Review: Homiletics and Hermeneutics

Gibson, Scott M. and Matthew D. Kim, eds.   Homiletics and Hermeneutics: Four Views on Preaching Today   .  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, 163 pp. $27.49.

Gibson, Scott M. and Matthew D. Kim, eds. Homiletics and Hermeneutics: Four Views on Preaching Today. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018, 163 pp. $27.49.

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Scott Gibson and Matthew Kim have done a service for those interested in all things preaching by bringing together four well-read, well-respected, and well-polished practitioners and educators, initiating and moderating a conversation between them, and inviting all of us to eavesdrop on the ensuing dialogue.

The need for resources like this is identified almost immediately as the editors rightly state that, “Every preacher preaches out of an articulated or unarticulated perspective” (xi). In other words, every sermon delivered by every preacher is coloured by that particular communicators’ presuppositions and philosophy—whether they are acknowledge or not—and, thus, thoughtful conversations like that modelled in this book are crucial in that it encourages those who preach God’s Word to examine their own perspective at the same time they’re seeking to understand the perspectives of others. We all win!

The four views

As the subtitle suggests, the book is structured around the approaches to preaching that are held, taught, and practiced by the four contributors with each articulating the biblical, theological, homiletical, and applicational rationales for their respective views. After each of the four major presentations, the other three contributors are given space to interact with the offering. Below is a very brief and admittedly incomplete summary of the views espoused in this work.

The redemptive-historic view

The redemptive-historic view is presented by Bryan Chapell. From where I sit, this (or some variation of it) may be the most popular view of evangelical preachers today.

Unfortunately, often with popularity comes misrepresentations and misunderstandings. Therefore, I appreciated the author’s clarity in debunking a common characterization of “christocentric” preaching, stating that it, “… rightly understood, does not seek to discover where Christ is mentioned in every biblical text, but to disclose where every text stands in relation to Christ’s ministry. … [and] to show how each text manifests God’s grace in order to prepare and enable his people to embrace the hope provided by Christ” (7–8).

Chapell’s view is not to “get to the cross as quickly as possible from every passage of Scripture no matter what.” Rather, by stressing the biblical theme of redemption above all other themes, he proposes the discovery and explanation of where each passage fits into that meta-narrative of Scripture.

Just as historic-grammatical exegesis requires a preacher to consider a text’s terms in their historical and literary context, responsible theological interpretation requires an expositor to discern how a text’s ideas function in the wider redemptive context (5).

Chapell is motivated by an avoidance of moralism in the pulpit and, for that, he should be applauded. He also desires that the grace of God be on display at all times, from all texts, and that grace is best pictured in Christ.

The christiconic view

Abraham Kuruvilla next presented his christiconic view which calls preachers to allow the text of Scripture speak for itself insisting that, in each preaching unit (i.e., pericope), the A/author is using language to communicate a thrust they intend the audience to grasp. It is only when we understand the intended thrust of a passage that valid application can be established. These thrusts, as Kuruvilla calls them, are identified by paying attention to what the authors’ are “doing with what they’re saying.”

The point is that it is only after discerning these doings by the author(s) that one can proceed to valid application …. And, of course, application is the end point of all interpretation of Scripture (53).

The purpose of preaching, then, is to allow the text of Scripture to place its divine demands upon God’s people with the understanding that only one Man ever perfectly submitted to and fulfilled every demand—the Lord Jesus. Thus, as the people of God, by the power of the Spirit of God, summit weekly to the divine demands placed upon them by the continuous exposition of Scripture—pericope by pericope—they become more like Christ.

This is the heart of the preaching endeavour: to recognize the function of Scripture and to bring to bear, pericope by pericope, 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 (69).

The theocentric view

Kenneth Langley summarizes his theocentric view of preaching right from the outset of his chapter: “Preaching should be God centered because God is God centered and wants us to be God centered in everything we do” (81). That seems to be pretty straight forward!

This contributors’ contention is that christocentricity in preaching does not do justice to the text of Scripture because, he observes, all of Scripture does not focus on the second Person of the godhead. Langley points to biblical examples of preaching to defend this position:

The God-centeredness of the Bible’s own preaching and that of Jesus himself is reason enough to be God centered in preaching. Some will say preaching must move beyond theocentric to christocentric. But why should we think it insufficient or sub-Christian to say, like the prophets, “Behold your God!” (Isa. 40:9), or like the apostles to be “set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1), or like Jesus to proclaim “the good news of God” (Mark 1:14)? What could be more Christ exalting than to imitate Christ’s own thoroughgoing God-centeredness (88)?

In Langley’s estimation, all other approaches to handling God’s Word are too narrow in scope, risk muzzling the text being preached, and encourage the imposition of alien themes into a passage. It is when we recognize the the point of everything, including Christ’s work, is the glory of God, that we are most faithful to the task of exposition and of preaching.

The law-gospel view

Finally, writing in the anchor position of the book, Paul Scott Wilson presented his law-gospel view of preaching. This approach is built upon the relationship between its title elements—law and gospel—or, “to use somewhat less contentious words, trouble and grace” (117).

I assume that the Word of God is dual edged: it both condemns and liberates, binds and frees. The same Word does both (117).

Wilson later refers to this as the “bifocal nature of the Word” (119) and states that both elements are necessary with the former highlighting the need and magnificence of the latter. He goes on to describe the relationship between these two essential facets:

They are not strict opposite. They are intertwined. Law is good, it is a gift, it is a route to holiness. A warning is often a helpful gift, even if we still must obey. … Law accompanied by gospel, however, is empowerment through the Spirit to make the required behavioural change. Both law and gospel are needed (121).

With these bifocal lenses in place, the author argues that every sermon includes two parts. The first is law (i.e., trouble) which leads into the second, gospel (i.e., grace), and always in that order (126). These two parts can be applied to the life of the hearer by what Wilson calls the four pages of a sermon (132–42).

A comment on tone

Overall, the tone of the back-and-forth is gracious and the reader is able to sense the mutual respect and camaraderie. Here are a few examples:

When I [Chapell] read Abe Kuruvilla, I always rejoice for the gift his work is to the church of Jesus Christ. Not only does Kuruvilla provide some of the finest scholarship available in contemporary homiletics; he also brings a commitment to the truth and integrity of Scripture that is sorely needed in a relativistic age (71).

Ken Langley, a longtime voice in evangelical homiletics—an always measured, respectable, and careful voice—has thought much about preaching. I [Kuruvilla] appreciate his keen observations and am grateful for the opportunity to respond to him here (111).

I’ve [Langley] read Paul Scott Wilson for years and never without profit. It’s a privilege to partner with this prolific homiletician in our current project (154).

From my perspective, this type of gracious debate is seen all to infrequently. Rather than see one another as “brothers in arms” who are passionately pushing one another toward the discovery and articulation of biblical truth, many speak of those holding to alternative Christian viewpoints as opponents to be vanquished.

The mutual-respect the four contributors demonstrate for one another does little to water-down their personal assertiveness and convictions for their respective positions. Nor does it stop them from offering clear concerns with the views put forth by the others. However, all of this is done in a manner worthy of emulation, one that has convicted me in how I speak to and about brothers and sisters who come from differing theological perspectives than my own. If for no other reason, this is worth the price of the book.

I would highly recommend this book as a must-read for, not only those who seek to rightly divide the word of truth for preaching, but also for those who desire to be fed by those who preach. As I read I couldn’t help but think of how helpful it would be if my congregation understood more about what was happening in the preaching moment. The book aids in the examination of our own (perhaps unidentified) default processes and helpfully exposes us to some well-articulated alternatives.