I’ve recently been reading student responses to Fee and Stuart’s book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. This is a rare book, a hermeneutics book that has sold massive numbers. If you haven’t read it, you probably should. That doesn’t mean it is perfect though, there may be much in it that you might quibble with (it may be the willingness to take positions on issues that makes the book such a bestseller). One point that struck me as I looked at it again is the unfortunate decision to define hermeneutics as the follow on step after exegesis. I know I’m not the only one that doesn’t see these terms as sequential steps in a process. (They even acknowledge this is not the normal use of the term.)
I would agree with their definition of exegesis as “the careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning.” But surely the following step, thinking about the significance and potential impact of the passage in contemporary terms should be called application? And hermeneutics? Well, that refers to the guidelines that enable both exegesis and application to be done effectively.
This is especially important for preachers (and then, by extension, to all believers). As I wrote on here some years ago:
The difference between a true expository sermon and an interesting biblical lecture is often the speaker’s awareness of sermonic purpose. As Bryan Chappell wrote (Christ-Centered Preaching, p52) “Without the ‘so what?’ we preach to a ‘who cares?’” In his own way Haddon Robinson has put it like this, “Preaching can be like delivering a baby, or like delivering a missile – in one your goal is to just get it out, but in the other your goal is to hit the target!”
Perhaps the problem goes deeper though. While it is true that we must think through the purpose for a sermon before preaching it, there seems to be an issue at an earlier stage in the process. Are we saying that it is possible to study a passage, but not follow through and consider its application? Hermeneutical purists argue about whether application is a part of the hermeneutical process.Yet as preachers our concern is not academic wrangling, but bringing the Word of God into the lives of His people, by the power of His Spirit, to see His purposes worked out. May we never fall into the trap of studying a passage, determining the author’s intended meaning, but failing to consider the contemporary application of that passage in our own lives.
Perhaps a lack of application in the pulpit is the fruit of a lack of application in personal study. The implications are frightening.