Preaching from the Historical Books

Paul, I’m sorry for posting on top of you…didn’t realize until it was too late. Everyone, please read the great quote that Paul gives below.

In chapter 3 of Preaching the Old Testament, Carol M. Kaminski, Assistant Professor of OT at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, gives some basic thoughts on preaching from the historical books, which would include Joshua through Kings in the Hebrew Bible as well as Ruth, Ezra/Nehemiah, and Chronicles in our English versions. From her perspective, these books should be preached from a theological and historical perspective, over against personalizing, moralizing, and/or allegorizing them. Let’s take these one at a time…

First, I could not agree with Kaminski more when she states that “these books are not simply narrating history—they are telling a theological story that is communicated through narrative” (59). Thus, our sermons should not simply be recounting historical events within an outline designed to bring moral principles to our 21st-century audience. I have in mind here the multiple series of sermons I have heard throughout my life about leadership and building the walls from Nehemiah, not to mention abuses of such stories as David and Goliath. In light of such abuses, Kaminski is right to call for preaching that is careful to place the narrative within the “redemptive story” of the Bible.

As a helpful example of this, Kaminski uses the story of Jericho, of which she correctly surmises that the intent of the story is not that God has promised that the “walls” of our life will fall down. As she points out, to preach the story that way could possibly give false hope to those who hear it: What happens if their “walls” don’t fall down? Are they not having enough faith? She rightly concludes:

While the story of Jericho clearly underscores the importance of faith, it is ultimately a story about God and his faithfulness. We can affirm that the God who was faithful to Joshua . . . is our God. (61)

Her points here and in this section of the chapter are well-taken. We who preach these books must place them within the theological context of the Bible. I would add to her comments only the following.

It is true that we must keep in mind the overarching promises and theological foci of the OT (and perhaps NT) while preparing and preaching these books, but I believe we must also give due diligence to the theological themes developed by the author(s) of the individual books. That is, these texts, written by authors, have particular purposes for which they were written. Thus, we must also ask the question, In what way has the author of this text conveyed the theological point he wants me, the reader, to understand? The way we answer this question is to observe carefully how the book(s) as a whole has been written (or composed) and then to ask how the story at hand fits into the author’s purpose. In other words, I believe that the historical books should be preached compositionally. This will arise again in this series, so I will make further comments on this later.

Second, Kaminski believes that the recent trend of reading the Bible as story has taken away from the priority of historical concerns and that preaching these books entails researching and implementing historical details inherent to the text. Her focus here is that these books contain stories that are only understood and must be preaching “in the ancient world of the Old Testament” (69).

This is an area of study that I happen to disagree with Kaminski, and I would like to make a more detailed post of what I have learned in this area at a later time. Suffice it to say, the relationship between text and event (or text and history) is far less simple than what Kaminski explains. I believe that preaching the text of the historical books means just that, preaching the text. The basis for my view on this, which again I hope to flesh out at a later time, is that it is the text that is inspired, not some historical recreation of the events described in the text.

With that said, I would conclude by saying that Kaminski’s chapter is very helpful, if for nothing more than reminding us that the historical books make theological statements. They do not simply give a historical record of what happened in a culture far removed from ours.

Narrative is next…

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Randy: The last person to post on top of Paul was a guy named Rich Ryan, and nobody’s heard of him since. I believe that was two years ago.

  2. […] Thoughts has a good post reflecting on a chapter in Preaching from the Old Testament. This has a lot to do with preaching in […]

  3. Matt: There are unconfirmed reports that there was a sighting of him this year at ETS.

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