A Contagious Passion for the Word
A conversation with TEDS Professor Jared Alcántara
As associate professor of homiletics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Jared Alcántara lives and breathes preaching. EFCA Now visited with Jared to learn more about that passion shortly after he delivered a plenary message at the EFCA One conference in June 2017. The interviewer is Matt Mitchell, senior pastor of Lanse (Pa.) EFC.
In your bio, you say that you are passionate about equipping students to preach God’s Word. Who are your greatest homiletical influences?
Jared: I did my dissertation on one of the best-known African American preachers of the 20th century, Gardner C. Taylor. His preaching and his teaching of preaching have had a big influence on me. One thing that drew me to him is that he was able to preach in more than one context and constituency in a way that honored Christ, honored the gospel, honored the Scriptures and honored the context. I found that really provocative. And I think it’s key for preachers having an effective witness in an intercultural society. As churches become more multiethnic, multigenerational and multilingual, we need to recognize the ways that our preaching carries with it a cultural situated-ness.
What do you mean by “cultural situated-ness”?
Jared: Imagine standing on the beach with the ocean in front of you. The place where you stand prevents you from seeing some things, and it enables you to see other things. To recognize your cultural situated-ness is to understand that your place on the beach shapes your reading and preaching of God’s Word. You see certain things and you’re prevented from seeing other things. More often than not, those who understand where they are on the beach draw out more from the biblical text and excel at preaching the gospel in diverse contexts.
Do you want your students to preach like you do?
Jared: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I want them to care deeply about the main thrust of the text—to be faithful to it, to stay tethered to what God is saying in His Word. Yes, in the sense that I want them to recognize that God works powerfully through language. Our words can both cut and tear down and, by the grace of God, bring healing and restoration. Through His Word mediated through our words, God can make hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, and God can make dry bones live. So yes, in the sense that students should care deeply about precision, thoughtfulness and even artfulness with respect to language.
But no, in the sense that God tailor makes and custom fits each person to have a particular personality, style and approach to preaching. Part of the goal would be not only for my students to have a robust theology of preaching and a biblical vision for preaching, but also to claim their voice. That’s a prayer of Kierkegaard: “With God’s help I shall become myself.”
Students do emulate the people they admire. I can hear preaching in the classroom and say, “That guy listens to Tim Keller, that person listens to Andy Stanley, that person over there listens to Ralph Douglas West and that person listens to Matt Chandler.” But there is a difference between imitation and emulation. Imitation is trying to sound like a carbon copy of the preacher you admire, which doesn’t sound like you or the preacher you like—just a bad version of both. Emulation is trying to respect those preachers you appreciate without landing there and building a house there.
You also have a research interest in “Global South preaching.” What is that and what makes you passionate about that?
Jared: That is a new area of research for me. The majority of Christians live in the Southern and Eastern hemispheres, so by “Global South,” I am referring to what some people call majority world preaching.
I taught a course last year called “Learning From Latin American Preaching,” and we engaged with different sermons in Spanish. Some by Latinos here in the United States but also by Latin Americans in other countries. I already knew it intuitively and anecdotally, but to see evidence of biblically and contextually faithful gospel preaching all over the world—that energizes me.
What are you working on right now?
Jared: Right now I am working on my next book: an introduction to preaching textbooks for students, meant for a tablet or E-reader because of its audio and video content. I’m working with a diverse team of collaborators, and there will be examples of preaching from various races, ethnicities and nationalities. The idea is for readers to see and hear preachers who model some of the things I’m trying to teach. It doesn’t always have to be the perfect sermon in a glass case. It’s, How did the preacher go at this text? What were some of the preacher’s strengths and what were some of the weaknesses? This preacher might come from a different race or ethnicity than you do—what can you learn from that? I hope to have the manuscript done by the end of March 2018.
Where are you growing personally right now in regard to your preaching?
Jared: I notice that as I am getting older, I’m getting more dispassionate and intellectual. I teach at a seminary; I love thinking, writing and research. So, it is a beautiful place to work. But I am also a pastor at heart. I love people and I love the gospel. I have been praying that God would help me find that right balance. Jonathan Edwards uses the imagery of both heat and light, and we need both heat and light in our preaching. I probably had too much heat as a 22-year-old, and now as a soon-to-be 38-year-old, I probably don’t have enough heat. So I am pushing myself to let that fire burn more brightly as I preach.
And do you have any encouragement for other EFCA pastors?
Jared: First, continue to challenge yourself to grow as a preacher. Apprentice yourself to preachers inside and outside of your tradition. Labor over your preaching manuscript or outline more than you do now. Go deeper with God as you prepare. Take more risks. Second, remember what God has promised to do when His Word is faithfully proclaimed: He has promised to show up and to accomplish far more than our capacity to see or understand. God is the true preacher!
Photo by deBruyn Photography