I’ve been doing some reading lately in the area of preaching OT narrative. This was prompted by my own pulpit ministry, as I am currently preaching an expositional series on the life of Joseph (Genesis 37-50). Handling the OT is, of course, very challenging to the expositor, but the narrative portions of the OT present the preacher with any number of difficulties. Sadly, many fail to clear these hurdles skillfully, opting instead to use the text as a platform for pontificating on some (unrelated?) moral theme or psychoanalyzing the main character for the benefit of propping up a model—whether positive or negative—for the listener’s consideration.
Thankfully, in breaking from that pattern, Daniel I. Block has penned a very helpful chapter in Giving the Sense, encouraging the expositor to reconsider his approach to preaching OT narrative texts. Block, in “Tell Me the Old, Old Story: Preaching the Message of Old Testament Narrative,” offers great insights into all of the considerations that must be engaged before one is ready to preach in a manner that is faithful to the author’s intended meaning. But before getting to his suggestions, Block warns against the primary pitfall facing preachers, missing the true meaning of the passage by approaching the text with a “homiletical hermeneutic.” Here’s how he defines his term:
By “homiletical hermeneutic” I mean an approach to the biblical text that is driven by the need to preach a sermon from the text, rather than a thirst for understanding its message in its original context (411).
He goes on to suggest six characteristics that evidence the employment of a “homiletical hermeneutic”:
- Focusing on too short a portion of text so as to obscure the overall storyline of the narrative.
- In the interest of time and efficiency, inadequately “wrestling” with a particular narrative text, choosing instead to quickly identify some “preaching points” before really uncovering the text’s meaning.
- Honing in on the text’s relevance for today’s hearer without thinking through its meaning as intended by its author.
- Superimposing Western ideas of sermonic structure on the narrative text as an interpretive grid, instead of considering how the particulars of the genre in which the text is recorded inform one’s interpretation.
- Paying too much attention to secondary literature (read: commentaries) relating to the text, rather than prolonged consideration of the text itself.
- An over-emphasis on “rhetorical novelty and homiletical memorability” (412).
So, how “homiletical” is your hermeneutic?
As I mentioned here before, I’m reading through Eugene Merrill’s new OT theology entitled Everlasting Dominion. There’s simply too many nuggets to share here but I thought his insight on the status of OT theology was excellent (i.e. why write another OT theology?). In regards to the standard OT theologies that are out there he notes:
Until the publication of Walter Kaiser’s work in 1978, the field of Old Testament theology had been dominated for the previous century largely by scholarship that held to either a totally dismissive view of Scripture as the inspired and authoritative Word of God or, at best, a position of moderate criticism that acknowledged the Bible’s revelatory character in some respects while adhering to a historical-critical methodology that vitiated the Old Testament of any “face value,” genuine historicity or integrity of attributed authorship and unity (19).
The newer works on OT theology do not fair much better in his estimation since their character “lacks structure, direction, and coherence and in the final analysis yields little understanding of the totality of biblical teaching, and understanding that must be gained largely by the comparison and integration of texts to texts. In other words, biblical theology must be synthesized and systematized (31). I think he’s right on both accounts which is why so far I have enjoyed his synthesis of that 75% portion of the text that is often ignored.
In other news, I took a challenge from a friend who drinks often from the well of the “cool” and I’m reading Mark Driscoll’s Confessions of a Reformission Rev. Let me just say that I don’t by the postmodern notion that one must read everything to respond to everything though familiarity with ideas never hurts. So far, I don’t get the fascination that so many pastors my age have with Driscoll. I am totally sure he is a cool guy and dresses far better than I do. I’m sure his city of Seattle is where it’s at but I am still not convinced that he has made a unique contribution to ecclessiology that has not been done in some way by someone before him in the last 2,000 years (note to Driscoll supporters: start gathering stones now for my stoning). If you think I’m arguing against the overused and over-hyped word “contextualization” then you’re wrong. I agree with Mark Dever who said the other day that we must be clear but that should never remove offense to the message. I am thankful that Driscoll has realized that men like Mclaren are wolves who would sell-out every doctrine in Scripture if it meant visualizing world-kingdom-justice or whatever the “community” lingo is at the time. All I’m saying is that his book says essentially the same thing as Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church yet written in the style of Blue Like Jazz (yes I read both of those too). I’ll let you know if I have any other life-changing insights.
I will be back in Russia in a couple of weeks teaching theology. I’ve taught the class before so this time I’m trying to incorporate newer insights on theology from some more recent works. I really like Culver’s new systematic theology and it’s one of the few that I could give to someone with few caveats. I’m also reading John Frame’s Salvation Belongs to the Lord which is based on some lectures he gave and serves as an introduction to systematic theology. It is typical Federal/Reformed theology which is not anything new (and not my thing) but his fresh thinking on some aspects of theology proper have been excellent. I thought this was good in light of my reading of Spencer Burke’s teachings on the arts in society (a movement away from Francis Schaffer’s clearer explanation): “Some theologians speak as though when God becomes immanent he becomes immersed in the world, hidden in the world, so that he cannot be distinguished from creaturely reality. But that is not biblical. God is always distinct from the world, for he is the Creator and we are the creature” (13).
My lame recommendations of the day are to listen to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion and visit Levenger which is having it’s Pentathalon pen sale.
Here in the Gulf region things are looking uncertain with the current hurricane situation. Two of our contributors are closer to the action and would appreciate your prayers. We will keep you posted.
A few days ago we cited an article by former pastor Spencer Burke in a post entitled “Preaching is just another product”. Spencer has responded with a comment which in fairness I would like to post here. He writes:
It is my love of teaching and the church that inspired me to write the words in the above quoted article. My desire is not to destroy teaching or the church but instead honor the gift and the Word by using all opportunities to communicate Grace and Truth. AND empower the Church to see its role far beyond the weekly event.
It is my hope that he will join us as we continue to discuss his provocative writings and ideas. Most of us believe he has some more explaining to do and as a self-proclaimed postmodern who desires “conversation” we hope to provide him with our share in the spirit of Christian charity and commitment to the Word. If you wish to comment on the article in question please keep it civil and on topic (leave comments at this post).
The much anticipated book, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament by Eugene Merrill was delivered to my desk this morning by the U.S. Postocracy. I have been waiting for this for a long time as I am a fan of Merrill’s scholarship and writing. I have been thumbing around in it since it came and my eye caught a quote from his conclusion which is classic Merrill. It concerns the issue of the Christian use of the OT. In my opinion THIS is the million dollar hermeneutical question. All the postmoderns in Seattle and Portland will never get to the bottom of this one. Personally, I am unsatisfied with most of what I read on this issue. There are those who simply ignore the problem by ignoring the OT which is not an option for one who believes ALL of God’s Word is inspired (especially the over 75% that is the OT). Then there are those who “read the OT in light of the NT” which is an idea also stacked with problems but few are willing to admit this. I think Goldsworthy, Griedanus and others have made excellent attempts at this problem as it impacts preaching but at the end of the day, I feel that many of their conclusions seem forced. For those somewhere in or between either view, Merrill’s perspective is a helpful start:
The New Testament presupposes the Old at every point, so much so that one can say that the New Testament is largely meaningless apart from its Old Testament orientation. The life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus as well as apostolic preaching and pronouncements betray on every hand their indebtedness to the Old Testament which, after all, was their only Bible. It is as though one should begin reading any book three-quarters of the way through it and claim to have full understanding of its message and meaning. So it is with the Bible. The Christian who shuts himself up to the New Testament alone and who has no interest in or concern for the theology of the Old is hardly in step with Jesus on the road to Emmaus who,’beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,. . . interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures’ (Luke 24:27).”
The summer edition of Leadership journal (Vol. XXVII, Number 3) has a few provocative articles on preaching (IMO: more revealing than informative). A few comments that caught my attention were from Spencer Burke, creator of theOOZE.com. The comments come from an article he penned called “Banker’s Hours: Why I withdrew from the church’s ‘come to our tellers’ approach”. The gist of his argument can be seen in the following:
Right now churches are focusing on one product to the exclusion of others. Most often, it’s teaching, a 60- to 90-minute event held at a particular time, at a particular physical address. It’s basically the same product we’ve been selling since the Reformation. People sit in a room and listen to someone talk.
But here’s the thing: back then, it made sense for people to travel miles to hear someone talk about God. After all, people were mostly illiterate, Bibles were expensive, and Sunday morning was often the only time people could expand their horizons. Teaching was a rare commodity.
That’s no longer true today. Teaching is available everywhere–on television, radio, on-line. The local church no longer has the corner on the market.
….Just as the Reformation unchained the Bible from the pulpit, we need to unchain teaching from the Sunday morning event. We need to see teaching not as our core product, but as one part of a line of products that also includes community, service, and worship.”
So what do you think?
My friend Scott Maxwell did me a great favor when he put into my hands the little gem entitled Words to Winners of Souls by Horatius Bonar. Following is what’s floating around in my head today:
A man may be free from all scandal either in creed or conduct, and yet may be a most grievious obstruction in the way of all spiritual good to his people. He may be a dry and empty cistern, not withstanding his orthodoxy. He may be freezing or blasting life at the very time he is speaking of the way of life. He may be repelling men from the cross even when he is in words proclaiming it. He may be standing between his flock and the blessing even when he is, in outward form, lifting up hands to bless them. The same words that from warm lips would drop as the rain, or distill as the dew, fall from his lips as the snow or hail, chilling all spiritual warmth and blighting all spiritual life. How many souls have been lost for want of earnestness, want of solemnity, want of love in the preacher, even when the words uttered were precious and true!(pg. 4).
Phil Johnson has reminded us of a rare glimpse into the life of Spurgeon from a pastoral perspective. It comes from the pen of a 19th Century American Presbyterian pastor, Theodore Ledyard Cuyler. The New York pastor was also well known on these shores as his preaching played a large role in the 1858 “prayer revival” that started in New York City and spread throughout the U.S. It is unusal that Iain Murray doesn’t make mention of Cuyler in his otherwise excellent treatment of the 1858 revival in chapter 13 of Revival and Revivalism (nevertheless it’s a great chapter and worth your reading). The excerpt that Phil provides is from Cuyler’s rare autobiography which is one of the few places that offer anything about this pastor’s life (I’m glad to know the entire text is available on-line). Probably of interest to preachers is this little note from Cuyler about Spurgeon’s use of preaching notes:
The most interesting object in the library was a small file of his sermon notes, each one on a half sheet of note paper, or on the back of an ordinary letter envelope. When I asked him if he “wrote his sermons out,” his answer was: “I would rather be hung.” His usual method was to select the text of his Sunday morning sermon on Saturday about six or seven o’clock, and spend half an hour in arranging a skeleton and put it on paper; he left all the phraseology until he reached the pulpit.
See the full article here.
Expository thoughts “grandfather-in-residence” (Jerry Wragg) has responded with a few more thoughts on the subject of application and preaching that should prove helpful. He writes:
Here’s my process… I first finish my exegesis work and interpretation of the text (ie, what it says and what it meant in its original context). Then, I develop and write out the spiritual implications for those for whom the original text was intended. This involves thinking through the main point and arguments as to how they confronted unbiblical thinking, unholy motivations, and idolatry for those in the ancient context—in other words, inner man transformation. These are the most crucial “implications” of a passage. Then, I note which implications can be bridged to us (a difficult discipline, but determined by bridging contextual, cultural, historical, theological, and geographical gaps wherever they naturally parallel). Then, I meditate upon and develop these “timeless” implications along contemporary lines. Then, I weave these into the sermon throughout, letting the weight and conviction of such truth fall upon human hearts in the grace of the Holy Spirit. If I find that I’ve been able to change some practical behavior in my life as the outworking of these new convictions, I may offer the same changes as perhaps an effective “test”, “manifestation”, “outcome” of true inner life transformation. I do not typically give a practical list of “things to do” as an application of biblical principles. I would much rather allow the implications to sink in, suggesting some very general and obvious life alterations to move people toward righteousness. Honestly, in my experience (10 years of ministry alongside John MacArthur at Grace Community Church), once the implications are truly preached with passion…most people already know several practical ways they need to manifest on the outside the new convictions being forged on the inside.
No not that Bishop but another one. I have enjoyed a fond affection for the former ministry and life of John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) for some time. In fact this blog is named after his printed series on the Gospels, “Expository Thoughts.” One of the few faithful biographies on his life is by Eric Russell That Man of Granite with the Heart of A Child. However, if reading another book is not on your “to-do” list then I would suggest reading his own brief account of his conversion (here).