A Guide to Wonder in Preaching

“And finally let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears, which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have."

Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale

Preaching is at the heart of worship for many Christians: it is the place where the Word of God encounters us, whether to challenge, encourage, or guide. The pastor who stands up to deliver a sermon or homily is charged with the same command Jesus issued to Peter three times after the resurrection: feed his lambs.

Sounds simple enough; but in the weekly press of the duties a pastor must discharge, and in the face of the realities of preparing one, two, or three sermons a week, it can be hard to take the time over each meal that the shepherd would like. It is easy to fall into a routine, or to lose connection with the congregation. Often we are saved by the fact that the sermon we preach is not always the one they hear, and so the flock feels fed by what to the pastor seemed a mediocre effort at best.

What pastor and congregants need is the same: wonder: the simple, childlike disposition of openness and gratitude towards the mysterious, marvelous, and even magical character of the world. Preaching that comes out of and is directed towards a sense of wonder kindles a fire in the hearts of preacher and congregant alike.

This course is designed to offer practical advice on how to deepen the sense of wonder in your preaching, from preparation through delivery.

Tuesdays, 2:00 - 3:30 pm (CST)
February 21 - March 14, 2023

registration deadline February 20, 2023

$125 / student

Week One: Worlds of Wonder: An Apology
Wonder is not an accessory to life: it is a basic human need. It is that vision without which the people surely perish. Wonder expands the heart, and it is only broad hearts that are apt to hear and prompt to respond to the Word of Life. Whether preaching for conversion or for edification of the faithful, wonder is the most powerful tool we have for winsomely holding forth the message of hope.

Week Two: Hearts Aflame: Addressing Wonder to Our Hearts
By the heart, I mean the whole affective part of the person: how we are moved to pity and anger, how we are amazed or terrified. This session will focus on topics, techniques, and principles designed to move the heart to wonder.

Week Three: Boggled Minds: Addressing Wonder to the Head
The affective dimensions we spoke of last week are probably what comes to mind most readily when we think of wonder. But it is no less possible to address wonder to the intellect, and it is no less necessary. Persons are hearts and minds, and if we don’t captivate both, the person will not be united in their love and gratitude. This session will underscore some of the riches of the theological tradition that are particularly apt for evoking wonder, and demonstrate ways of presenting them that allow them to appear as mysteries inviting further reflection rather than as knots to be untangled.

Week Four: The Ever-Greater God: Preaching the Mystery
We will conclude by gazing deep into the excess of God, that superluminous darkness that exceed every human or angelic comprehension. This is not the gaze of theological reflection, such as we did in week 3; it is instead the gaze of contemplation, the gaze of the lover on the beloved.

  • Dr. Johnson’s course was the condition upon which I received a second touch from Christ that gave me fuller sight. Countless conferences in philosophy, education, and literature over the past decade barely touch the depth and personal availability that make his academy unique. While a brilliant scholar, he masterfully uses analogies and real world experience to make difficult concepts accessible on each student’s level. His genius is evident in every class, and on a multitude of topics.

  • Participating in a course led by Dr. Junius Johnson is a wonderful journey of exploration, seeking hidden gems in unexpected places. It is an opportunity to learn to look deeper than the surface, both in reading and in the mundane of life. A delightful feast for the mind that lasts far beyond the actual banquet.

  • This is a rare opportunity to hear from an articulate, imaginative thinker, who intersects his academic knowledge and his living faith in refreshing clarity. Every time I hear Junius Johnson speak, I walk away asking: "Did I forget how exciting and joyful the life of the mind can be?”

  • This is a friendly, informal format where you can learn and share ideas about different aspects of faith. Junius as leader is welcoming, encouraging, real, orthodox, very knowledgeable, and clearly loves the Lord and loves people.