Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final column in a series.
On Election Day—Nov. 4—I drove to Wilmore, Ky., to hear Shane Claiborne speak in the chapel of Asbury Seminary. Shane is the young man, now living in the Philadelphia area, who wrote the best-selling book “Jesus for President.” I read it, liked it and used it as a text for a church discussion class this fall.
Shane is from the Jim Wallis-Tony Campolo stream of Christian living and thinking. Plus the book picks up the Kingdom-Empire theme popularized by John Howard Yoder and John Dominic Crossan. I find both of these influences compelling, which is why I read the book and attended the talk.
Shane is young—just past 30 years old—dresses more like the Jesus freaks of 30 years ago, wore his hair long and covered with a bandana. His voice is high-pitched, his message only barely structured, and his presence less than impressive.
None of that mattered: the chapel was packed—I sat in the balcony and the aisles were cluttered with students. All of which illustrates a fundamental principle of public speaking (or preaching): When a speaker has a strong, compelling call to a radical vision of life, and when the speaker actually embodies the message he or she is describing, it will draw an audience.
After chapel I went to lunch with the president of the seminary, J. Ellsworth Callis. He is an elderly, dignified man, with a wonderful voice and an attractive disposition. He is a Methodist preacher, and a professor of preaching; he is president only for the interim. It is easy to see why people tell me he is an outstanding preacher. He was easy to listen to in the diner, and I am sure he is easy to listen to in the pew.
We talked about my new venture, The Academy of Preachers; he was immediately and thoroughly supportive of it. One of the students at the seminary—Georgetown College graduate James Bush—is on the Young Preachers Leadership Team, which will help me design and launch the Academy.
But mostly we talked about the election—it was Election Day, remember—and whether the rhetorical skills of Barack Obama would fuel a renaissance of interest in both public speaking and preaching. It certainly demonstrates, I suggested, the power of pubic rhetoric and its value in establishing vision, mobilizing people and achieving purpose.
Whether statistics will bear out any renewed attention to these things, The Academy of Preachers is carried along by the conviction that gospel preaching is a vocation of enormous social and spiritual significance, and that it is worthy of the best energies of the most gifted young people.
I now have recruited 18 of these young people from schools in a four-state area: Anderson University, Oakland City University, St. Meinrad Seminary, Christian Theological Seminary and Hanover College, all in Indiana; Cincinnati Christian University in Ohio; Trevecca Nazarene University, Fisk University, Vanderbilt Divinity School and Lipscomb University in Tennessee; and Georgetown College, Asbury College, Asbury Seminary, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and two high schools, all in Kentucky.
We are ready to get this Academy off the ground!