Homiletics and Hermeneutics: Four Views on Preaching Today
Written by Bryan Chapell, Abraham Kuruvilla, Kenneth Langley, and Paul Scott Wilson
Edited by Scott Gibson and Matthew Gibson, Scott M. and Matthew D. Kim, editors. Homiletics and Hermeneutics: Four Views on Preaching Today. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, 192 pages, $21.99, paperback.
Book Review by Scott Lucky
Published by the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies Volume 6 Issue 1
What is the influence of hermeneutics to the task of preaching? Scott M. Gibson, the David E. Garland Chair of Preaching and director of the PhD program in preaching at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, and Matthew D. Kim, the associate professor of preaching and ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, have collected four leaders in the field of preaching to weigh in on this important discussion: Bryan Chapell, former president and chancellor of Covenant Theological Seminary; Abraham Kuruvilla, senior researcher professor of preaching and pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary; Kenneth Langley, adjunct professor of preaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; and Paul Scott Wilson, professor of homiletics at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto. As established authors in the field of homiletics and former presidents of the Evangelical Homiletical Society, editors Gibson and Kim were excellent choices to facilitate a discussion about the interplay between hermeneutics and homiletics among these able evangelical scholars of preaching, and voice their own perspectives at the conclusion.
Gibson and Kim set the table for the conversation among the scholars in the introduction. After identifying the inescapability of preaching from one’s own stated or unstated perspective, the editors note their purpose, “This book is about teasing out the theological presuppositions of approaches to preaching. That is, we want to explore the hermeneutic that lies behind one’s theology of preaching” (p. xii). Four hermeneutical approaches are discussed in the subsequent chapters: redemptive-historical (Chapell), christiconic (Kuruvilla), theocentric (Langley), and law-gospel (Wilson). Though other perspectives could have been discussed, these were highlighted because “these reflect the current streams of thought in evangelical hermeneutics and homiletics” (p. xii). The editors are to be commended for their efforts to facilitate this conversation. Incorporating different viewpoints can encourage homiliticians to learn from theological traditions that are different from their own. With the rise of social media and the ability to create echo chambers with ease––though sometimes unintentionally––books like this help preachers locate potential blind-spots, assist preachers in sharpening weak areas of argumentation, and can deepen convictions already embedded in how one views the Bible and the task of communicating its truth to others.
Chappell first promotes a redemptive-historical view, which utilizes biblical theology to “show how each text manifests God’s grace in order to prepare and enable his people to embrace the hope provided by Christ” (p. 8). In order to preach in a Christ-centered way, Chappell utilizes his Fallen Condition Focus, found in his book, Christ-Centered Preaching, to ask: “What does this text reflect of human nature that requires redemption?” (p. 16). Next, Kuruvilla puts forward a christiconicview where he is concerned to determine, “what the author is doing with what he is saying in that particular text in order to elicit valid application for the readers” (p. 51). Building upon his book, Privilege the Text!, he says the Bible “projects a world in front of the text––God’s ideal world, individual segments of which are portrayed by individual pericopes” (p. 55). Therefore, the task of preaching is to invite people into this ideal world. Since Jesus is the only one to perfectly live this world in front of the text, each pericope highlights a different characteristic of Christ, the perfect man. The written word of God functions christologically because it “depicts the incarnate Word of God” (p. 59). As a preacher expounds pericope by pericope, God’s people gradually embody characteristics of Christ and are shaped into his image. Next, Kenneth Langley describes a theocentric view, which in essence means that “preaching is manifestly God centered” (p. 82). He sees a danger in only making Christological and soteriological connections in preaching, which limits other important topics and connections necessary for shaping a biblical worldview. Finally, Paul Scott Wilson puts forward the law-gospel view, preferring to use the words trouble and grace in articulating a traditional Lutheran view of preaching. The dual purpose of the scriptures is to use the language of Isaiah 19:22, to strike and heal. Drawing heavily on his previous book, The Four Pages of Sermon Preparation, Wilson says the purpose of preaching is to preach the gospel, and he articulates his methodology of how to accomplish this task.
Similar to the other multiple views books, Homiletics and Hermeneutics was easy to follow due to the structure. Each of the contributing authors had a chapter articulating their position, with the other three providing a gracious response in areas of agreement and disagreement. For each view, the authors advocated their proposed view by discussing the biblical, theological, homiletical, and applicational rationale. Doing so allows the reader to step into the laboratory with each homiletician in order to see not only the how, but the reasons why they do what they do. This is an invaluable experience for one wanting to think deeper about the theory of preaching or who has a desire to apply these ideas practically to their weekly sermon preparation.
There are a number of issues and concerns repeated throughout the book, which are necessary for preachers to think carefully about. First, there is a concern from the writers about if and how one should preach Jesus in every sermon. The second concern in question form, closely relates to this: How is one to preach a sermon from the Old Testament? In more provocative words––Would a sermon from an Old Testament passage be preached differently in a synagogue on a Saturday than at a church on the Lord’s Day? A third issue preachers must think through is how much attention should be given to the immediate and canonical contexts and the relationship between the two contexts. Finally, the related issues of application and sanctification were discussed. How does a preacher move from meaning to application? Furthermore, how should sermons be developed that promote growth in Christ and the shaping of biblical worldviews?
During Christian conferences, organizers frequently offer a panel discussion among the invited speakers. These opportunities prove beneficial to an audience in that various perspectives are showcased in fair and informative ways. This book possesses the tone of a panel discussion among colleagues on a conference panel. Each contributor offers a perspective within the current stream of evangelical homiletics with an appreciation of other evangelical options. As such, this book can be useful as an introduction into the current state of evangelical homiletics for pastors or as a supplemental textbook for a class on hermeneutics and/or homiletics. Readers will likely find areas of disagreement, but most will be sharpened through the process of reexamining their approach to interpretation and proclamation of the Bible. Thus, this book offers a step forward as preachers grown into faithful communicator of the sacred text.