Privilege the Text: A Theological Hermeneutic for Preaching by Abraham Kuruvilla
This book was Preaching Magazine’s Book of the Year for 2013 and has some significant endorsers. Its four chapters span 336 pages, with essentially one (maybe two) “worked example” of Kuruvilla’s proposed approach to handling Old Testament narrative. Let me begin with an overview of the chapters today, before highlighting some strengths and weaknesses tomorrow.
Chapter 1 introduces the field of hermeneutics. Abraham Kuruvilla (herein AK) points the reader beyond simply pursuing the meaning of a text, to recognizing that with a “classic” text, there will be a timeless quality wherein the author “does” something with the text. Specifically, and this will always be true of the Bible, the author is projecting a “world before the text” – a moral ideal that people in vastly different cultures and epochs can still access as the text is preached effectively, leading to life transformation. AK finishes the chapter with six rules of reading, the last of which is the rule of centrality, which focuses interpretation of texts on the person of Christ.
Chapter 2 focuses on what AK labels “pericopal theology” – that is, pursuing the theology of each pericope, or preaching unit of text. AK suggests that most contemporary expository preaching actually neglects the preaching text in favour of offering a broad systematic or biblical theological presentation of truth. (He is clear that both systematic and biblical theologies are important as guardrails for interpretation.) Instead, he is advocating that we Privilege the Text by pursuing the “pericopal theology” of each text, applying that to listeners so that they can align their lives with the “precepts, priorities, and practices of God’s ideal world,” what AK refers to as the “divine demand” present in every pericope.
Chapter 3 pursues the issue of “divine demand” and the place of obedience. AK begins by showing that Dispensational, Reformed, Lutheran and New Perspective on Paul theologians all restrict the applicability of Old Testament Law today, but he is advocating that all law is applicable always – by means of the theological sense of each text. AK states that OT Laws “are not criteria for salvation, but are guidelines for sanctification.” (P153) God’s gracious provision through the Son and enabling operation of the Spirit mean that this is not merit-seeking legalism, but rather the “obedience of faith” that is the Christian responsibility in our pursuit of being holy like God. Relationship precedes, but does not preclude, responsibility.
Chapter 4 picks up the question that becomes obvious by the end of chapter 3 –With repeated emphasis on the believer’s filial responsibility to obey (divine demand), how can the “rule of centrality” be brought to bear – i.e. how do we preach Christ? AK begins with an extended exegesis of Genesis 22. His intent is to show that the Bible as a whole projects “an image of Christ, with each pericope portraying a facet of this image: what it means to be Christlike.” (p212) Abraham’s faithful obedience augmented God’s previous promise and became incorporated into it. For AK, this exegesis demonstrates that Christ does not need to be superimposed onto the text based on later revelation, but instead a facet of Christ’s character is seen in the text. AK looks at the Redemptive-Historical or Christocentric approach to preaching, evaluating and critiquing the arguments put forward, as well as surveying the biblical passages used to support the approach (bizarrely, he does not survey John 5 here). The alternative? Christiconic Preaching. This is where facets of the image of Christ are presented through the theological sense of any pericope, thereby giving listeners the opportunity to align themselves with God’s divine demand that we be holy as He is holy, that is, that we be increasingly conformed to the image of Christ.
Tomorrow I will offer a review by way of some reflections on this book.