My first encounter with the word kerygma came in A Theology of the New Testament by George Ladd. He identifies kerygma as:
"[T]he early church's proclamation of Christ" (p. 10).
Granted, a quick trip through church history will yield a few variations on the meaning of the word - some highlighting this or that particular aspect; but for our present purposes, this simple description gets us going in the right direction.
Kerygma (pronounced "ker-ig-ma") is a Greek word which, in verb form, refers to a proclamation or announcement. In later Christian theological discourse, the word took the shape of a noun. It was used as a shorthand for the irreducible claims of Christianity, which were made from its earliest days.
When the verb form and the noun form are joined, the word takes on a whole new layer of meaning. So it's within reason to offer a present-day, working-definition of the Christian Kerygma as:
The lean proclamation that emerges when the historical events that converged on Jesus are systematized and invested with theological significance.
Every proclamation or announcement (Christian or otherwise) has an aim, a goal, an agenda, something it seeks to accomplish as a result of people hearing the utternace. The Christian Kerygma is no different. Its aim is for all people everywhere to "confess with their mouths that 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead, so as to be saved" (see Romans 10:9). The kerygma achieves what it set out to do when, on the basis of the proclamation, people turn from their customary ways of thinking, being, and doing, and replace them with ways that are congruent with new life in the Kingdom of God.
So the kerygma was part of early Christianity's proclamation about Jesus, and they used that proclamation to bring about repentance and faith in those who heard it. But what can we say about the content of the Christian Kerygma?
Another way to ask the question is: What did the early Christians proclaim to the non-Christians about the theological significance of the historical events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection?
C.H. Dodd attempted to answer that question by filling up the content of the Christian Kerygma using early New Testament records of preaching from the Apostles Paul and Peter. On the basis of his conclusions, I insist that the ancient Christian Kerygma was comprimsed of five basic propositions (rooted in Old Testament Expectations):
1) "The Age to Come" has been inaugurated in the midst of the "Present Evil Age."
2) This has happened through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah (Christos in Greek, "anointed one").
3) Through his resurrection, this Jesus has been vindicated, exalted, and enthroned at the right hand of God the Father as "the Christ," the rightful Lord of the world.
4) The Holy Spirit is the present sign of Christ's presence and power among us.
5) The "Age to Come" will reach its consummation when Christ is revealed from heaven, at which time all the living and dead will be justly judged.
Then, on the basis of these 5 statements, an appeal is made for people to "repent, believe, and be baptized."
Therefore, I place kerygma in the list of elements that make for a sticky sermon because preachers are not merely to drone on with bare facts about what did or didn't happen. Rather, they must seek to explain the significance of the historical events surrounding Jesus in a way that can convince and convert those who are presently standing outside the community of Christian faith.
Whereas the previous element -"Challenge" - was posed to "insiders," the kerygma is the directed toward "outsiders." It must be noted, though, that this is only one element of a sticky sermon. Despite the tendencies of some pastors/churches/denominations, we must remember that this is NOT the main element or the only element of the sermon. But also, despite the tendencies of other pastors/churches/denominations, we must remember that it is an element nonetheless.
Two Possible Objections (if you have another one, leave it in the "Comments" section below):
1) Isn't that intolerant?
My Response: No. I'm approaching the sermon and the kerygma element within it as being given at a particular time in a particular setting, which is decidedly NOT on a street corner - or anywhere else - to disinterested passersby.
Further, when people who are not Christians show up in the midst of Christians who are gathered for worship, they are not expecting a music concert, a tailgate party, a coffeehouse conversation (though some sort of planned interaction is certainly a good thing), or anything else of the sort. And if they are expecting those types of experiences, they won't be around for long because neither the church's purpose nor its budget can sustain such things for very long.
Instead, they show up at a Christian church because they want to know about the God whom Christians worship as the one true God. The Christian Kerygma meets people where they are, speaks in terms they understand, and allows them to walk away in unrepentant unbelief if they so desire. That is not intolerant.
2) Must the Christian Kerygma be so specific?
My Response: Yes. In a time in which many Americans - including churchgoing Americans - have embraced Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, it matters that we are clear on the content of what we, as Christians, believe transpired theologically in the historical events surrounding Jesus and the difference it makes for us today.
If we fail to do so, we will unwittingly present a watered-down gospel that leaves everything "as-is." William Willimon, a United Methodist Bishop in Alabama, points this out. In his book, The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything, he insists, "As Christians, as the church, we have demanded so little....We have transformed the faith into an insipid souffle' with all air and no nourishment, a sweet placebo which cures nothing because it challenges no one....This dull, domesticated, impotent version of the faith is a heresy which mocks the Christianity for which people once bled" (p. 59).
Sticky Sermons: Evolution of "The Stickiness Factor"
Elements of a STICKY Sermon - Scripture
Elements of a STICKY Sermon - Tension
Elements of a STICKY Sermon - Interaction
Elements of a STICKY Sermon - Challenge