Homiletics and Hermeneutics, edited by Scott Gibson and Matthew Kim, is a great primer about, well … just what the title says! Its greatness lies not simply in its positive presentation. When I was on active-duty with the U.S. Naval Security Forces, I recall one E-6 Watch Commander who I really did not like. I learned a lot from him. I learned that if I asked myself, “What would MA1 Frank do?” and then did the exact opposite, I would probably be on the right track! So it is with this book.
The editors explain, “This book is about teasing out the theological presuppositions of approaches to preaching. That is, we want to explore the hermeneutic that lies behind one’s theology of preaching.” The four views they present are:
- Redemptive-Historical. Bryan Chapell presents this view, and his work is familiar to many younger pastors who likely read him in seminary.
- Christiconic. Abraham Kuruvilla explains. Paradoxically, he has never been a pastor and it shows. His presentation is easily the most abstract of the bunch. His description of sanctification is too neat, too antiseptic. One gets an impression of church members as clone droids who sit waiting for their “pericopal theology” upload of the week.
- Theocentric. Kenneth Langley explains.
- Law-Gospel. Paul Wilson spells it out.
This issue here is not about preaching methodology. It is about the presupposition behind the methodology. The authors disagree about the unifying theme behind scripture. Where is God going? What is He doing? What has He been doing?
- Is the story of the bible about redemption and the Cross? Then Chapell is your man! He explains, “God’s revelation through biblical history is progressive, organic, and redemptive.”
- What about God? Is all scripture about Him and His glory? Then toss your hat into the ring for Kenneth Langley. “Theology proper is the preacher’s best lens for seeing and displaying the unity of the Bible. Other lenses, like covenant, law-gospel, or redemptive-historic, elucidate some texts but not all, or at least not all texts equally well.”
- Sanctification? Is that the great telos of God’s story? Then go with Kuruvilla. “Jesus Christ alone has comprehensively abided by the theology of every pericope of Scripture. Thus, each pericope of the Bible is actually portraying a characteristic of Christ (a facet of Christ’s image), showing us what it means to perfectly fulfill, as he did, the particular call of that pericope. The Bible as a whole, the collection of all its pericopes, then, portrays what a perfect human looks like, exemplified by Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the perfect Man: the plenary image of Christ.”
- What about law and Gospel? Then, Wilson is the man for you. “Every text already implies both law and gospel, even if every preacher has not been taught to recognize them.”
The authors agree on much, and occasionally talk past each other. This book’s value is in letting the pastor see how a unifying theme may (or, may not!) act as a straitjacket on the text. I propose a simple test:
If the interpretive grid will not let Song of Solomon 4 and Genesis 38 say what the text so plainly says, then it is invalid and ought to be discarded.
I will apply this test to Song of Solomon 4. This text is the pit of despair for preaching models, because it’s difficult for any interpretive grid. What’s it about?
Well, to be blunt, the text shows us two people who are eager for their wedding night so they can ravish each other all night long.
Of course, there is something more going on here. Something for the congregation to learn. Which model handles this text responsibly? I do not have Kuruvilla (et al) on a Zoom call just now, so we will have to speculate—but here goes:
- Redemptive-Historical. Chapell would use his “gospel glasses” to see how Song 4 reflected the Gospel message. Presumably, he would do something akin to “righteousness of marital love” + “fall” + “Jesus’ love for the Church” = redemption.
- Christiconic. Kuruvilla would seek the “world in front of the text” to explain how this sexual marital bliss helps Christians become more Christlike. I wish him luck with Song 4:16, but I must admit he has a shorter haul than poor Chapell.
- Law-Gospel. Wilson would look for both “trouble” and “grace,” and if necessary engage in mirror reading to fill out his “four pages” scheme. At the risk of sounding crass, I must insist that to the protagonists in Song 4, there is no “trouble” on the horizon. Quite the opposite, in fact …
- Theocentric. Langley would take this marital bliss and tie it to God’s design for men and women in marriage, and close with doxology to a God who cares about His people.
The theocentric model does the most justice to the text as it stands, with the Christiconic framework a distant second. To be sure, each author has interesting and helpful contributions. But, the theocentric framework allows us to cast the hermeneutical straitjackets into the Goodwill donation bin and let the texts speak for themselves. Langley warns us:
Lay people learn hermeneutics from their pastors’ preaching. Whether we like it or not, they learn how to interpret Scripture from how we handle Scripture in the pulpit. So what do we teach listeners about hermeneutics when Jesus makes a surprise appearance in a sermon from Proverbs? When it turns out Song of Solomon is not really about God’s gift of married sex but about Christ’s love for his church? When redemption trumps creation as the theological underpinning of every sermon? When texts are not handled with integrity because every Sunday the preacher follows the counsel to “make a beeline to the cross.”
People have a right to expect that a sermon will say what the Bible says. But if we import Christology (or law-gospel, or kingdom, or any other theme) into texts, do we not unintentionally communicate that texts are pretexts for talking about something else?
Amen to this.
 Scott Gibson and Matthew Kim (eds.), Homiletics and Hermeneutics: Four Views on Preaching Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018; Kindle ed.), xi-xii.
 For example, Kuruvilla privileges exegesis so much that I fear ordinary Christians would be intimidated by his approach. I submit that a man who could write “[r]ecent studies in the fields of language philosophy and cognitive science are deepening our understanding of communication and, particularly pertinent for interpreters of Scripture, how texts are to be read” (Ibid, p. 51) and then declare “[t]he semantics of an utterance (linguistically encoded meaning, sentence meaning) is a template that must be enriched to arrive at its pragmatics (inferentially discerned meaning, utterance meaning). Such inferential operations are integral to interpretation, particularly interpretation for application, which is every preacher’s burden (more on that later),” (Ibid, p. 52) and has no pastoral experience to boot, would perhaps struggle to teach ordinary Christians to know and love the scripture. It would all appear to be too much. It discourages the principle of perspicuity.
 Ibid, p. 6.
 Ibid, p. 89.
 Ibid, p. 59.
 Ibid, p. 129.
 For example, Kuruvilla scolds Langley in his response: “Sermon after sermon, week after week, one is left strumming, striking, and scraping the same few strings and chords of theological themes found in Scripture. Instead, I suggest that preachers expound the concrete specificities of the pericope in question and the particulars of life change it calls for,” (Ibid, p. 111). This is a low blow by Kuruvilla.
 “When a text neither plainly predicts, prepares for, nor results from the Redeemer’s work, then an expositor should simply explain how the text reflects key facets of the redemptive message … A preacher who asks the following basic questions takes no inappropriate liberties with a text: What does this text reflect of God’s nature that provides redemption? What does this text reflect of human nature that requires redemption?” (Ibid, p. 16).
 “… the interpretation of Scripture cannot cease with the elucidation of its linguistic, grammatical, and syntactical elements: what the author is saying (semantics). It must proceed further to discern the world in front of the text: what the author is doing (pragmatics). And this projected world forms the intermediary between text and application, enabling one to respond validly to the text,” (Ibid, p. 54).
 “… each pericope of the Bible is actually portraying a characteristic of Christ,” (Ibid, p. 59).
 “Sometimes I opt for alternate terms like ‘trouble’ and ‘grace,’ although the law is not appropriately reduced simply to trouble. Still, trouble and grace can provide a simpler route to the preaching of the good news,” (Ibid, p. 121).
 “This mirroring function of law and gospel is a principle of inversion,” (Ibid, p. 131).
 “Preachers may take up a variety of texts and topics, but they should take them up (and their hearers with them) all the way into the presence of God, so that listeners are instructed by the Word of God, convinced of the value of God, captivated by the holiness, grace, kingship, wisdom, and beauty of God. Preaching is all about and all for God,” (Ibid, pp. 81-82).
 Langley observed, “We may appreciate, for example, the kingdom lens, but find that it works better in the Synoptic Gospels than in large swaths of Scripture where the kingdom theme is not prominent. Or we may appreciate a traditional Lutheran lens, but discover that law and gospel are not present in every text,” (Ibid, p. 89).
 Ibid, pp. 96-97.
 Ibid, p. 97.