When Communication is Not Proclamation

In The Intrusive Word, William Willimon describes the time a practitioner of something called “destructive art” visited his class. This kind of art involved, as Willimon describes it, throwing hydrochloric acid on a canvas, while viewers watched the canvas rot. The purpose of this was lost on most of the class and many became angry. Challenged by the students, the artist responded patiently. “The thing that impressed me as a Christian communicator,” Willimon writes, “was her absolute willingness to have them not understand her.”

Willimon saw in her a parallel to the preacher’s responsibility. “We preachers so want to be heard that we are willing to make the gospel more accessible than it really is, to remove the scandal, the offense of the cross, to deceive people into thinking that it is possible to hear without conversion.”  

The events of Holy Tuesday are a needed reminder that communication is not always proclamation and proclamation does not always communicate. Christ’s example is the antithesis to our market driven culture. Jesus refused to answer the religious leaders when they asked for proof of his authority (Matt. 21:23-27). His parables, whose edge was sharp enough to draw blood, seemed designed to irritate rather than attract. Yet he was not callous toward those who heard him. Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Matt. 23:37). But he did not let tears blur his vision or his message.

Justin Taylor’s blog has a helpful summary of the events that took place on Holy Tuesday: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/03/30/holy-week-what-happened-on-tuesday/

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John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

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