Homiletics and Hermeneutics: Four Views on Preaching Today

Written by Scott M. Gibson and Matthew D. Kim, eds. Reviewed By Jeremy Kimble

Preachers ought to be conscious of the ideas and principles that shape them each time they herald the Word and address their people. Beneath every approach to preaching, there is a particular hermeneutic at work. As such, this work edited by Scott Gibson and Matthew Kim is a helpful window into the ways in which that phenomenon takes place. Preachers must be aware of overarching theological assumptions and interpretive patterns that will inevitably make their way into the pulpit, and they must test these things by the tenets of Scripture to ensure that they are preaching sound doctrine.

Four contributors speak to these matters, all of whom are seasoned preachers. Bryan Chapell is former president of Covenant Seminary and presently pastors Grace Presbyterian Church. Abraham Kuruvilla is senior research professor of preaching and pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary. Kenneth Langley is senior pastor of Christ Community Church and adjunct professor of preaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Paul Wilson is professor of homiletics at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto. Each has published various books and articles in the area of preaching.

Homiletics and Hermeneutics is structured like many other multi-view books. It begins and ends with brief forays by the editors. The introduction sets up the overall topic, and the conclusion offers critical analysis of compelling elements and matters of potential consideration for each of positions held by the four contributors. The main body of the book contains four chapters with each of the main contributors offering their perspective in a full chapter, followed by brief responses from the other authors, marking areas of agreement, but mostly highlighting differences in the various views.

The first chapter, written by Bryan Chapell, speaks of the “Redemptive-Historic View.” Delineating key passages of Scripture (e.g., Luke 24:27; 24:44; John 5:39, 46), Chapell argues that “Jesus related all portions of Scripture to his own ministry,” and thus in our preaching we should do the same (p. 9). He continues, “This does not mean that every phrase, punctuation mark, or verse directly reveals Christ, but rather that all passages in their context serve our understanding of his nature and/or necessity” (p. 9). Preaching, Chappell believes, should always look to the fallen condition of man and the redemptive work of God in Christ.

This chapter is followed by Abe Kuruvilla’s viewpoint, which he identifies as “Christiconic preaching.” Noting that Scripture was “primarily intended to be used for application,” assessing what biblical authors are doing with what they are saying, and how to discern the “world in front of the text,” Kuruvilla maintains that the heart of preaching is “to recognize the function of Scripture and to bring to bear, periscope by periscope, divine guidelines for life from the Word of God upon the people of God, to align them to the will of God by the power of the Spirit of God, into the image of the Son of God for the glory of God” (p. 69). As such, Christiconic preaching seeks to do justice to the immediate context of the passage being expounded and most often will be “Christ-centered” in the way it points the hearer to Christ’s character and ongoingly conforms us to his image (2 Cor 3:18).

Kenneth Langley proposes the “Theocentric View”: “Preaching should be God-centered because God is God-centered and wants us to be God-centered in everything we do” (p. 81). Contrary to Chapell’s view, Langley agrees that all parts of the Scripture point to Jesus, but not in every single verse. He argues that the Bible more prominently emphasizes God the Father, for not only did Jesus come to do the will of the Father but every tongue will ultimately confess that he is Lord to the Father’s glory (Phil 2:11). With this in mind, there should be no shying away from privileging the immediate context of each passage and applying it to the people in a way that showcases the greatness of God.

Finally, Paul Wilson advocates the “Law-Gospel View,” a framework that is typical of Lutheran theology (though he is also fond of citing Calvin). In this carefully nuanced chapter, law and gospel (also termed “trouble and grace”) are highlighted as appropriate hermeneutical lenses for understanding all of Scripture. As such, he advocates that preaching should have four essential elements: (1) trouble in the biblical text, (2) trouble in our world, (3) grace in the biblical text, and (4) grace in our world (pp. 132–34). This type of structure, Wilson argues, will ensure that both the reality of sin and the saving nature of the gospel are present in each sermon.

Certainly, in a work of this nature, one can note considerable overlap and agreement amongst the various authors, while also acknowledging differing emphases and approaches. Each gladly affirms the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, the need for the gospel to be exalted in our preaching, and the call for robust, specific application to be made for our people. Chapell’s chapter was a carefully nuanced rendition of redemptive-historic preaching, but many will still wonder and debate how Christ is proclaimed in every area of Scripture, and even if he always should be in the same kind of way. Kuruvilla is right to point the reader to the pragmatic reality of texts, focusing on what the author is doing with what he is saying. However, his use of Ricoeur is largely uncritical, and, while his examples are helpful, a more detailed methodology for such preaching would strengthen his case (to be fair, one can look to other books by Kuruvilla for such examples). Langley helpfully points people to the fact that God is the main character of the Bible, but should not God be thought of in triune terms? If he was willing to do this there would be greater opportunity for getting to the heart of various biblical texts. Finally, Wilson offers a clear methodology for both interpretation and preaching (law/gospel), however, this structure may become a straightjacket if that is not what the text is intending to convey.

In many ways, these questions come down to one’s view of the relationship between exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology. While the contributors do well to avoid extremes, certain views can tend toward atomistic approaches to focusing exclusively on the immediate context of a passage (more likely in Kuruvilla and Langley), or to the other end of the spectrum that highlights big-picture continuities seen at a whole-Bible level (more likely in Chapell and Wilson). One must be careful to continually ask what a particular passage is all about, what that particular book is all about, and what the whole Bible is all about (all the while keeping the application of a text in mind!). As we discipline ourselves to continually ask these three questions, we can avoid unhelpful tendencies toward either side of the spectrum wherein we may miss the point at either a passage-level or the canonical-level. It seems as well that more work needs to be done to draw attention to book-level meaning (i.e., the canonical books of Scripture) when considering both hermeneutics and homiletics.

Professors within the field of homiletics will be helped by this work in terms of updating them on key approaches to the field that are currently being taken. Pastors and seminary students will also benefit, but, as with all multi-view books, readers must be disciplined to read, decide which view is most compelling (or perhaps form a different view entirely), and provide warrant for their conclusion. In the end, readers will be reminded that preaching cannot be disconnected from one’s hermeneutic, and thus we must give ourselves to the study of God’s Word and to conveying it with exultation for the glory of God and the good of his people.

Jeremy Kimble

Jeremy Kimble is associate professor of theology at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.

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