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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Preaching Lost and Found

Last week the Beeson Pastors enjoyed a week long experience with Dr. Joel Green, one of the most notable and prolific biblical theologians of the last 10-15 years. He wrote the book pictured above called Seized By Truth. His main area of expertise is the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Much of what Joel taught us was deep and somewhat technical at times. I'll try my best to briefly summarize what he taught us and draw out the implications for preaching today.

Joel highlighted how the Modern, Post-Enlightenment era of the past two to three hundred years has had a heavy influence upon biblical interpreters. Modernity stressed scientism which held up the notion that everything can be simplified, quantified and proven objectively. Biblical theologians of the past several hundred years bought into this and tried to interpret Scripture more through scientific detachment than artful intimacy with the biblical story. In other words, many biblical interpreters have been told that in order to rightly interpret a Bible text they must go about it without letting their faith commitments get in the way. They asserted, "you must remain objective" which in many cases translated into "you must view the text with suspicion." They were taught to master the biblical text instead of being mastered by it.

Joel Green argues against this view. While the methods of historical-criticism that the Modern period gave us should not be dismissed, those methods should not take the lead in the dance of biblical interpretation. Joel suggests that Christians, if we are going to interpret Scripture for the Church, must view Scripture not with suspicion but as the Word of God. This does not mean one ignores biblical scholarship, but that one views Scripture as the Word of God intended to transform our lives.

Another major thrust of the class, and one that has huge implications for preaching, is the narrative reading of Scripture. Because the Modern period provided methods that picked apart biblical texts and scrutinized the history behind the text, the narrative story of the Bible was largely ignored. The outcome of Modern Hermeneutics was a bunch of ahistorical principles that were, in essence, pulled out of the biblical story told from Genesis to Revelation. Texts were interpreted in isolation from the larger Scripture story and resulted in sermons like "5 Principles For Being A Good Person" or "7 Ways to Spend Your Money" or...well you get the idea.

Sermons became a bunch of propositional points totally disconnected from and independent of the story of God's creation, salvation, and redemption of the world that culminates in the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of His son Jesus Christ. I have been guilty of preaching these propositional principles while neglecting the meta-narrative, the grand story that Scripture tells. A sermon that extracts principles and points that have nothing to do with the story of God through Scripture is neither relevant nor engaging, in my estimation, but merely pragmatic. And ultimately the thing that shapes the me and you into the people of God is not a bunch of pragmatic and moralistic pieces of advice that may make us a good person but the telling of a hopeful, redemptive story that is so wondrous and grand and transcendant that we are actually drawn in to it so that we are transformed by it. The Premodern Church realized this, the Modern Church nearly lost it, and the Postmodern Church is beginning, I hope, to rediscover this preaching paradise lost and found.

Okay, I have sermonized enough for now. I welcome your thoughts, especially as I myself continue to work out the implications of reading and interpreting Scripture as one big meta-narrative and not a pragmatic handbook of propositional principles that may make us nicer but not necessarily God-formed people.


Zephyr said...

My dear brother from another mother,
how great that you are getting to benefit from such great teaching. I mostly agree with the thrust of your post, except that I don't think the modern church almost lost the perspective of being transformed by the redemptive storyline of the Bible. Certainly, the excesses of scientism were there among some. But much of this was being corrected by modernist biblical scholars with a faith commitment long before "postmodernism" came upon the scene. But that's almost beside the point. The great thing that we agree on is that we can apply our best methods of historical and literary study to the Bible and we don't have to neglect our relationship to the Savior while we are doing that.

Aaron said...


Thanks for posting. One of my biggest regrets from last year was that we didn't get a whole week with Green.

Anonymous said...

Ben, right you are. Historical and literary critical methods are needed but must not supercede the importance of the Holy Spirit through the text and the humility of the reader to the text.
Great to hear from you. It would be great to catch up soon.

Aaron, thanks for checking out my blog. Hope you're doing well balancing the church with dissertation demands.

Blessings in Chrit to you both,

ginabad said...

Hi Lenny, I am *probably* completely out of my depth posting back to this, but your post reminded me of "Searching for God Knows What" by Donald Miller, who I know you're familiar with. I'm nearly done with this book, and it's a great cure for my rationality, which tends to pick apart the "how could it be's" of scripture, and is teaching me to look at it more like a narrative of love from God, rather than a functional list of do's and don'ts or a "steps to becoming a better Christian". I've always been taught that it was more of the latter and that approach has made me keep my distance for a very long time.

The idea of love in scriptures, in fact, was something I only recall from a brief period in my childhood Catholic education, a notion of Jesus as such love, and it's only VERY recently that it's become clear as a main point of what God wants to communicate and share with us.

Scientism, didn't know that term before, interesting, but my scientific mind is rebelling against the idea, lol...

Hope all is well,

gina fosco

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments Gina. It seems to me you have a real good handle on what I was trying to say and you seem to say it even better than I did. Thanks...I think.

Say hello to Chris and the girls for me and hopefully we see you around Christmas.

Blessings in Christ,

Unknown said...

Good thoughts Lenny, I've really benefitted both personally and pastorally from a redemptive-historical approach to preaching, so instead of writting a sermon like "Dare to be a Daniel" where we abstract 'timeless truths' from Daniel's story, we put it in a redemptive historical framework, see it as the Word of God which points to Christ {Luke 24:44ff, etc).

This is tough to do consistently, I'm still learning. I also still tend to use points to organize where I'm going so hopefully my listener doesn't feel I'm just dragging on.

At the end of the day though nothing excites me more than finding everything pointing to Jesus and even preaching the gospel from the most "unlikely" texts.

Great thoughts, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts Tim. Many of us organize our reaching thoghts in points, I do. I don't want to sound as if I am criticizing sermons simply because of their use of points. I'm thinking of certain kinds of points that sound real clever and cute, and may even be alliterated, but have no clear connection to the tex being preacing or to the Christian meta-narrative. Thanks for keeping in touch and hope you guys are doing well.