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An Introduction to Hispanic Preaching
By Justo L. González, Pablo A. Jiménez
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2005 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Building the Púlpito
Pablo A. Jiménez
In order to understand the development of Hispanic Protestant homiletic theory in the United States, one has to analyze how such theory arrived at the Latin American púlpito. We also need to research how it was interpreted and who reinterpreted it. Only then will we be able to understand how homiletic theory is being modified and recast by contemporary Hispanic-American scholars.
This brief historical survey is divided into three broad sections. The first describes the earliest Protestant manuals on homiletics translated into Spanish and used widely in Latin America and the Caribbean. The second reviews the most influential homiletic manuals written by Latin Americans. The third explores how contemporary Hispanic-American scholars are reinterpreting the inherited homiletic theory in the light of their own Latino subculture.
Before going any further, I must qualify my comments in two different ways. First, in this survey I refer mostly to manuals on homiletics that have been distributed widely in Latin America and the United States. I am aware that this decision excludes other important homiletic materials, such as regional publications, collections of sermons, and articles published in theological journals and religious magazines. Second, like any other historical periodization, this survey is selective (some may say arbitrary). It could be easily modified, improved, or even challenged. Once again, the aim is to open—not to close—discussion and research of these issues.
First Stage: Transculturation
Protestant homiletic theory arrived in Latin America early in the 1900s, hand in hand with the missionaries. Up to that point, Protestantism had a rather long and tormented history in Latin America. The first Protestants arrived in South America and the Caribbean in the sixteenth century, at the time of the Spanish Conquest. However, most of them were either banished or exterminated by the Spanish Inquisition. European immigrants established the first Protestant congregations in Latin America early in the nineteenth century. We can divide these congregations into two categories. The earliest were the "transplanted" congregations that exclusively served British merchants and their families. These were established through agreements between the British and Spanish crowns. Their existence testifies to the enormous influence in Latin America of trade with Great Britain. These congregations were not allowed to proselytize Spanish subjects. Ethnic groups invited to immigrate to Latin America by the new national governments established the second type of immigrant congregations. The aim of such "grafted" congregations was the pastoral care of the immigrant community, keeping proselytism to a minimum. Both categories of ethnic congregations shared a common trait: they "imported" their ministers from their homelands. Hence, immigrant ministers studied homiletics in Europe or in the United States.
The first Protestant missionaries arrived in Latin America in the nineteenth century. These missionaries can be classified in three broad categories: those associated with paraecclesial organizations (such as the Bible Societies); those belonging to mainline denominations in the United States; and those sponsored by "faith missions."
The "faith missions" were independent missionary groups. They were usually supported by laypersons in Great Britain or the United States, countries that provided most missionaries. The main reason for the emergence of such independent groups was the reluctance of mainline churches to engage in missionary work in Latin America. Unlike Africa and Asia, Latin America was a "Christian continent," evangelized by the Roman Catholic Church. Many missionary organizations associated with mainline churches did not see Latin America as a legitimate field of mission. Therefore, both the mainline and the independent missionaries to Latin America tended to be more conservative and anti-Catholic that their counterparts in other parts of the globe. The Protestant missionaries who reached Latin America considered the development of new congregations the primary element in the mission of the church. Effective evangelistic preaching was seen as a key tool in church planting and congregational growth. Therefore, missionaries promoted the translation into Spanish of well-known manuals of homiletics. They needed such manuals to train lay preachers and candidates to the ministry.
Four of the manuals that circulated in this period deserve special attention. The first three are the Spanish translations of English books: Lectures to My Students by Charles H. Spurgeon; On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons by John A. Broadus; and The Preparation of Biblical Sermons by Andrew W. Blackwood. The fourth manual, titled El sermón eficaz (The Effective Sermon), was originally written in Spanish by James D. Crane.
Discursos a mis estudiantes, by Charles H. Spurgeon
Spurgeon was a British Baptist preacher, known internationally for his sermons and for being the pastor of the largest regular congregation during the Victorian age. An evangelical Calvinist, his many publications form "the largest body of evangelical writings in the English language." Although his manual, published originally in 1875, addresses important points on sermon design, its main thrust is the spiritual formation of the minister. Its Spanish translation was used mainly to mold the character of prospective preachers. For this reason, it was usually employed in tandem with Broadus's treatise.
Tratado sobre la predicación, by John A. Broadus
This has been arguably the most influential manual of homiletics in Latin America. It presents the sermon as a rhetorical piece intended to instruct and persuade. Its detailed sermon design methodology and rationalistic style appealed particularly to well-educated candidates to the ministry. Such preachers found in Broadus's system a method that reminded them of the Spanish estilística—techniques for oral and written expression—that they had learned painstakingly at school. Although its English version was originally published in 1870, this manual is still widely used in Latin America, especially at Institutos (community-based non-degree-granting theological schools for lay leaders and licensed preachers).
La preparación de sermones bíblicos by Andrew W. Blackwood
Broadus was to homiletic theory as Blackwood was to expository preaching. The work of this Presbyterian minister shaped the way Latin American Protestant preachers designed their biblical sermons. Blackwood's methodology calls for a twofold approach to homiletics. First, it encourages the study of the sermons and publications of outstanding preachers. Second, it pays scrupulous attention to sermon design, since it also sees the sermon as a rhetorical composition. Like Broadus, his methodology appealed mostly to the well educated.
El sermón eficaz, by James D. Crane
Crane was a Baptist missionary who had a long teaching career in Latin America, especially in Argentina. Although his book was written originally in Spanish, it is a rather complicated re-elaboration of Broadus's homiletic theory. For this reason, Crane's and Broadus's manuals have come to be seen as interchangeable in Latin America. Crane also published a simplified version of his homiletic system in the book Manual para predicadores laicos (A Manual for Lay Preachers).
Although translations of other books on homiletics—such as Home's The Romance of Preaching—also circulated in Latin America, the aforementioned have been the most influential. They take a similar approach to homiletics: a deductive, neo-classical or rationalistic understanding of sermon design; an Anglo-American worldview; and a "free church" perspective that discourages the use of lectionaries and does little to relate the sermon to the liturgy. Maybe this explains why the same company, Casa Bautista de Publicaciones, the Spanish division of the Southern Baptist Publishing House in El Paso, Texas, has published them. A testimony to the endurance of these four manuals and of the homiletic views they hold is that they are still in print.
Second Stage: Inculturation
The homiletic theory described above found fertile ground in Latin America. As mentioned earlier, it appealed particularly to well-educated candidates to the ministry. These preachers developed styles that blended Broadus's deductive homiletic theory with Spanish oratory. The best ones displayed an outstanding level of erudition, extracting illustrations from the best Spanish literature and anecdotes from classical works. In short, these "learned" preachers were truly poets of the pulpit.
However, not all candidates to the ministry had access to sound education. On the contrary, most Latin American preachers barely had the equivalent of a high school education. Therefore, these "popular" preachers, who had little or no access to theological education, developed their own preaching style. Although there are no formal research papers published in this area, elsewhere I have characterized the popular preaching style as an extemporaneous exposition of a biblical passage. The sermon designs privileged by such style are the narrative sermon, the "reference/concordance" sermon (where the preacher quotes a string of biblical verses as proof texts), and the testimonio (where the preacher narrates and interprets theologically an episode of her or his own life).
The contrast between learned and popular Latin American preaching was stark and their relation uneasy. On the one hand, some popular preachers despised the learned style, describing it as a convoluted discourse devoid of the power of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, some other popular preachers sought to emulate the models presnted by learned preachers. In all fairness, we must recognize that the sermons of the most outstanding Latin American preachers were truly literary jewels.
Not surprisingly, these learned preachers became the first Latin American scholars in the field of homiletics. They published their sermons in theological journals such as Revista de Homilética, El Predicador Evangélico, La Nueva Democracia and Puerto Rico Evangélico, among others. In time, they also published books that compiled illustrations, homiletic outlines, and sermons. As expected, learned preachers also became the first Latin American professors of homiletics. Some of them, such as Alberto Rembao, trained scores of seminarians in several countries, thus spinning informal "schools." Others, like Angel Archilla Cabrera and Juan Crisóstomo Varetto, traveled throughout Latin America preaching in "crusades" that followed the model of the American revival and holding public debates with Catholic priests. These learned revivalists became living models for Latin American Protestant preaching. Once again, I will highlight only four of the manuals on homiletics published in this period: EÍ arte cristiano de la predicación (The Christian Art of Preaching) by Angel Mergal; Comunicación por medio de la predicación (Communication Through Preaching) by Orlando E. Costas; Predicación y misión: Una perspectiva pastoral (Preaching and Mission: A Pastoral Perspective) by Osvaldo Mottesi; and Teoría y práctica de la predicación (Theory and Practice of Preaching) by Cecilio Arrastía.
El arte cristiano de la preedicación, by Angel Mergal
Mergal had a long tenure as professor in the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico (ESPR). He was considered a genius, teaching biblical languages, German, homiletics, and pastoral counseling, among other courses. His handbook is divided into two parts. The first affirms that preaching is an art, expounding on the aesthetic qualities of the discipline. This section is informed by the philosophy of Suzanne K. Langer. The second and shorter section addresses sermon design. Although the latter part pales in comparison to the first, this beautiful book may well be the best manual on homiletics ever written in Latin America.
Comunicación por medio de la predicación by Orlando E. Costas
The renowned Puerto Rican missiologist was also a student and a teacher of homiletics. Costas wrote this comprehensive handbook on preaching while teaching at the then Latin American Biblical Seminary (now University) in San José, Costa Rica. Although in many ways Costas follows on Broadus's steps, his book made twso important contributions to Latin American homiletics. First, Costas brought a new theological perspective to the field. Although he defined himself as an evangelical, even at this early stage of his career his progressive theology was in dialogue with neo-orthodox and even Catholic perspectives. Second, he presents preaching as a communication process, taking into consideration insights from speech and mass communication. An interesting note is the clear influence of the works of Lloyd M. Perry on Costas's methodology.
Predicación y misión: Una perspectiva pastoral by Osvaldo Mottesi
This excellent Argentinean preacher studied homiletics under James D. Crane in the Instituto Bautista de Buenos Aires. An Emory graduate, he also taught homiletics at the Latin American Biblical Seminary in Costa Rica before beginning his long tenure at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. As expected, his manual follows the rhetorical emphasis taught by Crane. Nonetheless, this work makes a decisive contribution to the field. Mottesi teaches homiletics against the backdrop provided by the radical evangelical missiology developed in Latin America during the late seventies and eighties. His methodology is thus contextual and pastoral Therefore, the book has a decided Latin American flavor.
Teoría y práctica de la predicación, by Cecilio Arrastía
For decades Cecilio Arrastía was considered the best Latin American preacher and the foremost Hispanic homiletician. This Cuban American was renowned for his learned and powerful preaching. He did it all: preaching international crusades, publishing collections of sermons, writing on homiletic theory, and teaching homiletics in many formal and informal settings, including ESPR and McCormick Theological Seminary. Although he published many technical articles on homiletics in theological journals, his first books where collections of sermons. Since the seventies his students clamored for a textbook written by the "master homiletician." Yet, Arrastía did not publish his textbook until after his retirement. Paradoxically, the junior contemporary of Mergal and the mentor of Costas and Mottesi was the last one to publish his homiletics survey.
Arrastía's survey is not a traditional homiletics manual. Although it also sees the sermon as a rhetorical composition, it expounds the author's eclectic methodology. The manual makes four important contributions to Latin American homiletics. First, it explains Arrastía's painstaking sermon design methodology. Second, it offers a detailed explanation of the Christian year and the use of the lectionary, departing from the "free church" emphasis that historically has dominated the discipline in Latin America. Third, it includes a long chapter on the use of literature in preaching, citing hundreds of classic, Spanish, and Latin American works in the bibliography. Finally, he affirms that the local congregation is a "hermeneutic community." This leads him to propose different ways of devising "collegial sermons," where the congregation takes part in the preparation, the evaluation and even the delivery of the sermon.
Significantly, the authors of these four manuals on homiletics are teclv nically Hispanics; two of them are Puerto Ricans—who are U.S. citizens by birth—and the other two are Latin Americans who came to live permanently in the United States. For this reason, their homiletic systems made an impact not only in Latin America, but also within the Hispanic American church.
Excerpted from Púlpito by Justo L. González, Pablo A. Jiménez. Copyright © 2005 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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