July 25, 2006
The Myth of Expository Preaching (part 2): proclamation that inspires the imagination
David Fitch is back to explain why he believes expository preaching is a myth that is hindering the full potential of the pulpit. In part one of his post Fitch said expository preaching has led to the commodification of Scripture. As he promised, he's back to offer suggestions for reclaiming preaching from the influence of consumerism.
Two weeks ago I wrote a post on "Expository Preaching." On the one hand, I was surprised with the number of sympathetic comments and excellent discussion that recognized the problem of "commodification of the Word." On the other hand, there were some folk who implied that I was either denigrating Scripture, diminishing the importance of preaching, or making "meaning" unstable so much so that it wasn't worth preaching anymore. To me, these were the very things I was working against by alerting us to the danger of commodifying the Word. And so I promised a second post that would explore how we might preach more faithfully in our times.
1. FROM EXPLAINING TO PROCLAIMING
We will no doubt need to explain some things in the text, but the primary task of preaching on Sunday morning is "proclaiming" the reality of the world as it is under the good news of the gospel that renders all things new. This means our first task as preachers is to describe not prescribe.
The primary move of preaching will not be sentence-by-sentence exposition & explaining, then an application. Instead the primary move of the preacher will be to describe the world as it is via the person and work of Jesus Christ, then invite the hearers into this reality by calling for submission, confession, obedience, or the affirmation of a truth.
In Brueggemann's words, we preach to "fund imagination." Through proclaiming the Word, the Spirit reorganizes perception, experience, and even faith to enable hearers to live in the reality of Christ's work, respond to Christ, and obey. This kind of preaching subverts the dominant habits of thinking and the ways our imaginations have been taught to see the world. Instead of dissecting the text, making it portable, and distributing it to people for their own personal use, the preacher re-narrates the world as it is under the Lordship of Christ and then invites people into it.
When I preach I see my role as the herald of the new world that has been inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Christ. Whether in the Old or New Testaments, I am unfurling the world as it is under the work of God down through history and ultimately in Jesus Christ. I always start by narrating a common experience from a personal story, a movie, a piece of literature. I try to expose the way we might be living under an alternative interpretation of the way things are. But then I move to the text for the day, read it and start to unfold the reality as it is in God thru Christ. Finally, I then move to invite the gathering into this Christ-reality, looking for responses we can all make to live more faithfully out of who He is, what He has done, and where He is taking us and the world.
2. FROM TEXTBOOK TO DRAMA
Preachers must resist all modernist temptations to see the Scriptures as a propositional textbook of religious facts. Scripture is real accounts, testimonies, and witnesses of God's people. It is alive. So let's read and speak as ones invited to participate in the continuation of all this story! This means seeing the Bible as a Narrative Recently, von Balthazar, Sam Wells, and Kevin Vanhoozer have all taught us to think of Scripture as Theo Drama where we become the participants. This is the metaphor I believe we must follow in our preaching.
If this is true, then we need to put historical exegesis in its proper place. It a tool grounded in history that must be submitted to the traditions and history of God's work in the church. We need not spend countless hours translating each text thinking we have reached the original meaning by our own brilliance. Instead, we stand in a long line of preachers and the vast theological realities that have been interpreted and shown out of Scripture down through the ages.
Authorial intent is not the main issue although it may be of importance for understanding the text at certain times. What is important is the reality being unfurled about God in Christ and how we can best respond so as to live into it until He returns. The hubris of pastors thinking they can exegete a text better and more accurately than the thousands that have gone before gets in the way of the Main Thing, the glory of his majestic work and what he is working for in history. This is where our imaginations will be fed. This is where we will be formed as missional people.
In the final part of David Fitch's discussion of preaching will be posted soon.