Haddon Robinson says this of preaching: “If preaching is not your center, then you will not preach. You will give all of your time, all of your energy, and all of your heart to other areas of ministry. However, if you are called by God to preach, if you burn to preach, if preaching is your center, then you will do whatever is necessary to make preaching central to your week of ministry.”
As you prepare to preach today, pray for God to work in power. As you finish your pulpit ministry today and start to prepare for another week, prayerfully consider these words. Perhaps you will find a renewed passion to make preaching central this week. If preaching is your center, then you will find yourself doing just that.
Poetry is different from narrative and it is very different from discourse. How though is our preaching of poetry different from our preaching of narrative and discourse? To answer this question, today we will consider how poetry works and functions. Then tomorrow we’ll consider some implications for preaching poetry.
How Poetry Works – Besides employing literary devices such as imagery, metaphor, allegory, simile, wordplay, irony, hyperbole, etc., the prevalent literary device in Hebrew poetry is parallelism. There are many ways to describe parallelism. One common way is to discern between four kinds of parallelism – antithetical parallelism, synonymous parallelism, synthetic parallelism, and emblematic parallelism. In antithetical parallelism, the first line of a sentence is in contrast to the second line (Ps 34:19). In synonymous parallelism, the first line of a sentence is similar to the second line (Ps 49:3). In synthetic parallelism, the second line of a sentence builds upon the idea of the first line (Ps. 49:5). In emblematic parallelism, the two parts of a sentence connect through simile or metaphor (Ps 49:20).
How Poetry Functions – Parallelism insists that the reader slow down, mull over, and consider how each sentence functions. More than that, because each sentence is laced with metaphor, allegory, simile, wordplay, irony, hyperbole, etc., poetry insists that its content be felt. Rhetorically, poetry connects affect to ideas.
Sunday morning is often an easy time to get into conflict with your spouse. Somewhere between waking up and pulling up to the church parking lot, sparks can fly.
Haddon Robinson was asked by a seminary student, “How do you preach following a blow-out with your spouse?” Haddon answered, “Everyone wants to know you struggle, they just don’t want to smell the gun smoke. You have to make things right before you preach.”
When Haddon Robinson was asked to describe preaching in two words he said, “Glorious burden.” Isn’t this the truth? Preaching is glorious. We stand before the people of God with words from God that shape and mold Christ in us. Wow, I’m so thankful to be able to preach. But as glorious as preaching is, it’s also a burden. We stand before the people of God with words from God that shape and mold Christ in us. Wow, I’m not sure I’m cut out to do this.
Preaching in two words? What do you think?
So if narratives function through plot, how does that look in 2 Samuel 11 and following? What is the rhetorical impact of the story of David and Bathsheba?
Narrative affects the reader/hearer through association or disassociation with/from the main characters. The story contains five parts. Background/Introduction: David should be at war like the other kings, but instead is in the palace lounging around on a sofa. He sees Bathsheba, lusts, fornicates, and sends her away. Inciting incident: David finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant. Rising action: David attempts to save face by bringing the noble Uriah home from war (Interesting to note that Uriah is one of David’s 30 mighty men – 2 Samuel 23:39). Uriah refuses to sleep with his wife after two attempts by David. Uriah is sent back to war with a letter sealing his own death. Uriah is killed. David receives news and comforts his commander. David marries Bathsheba and the baby is born – months go by. Climax: David is confronted by Nathan the prophet. Resolution: David repents and finds forgiveness for his sin… but forgiveness does not annul loss and pain. His son through Bathsheba dies. A son (Solomon) is promised to Bathsheba.
As this story moves along, listeners/hearers inherently associate with/from pre-Nathan David, Bathsheba, Uriah, Nathan, and post-Nathan David. The rhetorical impact is different for each person. For some there is comfort, for others there is conviction, etc. Like David, the story urges some to confess sin. Like Uriah, it encourages some to remain faithful to the Lord despite the wickedness and sin of others. Like Nathan, it urges some to confront sin in others. Like Bathsheba, it comforts the weak.
Imagine a history teacher that teaches history like it is fiction. Imagine a poetry teacher that teaches poetry like it is math. To do this would be absurd. History is not fiction and poetry is not math. Each subject functions differently. History functions through names, dates, and other facts whereas fiction functions through plot. Poetry functions through imagery, meter, and rhyme whereas math functions through logic, rules, and order. Principle: to appropriately teach these subjects the teacher must let each subject speak.
This principle applies to homiletics. Different genres fill the pages of Scripture. In the Lord’s sovereignty, he chose to use narrative, prophecy, gospel, epistle, apocalyptic, etc. to communicate specific truths. If we use the same sermon form without considering the genre then we mash unique kinds of literature into foreign forms. As preachers, we must allow Biblical genres to speak and even form our sermons.
In following posts over the next few weeks, I will attempt to accomplish two things. First, I will highlight how different Biblical genres function. Second, I will highlight the distinct rhetorical impact different Biblical genres intend.