Why Preach? Why Listen?

Muehl, William

Fortress, 1986

p. 13

A Yale Divinity school student of the late 60s was all charged up about Karl Barth. He pestered people in seminars, and became annoyed at the mild interest of some of the other students and the profs. He preached 40 minutes of Barth from local pulpits, arranged all his papers so that they would conclude triumphantly with Barth’s message, etc. Ten years later he came back to Yale and had coffee with Muehl, a wry professor of Christian communication. The student now wore a lapel button identifying him as a follower of a popular TV preacher who promotes positive thinking and who is about as far from Barth as a butterfly is from an alligator. Curiosity overwhelmed tact for Muehl. “What happened after these ten years, etc.?” And the student, somewhat sheepishly, said “I lost three churches before I learned what people really want from the pulpit, and now I give it to them.” Painful. Students go out with Barth, process, liberation, feminism, womanism, etc. They package everything in terms of theological movements and people are unimpressed. They get bored and then they get mutinous. So young ministers start to dish out pap. This one did it “because he perceived as lay hostility or un-interest what would have started a real conversation.”