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Rethinking Celebration

From Rhetoric to Praise in African American Preaching

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Westminster John Knox Press
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"This book is a clarion call for African American preachers to think more deeply about the aims and ends of their preaching—namely to stop putting so much emphasis on celebratory endings to our sermons and focus more on the substantive content in our sermons. Our so-called celebratory preaching, designed to excite the congregation into action through a highly emotional closing of the sermon, has had the opposite effect. Rather than inducing action, it has lulled generations of black congregants to sleep. While we are jumping up and down, shouting, and waving our hands in the air every Sunday during the worship hour, we seem not to notice the growing number of churched and unchurched alike who are becoming powerfully alienated from any form of institutional religion."
—from the introduction

"Celebration" is a term that has long been used to describe African American preaching, characterized by content that affirms the goodness and powerful intervention of God as well as style that builds from quiet beginnings to an emotionally rich crescendo in conclusion. Cleophus J. LaRue argues that while celebration is one of African American preaching's greatest gifts to the larger church, too many black preachers have become content with the form of celebration—volume, vocabulary, pitch, speed, rhythm, and the like—to the neglect of its essence—the proclamation of the mighty acts of God in the lives of their congregations and communities. This kind of preaching, LaRue contends, fails to address the ongoing problems of the African American community and is powerless to prevent the growing disaffection of black America with the black church. In words both prophetic and practical, LaRue suggests ways to improve black preaching that honor both the form and the power of the African American homiletical practice of celebration. Preachers will learn how to use celebration more selectively and as part of a fully formed preaching practice rather than as a means of distracting the congregation from pressing social and theological questions. The book includes six illustrative sermons from LaRue as well as Paschal Sampson Wilkinson Sr., Brian K. Blount, and Claudette Anderson Copeland.

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Cleophus J. LaRue is Francis Landey Patton Professor of Homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is one of the most highly visible members of the homiletics guild and a frequent speaker at denominational and educational events. Among his many books are I Believe I'll Testify: The Art of African American Preaching and The Heart of Black Preaching, published by Westminster John Knox Press.

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"Every time I read a book by Cleo LaRue, I come away having learned something about preaching that is breathtakingly new and creative. Rethinking Celebration is no exception. In this thoughtful and crisply argued book, LaRue issues a challenging call to the African American pulpit to recover its full range of power and depth. This book is a double blessing. It speaks convincingly not only to African American preachers but also to all Christian preachers everywhere, reminding us of the sacred purposes to which we are called."
—THOMAS G. LONG, Bandy Professor Emeritus of Preaching, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

"The black church tradition and culture in America are rich and textured. Any monolithic way of interpreting and understanding or describing this reality is by definition shortsighted and incomplete. In his most recent text, Rethinking Celebration, Cleo LaRue challenges us to see the dangers of celebration as the sole lens through which to interpret black preaching. This text deepens our appreciation of the grand sacred tradition and history of our preaching and calls us to a fuller biblical grounding for our prophetic praise."
—GARY V. SIMPSON, Senior Pastor, The Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, New York, and Associate Professor of Homiletics, Drew University Theological School

"LaRue has a broad and deep understanding of preaching in general and African American preaching in particular. He writes with an elegant boldness—sounding like an amalgam of the prophets Amos, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. He argues correctly and convincingly that the key to preaching and praise is the exposition and interpretation of the Word. LaRue postulates that a clear interpretation of the Scripture text leads to transformative action. Pragmatism prevails throughout this book. As a distinguished preacher and teacher, LaRue is clearly suggesting that self-correction and correcting the people of God is an ethical responsibility. This book is an excellent contribution to African American preaching and worship and should be read and studied carefully by preachers and teachers of all racial and ethnic persuasions."
—JAMES HENRY HARRIS, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Homiletics, Virginia Union University, and Pastor, Second Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia

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