July 28, 2006
The Myth of Expository Preaching (part 3): responding to Scripture as a community
In his final post outlining an alternative to expository preaching, David Fitch invites us to think differently about how we respond to Scripture. Rather than three alliterated application points, why not a liturgical response? And instead of preaching that targets the individual's life, why not a communal interaction with the text? Fitch also shares practices at his own church as they move beyond commodified preaching.
3. FROM APPLICATION POINTS TO LITURGICAL RESPONSE
By "liturgical" I mean the activity of responding to God, who He is, what he has done, and what He has said. It is what shapes us into relationship with him. It makes no sense for the preacher who proclaims the Word of God to conclude with more notes of applications and "to do" lists. Instead the Word invokes postures of response: silence, submission, obedience, affirmation in faith, confession, and of course the Eucharistic celebration of participating in receiving the Body of Christ. Slowly I am formed through the faithful preaching of the Word and ever hearing, responding, submitting, obeying, confessing, affirming and acting in faith.
This means our understanding of sanctification in preaching might have to change. For what is happening to the hearers is not a.) the cognitive digestion of some information about God and moral life, from which we b.) understand and assent and then c.) tell our body to do it. Instead we hear proclaimed the reality of the world through the good news, a declaration of the way the world is, and we are invited to enter in through submission, confession, repentance, and affirmation.
Through this, over time, we cannot help but be changed and engage the world differently. Our character changes, our view of the world changes, the way we see the poor, our money, our children - everything changes. In Christ, by the Holy Spirit, "the eyes of our imaginations are opened, and we receive a new self."
4. FROM INDIVIDUALISM TO COMMUNITY
If preaching starts and ends with the sermon on Sunday, and if the Word is distributed to individuals as portable property to be taken home in notes or a cassette tape, it cannot help but be the means of fostering interpretive violence. The violence comes when we put our own meaning or agenda onto Scripture. The violence comes when the preaching of the Word separates us as individuals each armed with the interpretation we want because we do not come together in mutual submission to discern the Scripture's meaning for our lives today.
If preaching is to avoid this violence, it must foster communal practices that allow us to submit to one another as the Spirit works to interpret the Scriptures. We do this not as a democracy, but as a Spirit filled community where we submit to each other's authoritative gifts. Of course, to even think of doing church this way requires a new imagination.
At our church many of us meet in small triad fellowships to read the texts from Sunday, confess sin, listen, and practice speaking truth with love and submission. We have a B&B (Bible and Brew?uh?coffee) session every Sunday morning to read the texts together and ask what these texts speak about God, his mission in Christ, and how we must respond. We need to create more places to read and listen and speak into each other's lives out of the preaching of the Word.
I believe each local Body of Christ is fertile ground for the forming of our imaginations through the interpretation of Scripture. Here in community we learn the virtues necessary to interpret Scripture for the local challenges of the Christian life. Stephen Fowl calls these communities "vigilant communities" in his book Engaging Scripture. He says faithful interpretation requires vigilant communities that engage in regular practices of truth telling, forgiveness, and reconciliation with people who posses both humility and the ability to listen well.
Without becoming vigilant communities I fear we all fall into the modernist temptation of believing Scripture is perspicuous (to me), its meaning is automatically self-evident to each individual (as long as they agree with me), and I know Scripture (well enough to justify my life to myself) which is the ultimate denial of the hermeneutic task.