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Envisioning the Word: The use of visual images in preaching

Author: Richard A Jensen
Published By: Fortress Press (Minneapolis)
Pages: 155
Price: £11.99
ISBN: 0800 63729 1

Reviewed by Alun Brookfield.

Richard A Jensen, a Professor of Homiletics at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, has provided not so much a book, more of a resource kit for thinking about and using image in preaching. He’s not talking about visual aids, or even Powerpoint presentations (which all too often are no more creative than a list of headings), but about the whole Christian tradition of using the visual arts to convey spiritual truth.

He starts by examining the tradition of painting religious images as visual aids to a largely illiterate populace, then explores the Reformed tradition’s record of iconoclasm, which survives to this day in many free churches, with their plain buildings, often entirely unadorned even by stained-glass windows. In his third chapter, the author draws a parallel between poetry and painting, leading him to the (in my view correct) conclusion that opposition to the use of visual images in preaching has all but disappeared in our highly visual age.

If the first part of the book was interesting, the second part of the book is helpful, especially to those who lack the intuitive skill of thinking in pictures. Jensen records for the reader a huge number of helpful comments distilled from training courses he has led on this very theme. For those readers of Ministry Today who were trained in the proclamation of largely abstract, propositional truth, this is a real eye-opener of a chapter as the author leads us to reflect on the visual images which drew us to faith and which have led us on in our spiritual journeys.

Finally, he offers help in creating sermon structures which enable and allow the use of visual imagery.

This book comes complete with a CDrom containing chapter summaries of the book; a wide range of website suggestions for further exploration; a searchable .pdf file of the entire text of Envisioning the Word; and perhaps most useful of all, a complete set of computer clipart (he calls them ‘sacred image icons’) for every Sunday of the three year Lectionary - ideal for including in Sunday bulletins or projection.

This is an excellent book and I am delighted to be able to commend it so whole-heartedly. If you (or others!) feel you are getting a bit stale in your preaching, buy this book and start experimenting.

Alun Brookfield

Editor of Ministry Today

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You are reading Issue 38 of Ministry Today, published in November 2006.

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