Book Review: Dem Dry Bones by Luke Powery

There is little doubt that preaching can be big business, a commodity of sorts, which can be manipulatively packaged in a way that is extremely profitable. And while forms of ‘prosperity gospel’ are both popular, and if honest, speak to the aspirations of many poor people, the question still remains, how does it minister to one’s soul in the midst of actual life with all its hardships? Luke Powery sets out to counter the fluffy death-avoiding pulpit ministry that is unquestionably sweet but yet ultimately superficial.

With an insightful and prophetic witness, Powery reminds his readers that “Preaching hope is inadequate without taking death seriously. Not only is death the context for preaching hope, but hope is generated by experiencing death through the Spirit who is the ultimate source of hope.” (10)  Given this, he argues persuasively that  preaching death, both our daily little deaths and Big Death, are not just for funerals and Christology, but are essential for any word that sets out to offer life-giving hope.

The site of Powery’s homiletical inspiration is located primarily in two sources that have been a great means of hope in countless African American churches in the midst of painful suffering and death. The first reservoir for homiletics is the Spirituals. Powery makes the case that the Spirituals in essence are sung sermons that provide hope at the location of death. They offer a model for Spiritual preaching which is sorely needed in our communities. The second location which provides the primary metaphor and model for spiritual preaching death and life for Powery is found in Ezekiel 37’s popular narrative of ‘the Valley of Dry Bones’. With the Spirituals and Ezekiel 37 at hand, we are called to, and reminded of, the need for a preaching ministry that has an intertwining encounter with spirit, death, and hope.

If you are seeking to more faithfully preach a word of hope and more honestly engage the full depth of the gospel to people who are dying little deaths everyday and will face Big Death one day, then this book is for you. It is an excellent resource and ought to be on every shelf of those who are given the heavy responsibility of preaching gospel to our broken world.

(As full disclosure, I was given this as a review copy. I am not receiving any funds and there is no expectation of necessarily receiving a positive review. These are my genuine thoughts.)

Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD

Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well. Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance. His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today. His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action. Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo. Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

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