Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Quotable on Great Sermons

“Great sermons are not prepared. At least they do not become great by preparation. They are great because they issue from a preacher whose littleness has dissolved in the immensity of God; from such a life nothing that is little or without consequence can spring forth. … Great sermons are not born in illustration books but in the needy lives of preachers. Here, where the preacher’s inwardness is fashioned by yearning and desperation, is the womb of important preaching.”

Miller, Marketplace Preaching (1995), 9–10

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Word for Disheartened Pastors

“You can mark it down that if you are a preacher God will hide from you much of the fruit he causes in your ministry. You will see enough to be assured of his blessing, but not so much as to think you could live without it. For God aims to exalt himself, not the preacher.”

Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (1990), 19

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Hirsch, Meaning, and Hermeneutics – Part 3

In two previous posts (part 1 and part 2), I have proposed that the traditional two-fold structure of meaning and significance, be made made a three-fold structure of meaning, implication, and significance.* (Hirsch included implication in meaning as do many, but a new book by Robert H. Stein reviewed here apparently makes this same three-fold distinction that I have offered.)

In a nutshell, meaning is what the human author intended to communicate. Implications are those things which are inherently connected with the author’s intention, but outside of his conscious thought and intention. Significance is the application of meaning and implication to any situation to which it might relate.

So here’s why I think this matters.

In Hirsch’s two-fold division, you end up with human authors “meaning” things that they have no knowledge of, much less intention of. In other words, an author “speaks better than he knows;” he has an unintentional intention. The passage’s meaning is then no longer subject to exegesis based on intent, since the meaning cannot be drawn out from the words the author used to communicate his intended message. If it’s in the words, it is separate from the author’s intent in context, in which case normal exegesis cannot draw it out, and which opens a rather large barn door to a text meaning anything at all (since the author’s intent is no longer controlling; future implications are of the reader’s world, not the author’s). The historical part of literal-grammatical-historical interpretation has reduced significance (no pun intended).

This problem has been answered in a number of ways, primarily some form of sensus plenior, the idea that there is a “deeper meaning, intended by God but not clearly intended by the human author, that is seen to exist in the words of Scripture when they are studied in the light of further revelation or of development in the understanding of revelation.”[1]

While there are a number of problems with sensus plenior, but a major one is that it removes the possibility of exegesis of a text to arrive at the complete meaning, because the meaning is no longer in the words as the author used them to communicate to his readers. The fuller meaning is found in later words by different authors in different historical contexts, which which the original readers would not have had, and could not have known. Typically, this fuller meaning is found in the canonical context, which means the whole text of Scripture.

This is where the category of implication is helpful. It allows for there to be truth in a text that is not part of meaning. These implications are seen in later revelation, but they are not what the author meant his original readers to understand and respond to (which is what meaning must be connected to: what did the original author intend his original readers to understand, believe, or do in their lives at that time as a result of this text, including antecedent revelation).

Simply put, this means that God, the divine author (who knows all implications exhaustively) inspires the human author (who knows much less) to write a particular message to a particular audience. The human author then writes with a particular goal of informing or persuading his readers based on a truth that he is communicating. By intending something, he is not intending other things, and he is intending to not communicate still others things.

The divine author, aware of all the truth inherent in a given message (implications), also knows the full canonical context prior to the writing of the entire canon. He knows how the text lays a foundation for later revelation. In other words he knows what the implications are because he (and he alone) knows how those words will be used in generations to come.

So acknowledging a category of implication—those things which God knows and which the human author is not consciously intending—protects the integrity of the text and the author from “speaking better than he knew.” It also protects the later understanding of the text by showing how something can have truth that is ‘hidden.’ It also means that the human author and divine author can have the same meaning.

With this three-fold distinction, we can actually exegete the passages based on the traditional literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic. This takes into account what the original author intended his original readers to understand, based on the language and syntax he used at the time of writing. We can focus on what it says, rather than what else it might say.

Having done the exegetical work, we can then turn to the canonical context to see what implications this passage might contain that later come to fuller flower. We can also speak of how the truth of the text lays a foundation for later revelation in the canon of Scripture yet to be revealed, or how the text might be typological or analogical. These implications can then be preached as eternal truth because of the canonical context.

Having then done the exegetical and canonical, or biblical-theological work, we can turn to the homiletical work of application, of presenting the “world in front of the text” that the listener should inhabit having listened to the text (cf. Kuruvilla, Text to Praxis, esp. 24ff.)

So we can preach what the text meant in its original context. We can preach how the truth of text lays the foundation for the work of God in subsequent history. And we can apply the the text to the hearers by using both the meaning and the implications as the ground of significance.

[1] Raymond E. Brown, “Hermeneutics,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968), p. 616.


Monday, July 08, 2013

The Pastor as a Generalist

The exegete has to find the meaning of the text and its witness to an event and for this the tool is grammatical-historical exegesis. To relate it to other events recorded into the Bible is the task of the biblical theologian and historian; to relate it to the modern Christian experience is the task of the preacher.

This is from an article by David L. Baker entitled “Typology and the Christian Use of the Old Testament” (Scottish Journal of Theology 29 (1976), 155).

Though there is much about this article not to like, this is helpful.

Good preaching (by which I mean biblical preaching that engages both the ancient text and the modern audience) must do all three things. It must engage the text itself to find it meaning, it must relate that text to the rest of the revelation of God (the canonical context and redemptive-historical context), and it must also relate both the text and its place in the canonical context to the life of the person listening.

Failure to do the first (exegesis), but only the second or third, might result in a message based on something God never said or did.

Failure to do the second (place it in its canonical and redemptive-historical context), but only the first or the third, might result in moralistic, “Be” preaching that ignores the redemption on which “Be” preaching should be based. (Remember Chapell’s comment that "Be messages are not wrong in themselves; they are wrong messages by themselves" (Christ-Centered Preaching, p. 294).

Failure to do the third (relate it to the modern Christian experience), but only the first and second,  might result in messages with lots of information, even interesting stories, that fail to be the voice of God to the individuals.

This means that the pastor has to be a generalist of sorts. He must be able to do all three, each week.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Around the Horn

At first is a great story about Buddy Ball, a special needs baseball league in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. The commissioner, who is doing all the talking is Tommy Lee Kidd, who is my wife’s cousin’s husband. And Abigail, who shows up in the middle of the video is Tommy Lee and Lesa’s daughter.

At second is an article entitled How to Preach Like D. A. Carson Without Sounding Like Him. Some helpful reminders on the task of preaching.

At third, Trueman has done it again with an incredibly insensitive piece about reality. Some people never learn.

Last, here’s a disturbing video about Drugs in Detroit. The sadness and emptiness of leading these kinds of lives should shock the system. It’s about forty-five minutes long, but it’s a good way to get some insight into a world that most of my readers probably know little about.

Monday, July 01, 2013

A Word on Video Preaching

While I am here, a good word on video preaching.

Preachers and churches buy easily into the concept of personality-driven ministry. Many evangelicals have, perhaps unknowingly, embraced the rise of the self and combined it with consumerism, resulting in a parade of powerful personalities of every theological persuasion who set the tone for church ministry, hawking their books and sermon series [and I add preaching DVDs]. Their offerings replace the need for the local pastor to assess prayerfully and thoughtfully his or her life and the life of the congregation and then preaching his or her flock to maturity. God has called you to love and nurture the people where you are, and he wants you to do it! The danger of buying into the hype of personality-driven ministry is that pastors can bypass their responsibility of determining what their congregation really needs. …

Haddon Robinson wisely observes, “Today many more ‘kings’ rule the homiletical landscape. Media preachers are some of the most gifted, and they enjoy extra advantages like researchers, audio and video engineers, and freedom from the drain of everyday pastoring.”[ 93] The truth is, the communication kings don’t know your church. You do. People may be impressed with this celebrated personality or that evangelical icon, but the evangelical luminary doesn’t have a clue about your church, what they need, and what God wants you to communicate to them as they move toward maturity in Christ. And that’s good!

Gibson, Scott M. (2012-03-01). Preaching with a Plan: Sermon Strategies for Growing Mature Believers (pp. 61-62).

Haddon Robinson’s quote is from Haddon W. Robinson, “Competing with the Communication Kings,” in Making a Difference in Preaching, ed. Scott M. Gibson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 109.

A Word from the Spirit

In one of the synods of the Evangelical Church in Germany a young minister testified that he never prepared his sermons, but trusted the Spirit to put the right words into his mouth. When the turn came for an older man to speak, he said, ‘We heard our young brother say that he did not need to prepare his sermons because the Holy Ghost would speak to him and tell him what to say. As for me, the Holy Ghost never spoke to me in the pulpit. Yes, I remember, he did speak to me once. When I was going down the pulpit steps after a poor sort of sermon, the Holy Ghost spoke to me. He said only three words, and what he said was, “Heinrich, you’re lazy.”’”

Gibson, Scott M. (2012-03-01). Preaching with a Plan: Sermon Strategies for Growing Mature Believers (p. 43).