Rigor and Response

hardwork2Last week I had the opportunity to interview John Piper.  At one point we were talking about the preacher’s emotional response to the text.  I appreciated John Piper’s perspective on this.

Gordon Fee, as well as others, have pointed out that we don’t want the people in our churches having devotional engagement with the Bible that is not exegetically on target.  And that our people don’t need preachers who are exegetical without being devotional as they study the Bible.  All true biblical interpretation should be devotional as well as exegetical.

But John Piper’s perspective was helpful to me.  Absolutely, the preacher should have their heart stirred in the study.  However, he said, there will be times when the exegetical rigor is not heart-stirring.  You may be wrestling with technicalities in the Greek construction of a sentence for a couple of hours.  You may be wading through technical commentaries weighing up interpretive options.  The exegetical rigor may not be heart-stirring during the process, but the fruit of it had better be heart-stirring!

Do we make sure we are not transitioning into message preparation until we are not only thinking clearly of the passage, but also feeling deeply moved by it?

We Preach Literature – Part 2

Yesterday I noted Leland Ryken’s comment that expository preaching “keeps its focus on the announced text instead of escaping from it to other material.”  Another feature of expository preaching, in his mind, is as follows:

2. “Expository preaching interacts with the chosen text in terms of the kind of writing that it is instead of immediately extracting a series of theological propositions from it.” – Again, amen.  Too much preaching treats every passage as a 2-D series of propositions, rather than appreciating and learning from the form the text is in.  The Bible writers didn’t send post-it notes to their recipients.  They thought carefully about the most effective way to form the message they wanted to communicate.  Sometimes they chose to send a discourse in the form of a letter.  Much more, they chose to write in some form of poetry.  Even more again, many chose to communicate by means of narrative forms.  Rather than focusing purely on the “what?” (content) of a text, we also need to wrestle with the “why?” (intent), both of which are influenced by the “how?” (form).  Our general hermeneutics must also take into account the special hermeneutics related to the literary form of the text we are preaching.

Notice that Ryken resists “immediately extracting a series of theological propositions” from a text.  This does not mean that literary analysis should lead to proposition-less, truth-free or vague-subjective comments about a Bible text.  Different forms of writing allow a writer to communicate something more effectively, but the writer was still communicating something.  To put it in simple terms, any Bible text is “someone saying something about something in some way to someone” (thanks to Gordon Fee for this insightful sentence!)  The “in some way” is critical and literary analysis recognizes the influence of that in order to grasp the “saying something about something” – which in other terms is the main idea of the passage.  The problem is not with finding the proposition of a passage, but “immediately” (rushing to that rather than really understanding the passage and its form), rushing to “theological propositions” (treating the Bible as a collection of proof texts for our personal systematic theology).

May we always be sensitive to the literary skill of the Bible writers, and thereby be more accurate and effective biblical preachers.