Friday, January 25, 2008

Book Review of Toward an Exegetical Theology

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Toward and Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981. pp. 7-247.

Walter Kaiser has contributed an excellent volume on the topic of exegetical method with a particular view to the accurate and powerful preaching and teaching of the ancient Scriptures to a modern audience. He begins by mourning “the gap that exists between the study of the biblical text…and the actual delivery of the messages to God’s people” (p. 8). The clearest statement of his thesis seems to be found on the fourth to last page of the book where he says, “What we have been attempting to answer in this book will continue to be the most difficult aspect of exegetical theology; that is, how can the ancient Scriptures continue to be the living voice of God for the present time?” (p. 244). Kaiser has certainly made significant headway in this task, while bemoaning the fact that seminaries have not.

His work is divided into four major sections, the bulk of which (97 pp.) makes up the second section where Kaiser lays out his own approach to what he calls the “syntactical-theological” method.

The book is encumbered with a relatively slow start about the history of hermeneutics. This treatment contains just enough information for an injudicious reader to learn enough names and ideas to sound informed without actually being able to intelligently discuss the various views if this is their only exposure to the issues. In addition, Kaiser disappointingly gives only brief and, in this author’s opinion, unclear definitions of the various types of criticism such as form, tradition, and redaction criticism. The roles these various approaches play in modern Old Testament studies render them deserving of more discussion. Certainly in a book of this length, it would be impossible to say much, but it certainly seems possible to have said more than what was said, or at least say it in a manner that was more clear.

The second (and longest) section quickly picks up steam. Kaiser rightly defends the hermeneutical model of single meaning based on authorial intention, and shows the logical bind that its detractors have worked themselves into (p. 113). The section includes substantive and helpful discussions on determining the four different types of context, understanding the issues of single meaning and authorial intent, and the “analogy of (antecedent) faith.” His book seems geared towards chapter seven where he discusses the homiletical process, and the principlization by which the exegetical outline (what the text says) is turned into a homiletical outline (what the text says to today’s audience). In an overall excellent work, this chapter on homiletical analysis is the crowning point.

Kaiser’s graphical displays of textual analysis (chapter 8) are extremely helpful, though the lack of explanation about how the chart should be read (and constructed) could improve it. Three chapters on preaching prophecy (9), historical narrative (10), and poetry (11) are helpful as the principles of the preceding chapters are fleshed out in more practical and directed ways toward particular genres. Kaiser closes his book with an excellent chapter on the power of God in preaching, a chapter that should be very thoughtfully and carefully read with great consideration for the truth of 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5.

No comments: