Last time we looked at the preacher as a video painter, particularly when preaching biblical narratives. Let’s add another metaphor that will not become a classic, but may be helpful for now:
A Gallery Guide – When you are preaching biblical poetry it may be helpful to think of yourself as a guide in an art gallery. You might be thinking that you don’t enjoy art galleries so perhaps you should skip this point, but hang in there. Poetry is powerful. Through stirring imagery and crafted structure, listeners are moved in a way that prose could never achieve. When biblical poetry does its work, it can really work in the heart and mind of a listener. So what is the preacher to do? Are we supposed to strip out those poetic features and coldly present the results of our analysis of an ancient poem? Or are we supposed to preach that poem in words that help the listeners to appreciate the depth of feeling and thought that was stirring in the artist’s heart and life as he wrote the poem? A good preacher of poetry does for listeners what a gallery guide might do for me: lead me beyond first impressions, cause me to slow down and start to feel with the artist as he or she begins to plumb the depths of the piece before me. When the preacher does that, he allows the text to do what the text was inspired and designed to do. There is more to preaching poetry than that, but there shouldn’t be less.
Next time we will add one more metaphor. Feel free to make up your own in the comments … I might even develop it as a post (giving you credit, of course).
Daniel Goepfrich wrote a substantial interaction with this blog over on his site – here – this post is specifically addressing the examples of poetry and prophets given in paragraphs 10 & 11.
Regarding Poetry, again I don’t insist that we preach through a book – that is not what I teach (thanks for correcting your post on that). However, it would be a shame to miss the importance of written context for any biblical passage. Proverbs seems to be the most randomly organized, until you read Bruce Waltke or someone like that and start to see the structuring of apparently random collections of proverbs. Whether or not that can or should be communicated in preaching is another issue. Ecclesiastes and Job are not random collections. Psalms, I would suggest, is not as random as our contemporary hymn books (ordered alphabetically). It contains collections, and increasingly scholars are recognizing structure and ordering throughout the collection. My Hebrew prof did his OT PhD on the evidence of structure and order in Psalms 107-118. His mentor, Gerald Wilson, has demonstrated that Psalms is anything but a mere hymn book. Again, it would be a shame to have a superficial view of this part of the canon and miss some of the richness contained in the structure and sequencing of the book. That does not require preaching straight through, but it does urge us to have a real awareness of the literary context in our studies.
You mention prophets, and likewise, I agree that we don’t have to preach straight through. Again, though, I suggest that even if two oracles were given at different times, or in a different order, the way they are in the Bible now is the inspired text. Our task is neither to dismiss ordering of texts and treat them as random collections, nor is it to “reconstruct” an original and better order. Our task, in part, is to understand the inspired text as it stands. Whether you preach straight through or not is up to you – I do both. However, I would suggest that not studying a passage in context will seriously undermine your ability to understand the text (and why should you study in context if it’s just random?)
My final segment of response will come tomorrow. Thanks.
Yesterday we looked at just some of the challenges that come with preaching epistles, gospels and historical narrative. Now for the other four genre. Which do you find the hardest?
Poetry – Psalms and songs are readily leaned on in times of personal trial, but preaching them well is not so easy. The imagery is sometimes alien to us. The forms and structures are unfamiliar. The genre taps into the affections and emotions in a way that can be difficult to communicate. The temptation to dissect and turn the passage into an epistle is very real. As is true with every passage, but especially here, the passage does not give a complete theology of . . . whatever it’s about.
Wisdom – The Hebraic parallelism and other forms of wisdom literature are especially foreign to our ears. The wisdom literature often sits in the context of a covenant system that applied uniquely to Israel in relationship to God, so application can be treacherous territory if we’re not careful. The brevity of statement provides a different challenge than an extended narrative.
Prophecy – Written by a certain kind of person, to a certain people, at a certain time . . . none of which is the same today. It can be really challenging to enter into the historical context of the prophet, and also to enter fully into the written context of the book (where the start and end of each burden/oracle is often hard to discern). While the prophets reveal the heart and plans of God very boldly, there is plenty in form and content that appears obscure to contemporary ears and sensibilities.
Apocalyptic – Biblical apocalyptic is a genre that is challenging to contemporary interpreters. Many seem so quick to dismiss the content by reference to the genre that all meaning is apparently stripped from the texts. Then there is the conflict in the commentaries and even disputes in the pews over issues of eschatology that can quickly zap any zeal to announce an apocalyptic preaching text. As with prophecy, the challenges are there in terms of interpreting in context, and in applying to contemporary listeners.
Personally I would list the hardest for me as: 1 – historical narrative (Old Testament), 2 – wisdom, and 3 – apocalyptic (because of the potential problems from the pew, more than the interpretation of it). What about you? Let’s make sure we’re not avoiding some genre and growing complacent with others.