and still we read the Bible…
October 14, 2008
Well, it’s been nearly 2000 years since canonization, and still be read the Bible. Jews got the Old Testament finalized in the first century AD, and Christians somewhere round the 3rd century (as far as I remember only made official in the fourth). Still we read the Bible, but some things have changed…
I remember the tensions we had as theological students because we really loved exegesis. Faculty of Theology at TUKS (University of Pretoria) is famous in South Africa for its biblical sciences, we had some great lecturers, and we loved doing exegesis. Pastors a few years older than us would say that this is just because we are currently at facutly, and that this will stop when the reality of congregational life hit. They might be right… but I think they might be wrong…
In a recent article the development of our view on how the Bible is interpreted was put out in the following way:
- Pre-modern: The preacher has absolute understanding of the Bible, and his interpretation is done with this in mind.
- Modern: The Bible is studied critically, with teaching or analyzing as the goal.
- Early postmodern: The Bible is studied pragmatically, with finding practical implications as the goal.
- Late postmodern: The Bible is studied contextually, with finding better insight into the witness concerning God as the goal. A re appreciation of ancient discourse is important.
I think this might be correct. If I preach a number of pragmatic solutions to my friends, they’d kill me. As one of them once said: “if you preach a 5 point sermon I don’t come”. Early postmoderns might not appreciate exegesis, since there is much easier ways to find pragmatic solutions and quick-fixes from a Biblical text than exegesis. Late postmoders I believe will more and more find that we cannot do without exegesis. Combine this with the fact that “slow movements” would also resonate with this group, and you have pastors who prepare sermons slowly, who want a sermon to become part of them, who might just explain a text, without any application, and it would be fine.
Are they then any different from the moderns? Yes, it’s not about analysis and teaching. Where moderns (and this in large part was how we were trained) did exegesis to be able to teach a purer truth, a more correct interpretation, a perfect analysis that can withstand the rational scrutinizing of intellectual congregants, late postmoderns do exegesis simply to open the text up. I don’t care to teach the implications of the text, since I believe that those listenins can figure it out for there own context.
Last thing. It was common for all previous generations to say that exegesis is done at home, that you don’t take your homework onto the pulpit, that you chew the text on behalf of the congregation and give them the final product. Pre-moderns did this simply because the preacher had some magical insight, moderns said what you gave was not the exegesis, but the pure teaching that results from the exegesis, and early postmoderns that exegesis is not the thing, but the practical implication thereof. I believe that as much as possible of my exegesis can be given, since this help those listening to get insight into the text.
Maybe the place where we preached from also tell this story. Pre-moderns from the catholic side of the church, stressing the importance of the fact that God was here in some mystical way. Moderns (read Bosch to see that the Catholics didn’t initially make the shift towards modernism) from the pulpit, stressing the rational truch. Early postmoderns from the stage, where common practical guidelines came from. But late postmoderns prefer preaching from the pew, which put us on the same level as everyone else.
Still my Gen-X and Boomer congregants expect a “good sermon”…