them At times this resistance will seem fragile, puny, and foolish At other times, the preacher will meet with opposition or provoke conflict Such preaching will always require imagination and courage Nevertheless, the vocation of the preacher as a "keeper of the Word" is to speak the truth and expose the powers In the midst of babel, truth telling is essential for the life of the church and the redemption of the world Preachers also resist the powers by envisioning the redeemed creation, which may be glimpsed now wherever "tokens of the resurrection" are discerned in the fallen world In these moments, which come as surprising gifts, preachers may discern in the midst of death the "Word of God indwelling in all Creation and transfiguring common history " Whereas the first form of resistance, like the cross, exposes the powers of death, this second form of resistance "exposes" the victory of the resurrected Jesus over death Two )ears ago, shortlv after Labor Day, I was standing on a platform waiting for a subway tram in Atlanta As I was waiting, a homeless man whom I had met hailed me from across the platform and came to stand with me He reminded me of his name, Michael (like the angel), and we struck up a conversation Michael told me about his ongoing search for a job and gave thanks for the



many ways God was caring for him. When the train arrived, we boarded, sat down together, and continued our conversation. At one point I asked Michael where he had eaten lunch on Labor Daya difficult day for homeless people in Atlanta because many services are closed. He told me he had eaten lunch at "910" (shorthand for the Open Door Community, a Christian community that serves food to about 400 people each Labor Day). Michael's eyes widened as he described the large helpings of "real pinto beans" and the generous portions of corn bread"this thick," he showed me, holding his thumb and forefinger about two inches apart. When he paused, I asked him how many people were at the meal. He stared at me for a moment, and then announced in a loud voice for everyone to hear: "Thousands! There were thousands! They came from the north and the south and the east and the west. There were thousands!" In the midst of the social and moral death that is homelessness, Michael had discerned the great messianic banquet in pinto beans and corn bread shared among the poor. In the "teeth" of principalities and powers that victimize the homeless, Michael had discerned an empowering, liberating, eucharistie "token of the resurrection." And he held that token before me as a vision of God's redeemed creation, when all God's children will eat together in shalom and the whole creation will rejoice. Michael proclaimed the Word, exposed the authority of Christ over death, and reminded me of the politics of the eucharist; he brought together Word and sacrament in the doxological vision that lies at the heart of Christian worshipand Christian preaching. And as he spoke in that crowded subway car, the powers were put in their place, and we were set free, even if only for a moment, from the bondage of death.

Preaching with hope

The discernment of "tokens of the resurrection" is a locus of Christian hope. According to Stringfellow, however, genuine hope is known only in the face of death: "Any so-called hope is delusory and false without or apart from the confrontation with the power of death, whatever momentary or circumstantial form that may have."10 Hope looks for the resurrection in the shadow of the cross. Hope wears a black dress and stands beside a freshly dug grave in the cemetery. Hope stands in line for a bowl of soup with tired, dirty, homeless people. Hope plays in housing projects contaminated with lead poisoning. Hope sits in a cell on death row and lies in a bed in a hospice. As Jrgen Moltmann put it, "The messianic hope was never the hope of the victors and the rulers. It was always the hope of the defeated and the ground down."' 7 Here is the fundamental tension at the heart of Stringfellow's work: radical hope in the efficacy of the Word amidst unflinching realism about the reality of death. Only as these two are held together will preachers genuinely proclaim the word of hope.


Principalities, Powers, and Preaching

This tension between the power of hope and the reality of death cannot be respected by mere homiletical technique The two can only be joined in the life of the preacher as a "keeper of the Word " To preach about hope or for hope, preachers must preach with hope, they must preach as persons of hope Such preaching requires of the preacher both an immersion in the memories and promises of the Bible and a life of engagement with the powers of death Hopefilled preaching that is not delusory or false is possible only when preachers live with the Bible in those places where death seems to reign In those places of death hope will joyously surprise us, as Michael surprised me on the subway car And in those places of death, the song of hope will take on new and rich tones In the places of death, hope takes on a tone of urgency that must be heard in comfortable, complacent, middle-class churches In the "teeth" of the powers there is no time for theones or abstractions or speculations "I hope God will get me through another night on the streets " "I hope I will not be shot while walking to school " "I hope I will live until my grandchild is born " "I hope I will make it through the day without drugs or alcohol " Preachers learn the urgency of hope in the places of death In those places hope also becomes deep Cliches and shallow optimism will not do Hope rather takes on the tone of lament "How long, O Lord' How long'" And hope can sound like angeranger at the powers of death that crush people every day Hope, finally, becomes hope in God because the false hopes of human progress and human systems ha\e been stripped away The promises of the powers have been seen for what they arethe beacons of death, not life, of despair, not hope In the confrontation with death, hope becomes deepor it dies In the midst of death, hope also becomes broad Among the poor and the suffering, hope for our own security and well-being is exposed as shallow In those places we discover with the writer of Ephesians that "we are not struggling against the enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers, against the spiritual forces of evil"against the principalities and powers (Eph 6 12) In the soup kitchen line, in the prisons, in the barrios or the projects, hope becomes hope for a new order, hope for a new heaven and a new earth, hope for the messianic banquet, hope for the reign of God in all its political and social dimensions Only this kind of hope is broad enough in the face of the powers For many of us such a grand hope is inseparable from grief The new age comes only when the present age dies, and many of us enjoy great privilege in the present age For those of us who are wealthy and powerful, hope for a new creation brings grief over the death of the old world from which we have benefited so much Resurrection comes only on the other side of crucifixion, and that is painful for those who seem to have much to lose Preaching with hope entails bringing this grief to speech s
Interpretation 397

Finallv, in the places of death, h o p e b e c o m e s a form of resistancea defiance of the pi esent age a n d the status q u o Before the powers, h o p e c a n n o t remain a passive, wishful longing for a better da) Rather, it takes the form of resistance to the principalities, it challenges the closed definitions of reality that offer n o alternative future Confronting the principalities a n d powers with the resurrection of Jesus, h o p e frees p e o p l e to live h u m a n l y in the face of d e a t h Preaching this kind of h o p e is itself an act of resistance to the powers O u t of the midst of apartheid in South Africa, an affirmation of faith was b o m that gives voice to this defiant h o p e It is not true that this world and its inhabitants are doomed to die and be lost, THIS IS TRUE FOR GOD SO I OVED THE WORLD THAT Hl GAVE HIS ONLY SON SO THAT EVERYONE WHO BEI IFVES IN HIM SHA1L NOT DIE BUT HAVE FVERLASTING LIFE It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poveity, death and destruction, THIS IS TRUE I HAVF COMF THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE, AND HAVE IT ABUNDANTLY It is not true that violence and hatred shall have the last word, and that war and destruction have come to stay forever, THIS IS TRUE TO US A CHILD IS BORN, TO US A SON IS GIVEN IN WHOM AUTHORITY WI11 REST AND WHOSE NAME WILL BE PRINCE OF PEACE It is not true that we are simply \ictims of the powers of evil that seek to rule the world, THIS IS TRUE TO ME IS GIVEN ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH, AND LO, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS TO THE END OF THE WORLD It is not true that our dreams for the liberation of humankind, our dreams of justice, of human dignity, of peace, are not meant for this earth and this history THIS IS TRUE THE HOUR COMES, AND IT IS NOW7, THAT TRUE WORSHIPERS SHALL WORSHIP GOD IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH ^ William Stringfellow would surely have said, "Amen'" 5 0

NOTES 1 William Stnngfellow, An hthic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (Waco Word, 1973 3d paperback ed , 1979) 143 2 WA 25 253 Thanks to Justo Gonzalez and Judi Holley for translating the Latin See also Heiko Oberman "The Preaching of the Word in the Reformation," Harvard Di wnity Bulletin, 25 1 (Oct 1960) 9

Principalities, Powers, and Preaching

3 Stnngfellow's work inspired a n d infoi m e d the well-known trilogy on t h e poweis by Walter Wink Naming; the Powers (Philadelphia Fortress, 1984), Unmasking the Poxver s (Philadelphia Fortress, 1986) I ngagino; the Powers (Philadelphia Foi tress, 1992) For an overview of Stringfellow s work o n the principalities a n d poweis, see A Keeper of the Word Selected Writings of William Stnngfellow, ed Bill Wylie-Kellerman ( G r a n d Rapids L e r d m a n s , 1994) 185-292 4 Stringfellow wrote a b o u t his vears m East H a r l e m in My People is the Inemy An Au tobiographual Polemic (New York Holt, R i n e h a r t 8c Winston, 1964), cf A n d r e w W M c T h e m a Jr , ' I n t r o d u c t i o n How This Celebration Began," in Radical Christian and Fxem plary I axvyer, ed A n d r e w W M c T h e m a , J r ( G r a n d Rapids E e r d m a n s , 1995) 8 5 Bill Wyhe-Kellerman, 'Bill, the Bible, a n d the Seminary U n d e r g r o u n d , ' in Radical Christum and Ixemplary lawyer, 68 6 O n the principalities as ideologies, institutions, a n d images, see William Stnngfellow, Iree in Obedience (New York Seabury, 1964) 5 2 - 5 9 7 William Stnngfellow, An Ethu for Christians, 78 8 Ibid , 79 According to Stringfellow, the p r e e m i n e n t principality is the state See An Ethic for Christians, 107-11 9 Walter Wink, "Stnngfellow o n the Powers," in Radical Christian and Exemplary Law yer, 2b For Wink's m o r e systematic definition of the powers, see Naming the Powers, 5 10 Stnngfellow, An Fthic for Christians, 81 O n the fallenness of the powers, see 8 0 82 11 Ibid , 5 1 , 81 Stnngfellow uses d e a t h ' in the b r o a d e s t possible sense "Thus, in this book, w h e n the n a m e of d e a t h is used, I i n t e n d that it b e a r every definition a n d nuance, every association a n d suggestion, every implication a n d intuition that anyone has ever attributed to d e a t h , a n d I i n t e n d that the n a m e of d e a t h , h e r e , bear all m e a n i n g s simulta neously a n d cumulatively" {An Ithic for Christians, 69) 12 Ibid , 32 "Demonic" for Stringfellow does n o t simply m e a n 'evil," b u t involves d e a t h a n d fallenness, it is a state of separation from life, b o n d a g e to d e a t h , a n d alienation from God See Stnngfellow, Iree in Obedience, 6 2 - 6 4 13 Stnngfellow, An Ethic fon Christians, 93 14 Ibid , 84, 8 6 - 8 9 15 Ibid , 98, "Babel m e a n s the inversion of language, verbal inflation, libel, r u m o r , e u p h e m i s m a n d c o d e d phrases, rhetorical wantonness, r e d u n d a n c y , hvperbole, such p r o fusion in speech a n d s o u n d that c o m p r e h e n s i o n is impaired, n o n s e n s e , sophistry, j a r g o n , noise, i n c o h e r e n c e , a chaos of voices a n d tongues, falsehood, blasphemy" (,106) 16 For Stnngfellow s detailed discussion of the \ erbai ploys of the powers, see An Ethic for Christians, 9 8 - 1 0 6 17 Ibid , 106 18 Stnngfellow draws u p o n a Christus Victor u n d e r s t a n d i n g of J e s u s ' work See Gustaf Aulen, Christus Victor (New York Macmillan, 1931) 19 Wink, "Stringfellow," 20 20 T h e character of "living h u m a n l y ' c a n n o t be r e d u c e d to general principles or univeisal rules N o r can it be simphstically e q u a t e d with "doing the will of G o d ' Living h u m a n l y is, rather, a \ e r y h u m a n \ en ture characterized by f r e e d o m from the b o n d a g e of d e a t h a n d involving response to t h e i n c a r n a t e W o r d in specific circumstances 21 Stnngfellow, An Ethu for Christians, 152 22 Ibid , 138 23 Ibid , 61 24 M c T h e m a , "Introduction," 10 25 Stnngfellow, An Ethic for Christians, 145, emphasis o m i t t e d For Stnngfellow's ext e n d e d discussion of the gifts of t h e Spirit, see p p 138-51 Interpretation 399

26 Stnngfellow, Freedom in Obedience, 77-89, An Ithicfor Christians, 57-59, 121, see also William Stnngfellow, A Private and Public laith ( G r a n d Rapids E e r d m a n s , 1962) 27 Stnngfellow, An Ithic for Christians, 58 28 Ibid ] 59-61, 122 29 Stnngfellow, Iree in Obedience, 103, ibid , 43 30 Wyhe-Kelleiman, Keeper of the Word, 1 T h e homiletical implications t h a t I will de\ e l o p from Stnngfellow's work are my own I a m n o t claiming t h a t Stringfellow himself would have a g r e e d with any of t h e m I n d e e d , Stnngfellow \iewed p r e a c h i n g as "entirely secondary" to t h e c h u r c h ' s s a c i a m e n t a l ministry a n d worship (Wyhe-Kelleiman, "Seminary L n d e r g r o u n d , " 65) 31 Wyhe-Kellerman, Keeper of the Word, xn 32 In Stnngfellow's m c a r n a t i o n a l theology, b i o g r a p h y a n d a u t o b i o g r a p h y were imp o r t a n t theological lesources, a c o n c r e t e r e m i n d e r of t h e i m p o r t a n c e of t h e lived W o r d See Bill Wyhe-Kellerman, "'Listen to this M a n 1 ' A Parable before t h e Powers," FToday 53 (Oct 1996) 301 33 In Iree in Obedience (40-42), Stnngfellow issues such a challenge to c h u r c h leaders 34 See Stnngfellow, An Ithic for Christians, 90-91 35 Ibid , 120, italics o m i t t e d 36 O n c o m m u n i t i e s of resistance, see Stringfellow, An Ethic foi Christians, 121-22 37 Ibid , 79 38 T h e translation is from Wink, Naming the Powers, 89 39 O b e r m a n , " P r e a c h i n g of t h e Word," 9 40 Stringfellow, Iree in Obedience, 50-51 41 Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians, 29-30 O n t h e m o r a l captivity of p e r s o n s of pi i\liege a n d influence, see also 28 42 Q u o t e d in Wyhe-Kelleiman, "Listen to this M a n ' " 304-05 43 Such p r e a c h i n g d o e s n o t p r e c l u d e addressing individuals T h e r e are, after all, individual actions t h a t are evil a n d a b h o r r e n t a n d p e r s o n s n e e d to b e h e l d a c c o u n t a b l e for these O n e c a n n o t excuse a spouse abuser, for e x a m p l e , by simphstically asserting t h a t h e is a captive to t h e powers, h e r e m a i n s responsible for his actions Nevertheless, it is imp o r t a n t to r e m e m b e r t h a t spouse abuse r e m a i n s e m b e d d e d w i t h m a powerfully e n t r e n c h e d system of "powers" t h a t has g r a n t e d m e n d o m i n a t i o n over w o m e n for millennia Simply to speak of individual abusers a p a r t from these larger principalities a n d powers fails to address t h e d e p t h s of spouse abuse In this sense, t h e abusei himself d o e s n e e d to b e freed from b o n d a g e to t h e power of d e a t h 44 Stanley Hauerwas a n d Jeff Powell, "Creation as Apocalyptic A H o m a g e to William Stnngfellow," in Radical Christian and Exemplary I axvyer, 36 45 Stnngfellow, Iree in Obedience, 114 46 Stnngfellow, An Ethu for Christians, 119 O n p r e a c h i n g as a practice of non-violent resistance, see Charles L C a m p b e l l , "Performing t h e Scriptures P r e a c h i n g a n d J e s u s ' T h u d Way," Journal for Preachers 17 ( L e n t 1994) 18-24 A l t h o u g h Stnngfellow recognizes the violent c h a r a c t e r of t h e powers, i n c l u d i n g t h e violence of babel, h e d o e s n o t stress non-violent resistance as consistently as Waltei Wink Stringfellow's c o n c e r n for t h e freed o m of G o d a n d his u n d e r s t a n d i n g of t h e powers m a d e h i m suspicious of all ideologies, i n c l u d i n g "ideological pacifism " Recently, however, Wink has persuasively a r g u e d t h a t t h e logic of Stringfellow's work leads to non-violence O n this particular issue, I find Wink's position c o m p e l l i n g See Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians, 106-07, 122-33, Wink, "Stnngfellow," 27-30 47 In t h e c o n t e x t of t h e U n i t e d States, Stnngfellow c h a r a c t e r i z e d such t r u t h t e l l m g most basically as i n t e r p r e t i n g "America biblically," r a t h e r t h a n c o n s t r u i n g " t h e Bible Americanly" (An Ithic for Christians, 13) T r u t h t e l l m g h a p p e n s w h e n t h e Bible absorbs t h e


Principalities, Powers, and Preaching

world, r a t h e r t h a n vice versa, a n d w h e n the W o r d of G o d is discerned a n d spoken in the face of d e a t h . Like "living humanly," truthtelling is a risky venture. 48. Ibid., 138-39. 49. Ibid., 155-56. 50. See Wink, Naming the Poiuers, 55-60; J o h n H o w a r d Yoder, The Politics of Jesus ( G r a n d Rapids: E e r d m a n s , 1972) 147-50. 51. Q u o t e d in The National Catholic Reporter (January 3 1 , 1997) 6. 52. Wink, Engaging the Poiuers, 177-79. See also "Neither Passivity n o r Violence: Jesus' T h i r d Way," Forum 7 ( M a r c h / J u n e , 1991) 12. 53. Wink, "Jesus' T h i r d Way," 12. 54. Because the powers are n o t destroyed or violently overthrown, the possibility is o p e n e d for their r e d e m p t i o n , their r e t u r n to the g o o d purposes for which they were created. See Wink, 'Jesus' T h i r d Way," 12. Stringfellow also h o p e s for the r e d e m p t i o n of the powers. See, for e x a m p l e , Free in Obedience, 73. 55. Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians, 139. 56. Ibid., 138. 57. J r g e n M o l t m a n n , The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions, trans. Margaret Kohl (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990) 13. 58. See Walter B r u e g g e m a n n , The Prophetic Imagination (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978) 44-61, 80-95. 59. The lona Community Worship Book (Glasgow: Wild Goose, 1997) 72. 60. T h a n k s to Ed Loring, who i n t r o d u c e d m e to Stringfellow's work, a n d Stan Saunders, who read an earlier draft of this article a n d m a d e many helpful suggestions. This essay owes m o r e than I can acknowledge to my o n g o i n g conversation with these two friends.

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