I know it’s often easier to critique than to offer positive contributions, but I was just meditating again on the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. And I was remembering poor sermons I have heard over the years on this favorite Sunday School story (you know it’s fun when talking veggies have their own rendition). At the time, they seemed like poignant Biblically-based messages that spoke to my life, but as a pastor now (and wanting to be faithful to the intent of Scripture) they were simply atrocious (even when offering valuable points that have little if anything to do with the text’s intent itself).
So here’s one: “You need to slay the giants in your life!” The preacher begins to name those giants: pride, lust, fear, smoking-drinking-and-chew, and going-with-girls-who-do (or something like that). It’s animated. You bring to mind all the sins you have committed and all the potential challenges you may face in life. You swing your air sling, followed by a chopping motion…and now the head of victory is in hand. It’s powerful. You are ready for any altar call given. The problem is…it just isn’t the point of this story.
Another day, another preacher: “God has given you five stones to defeat your enemies!” The stones are rattled off with exaggerated booming-voiced, staccato-like gunfire. The giants from the last message won’t stand a chance. Your stones of faith, forgiveness, prayer, reading your Bible, and going to Sunday School (or something like that) are powerful weapons in the arsenal of any David looking to be victorious over the enemies of their soul. The problem is…this also is not the point of the story.
Yet another day and another preacher (indicating the rejection by David of Saul’s armaments): “Use what has been tested and proven!”- followed by six more points every David-like leader needs to know in order to succeed (you have to have at least seven to be a truly spiritual leader after all). The litany of kingdom-wise business bullet points is overwhelming. You know you will actually need to have a couple of pens just to take all of the notes, because this message is LOADED with truthiness. Again, not the point of the story.
Is there no end to the directions this favorite tale has been taken? What is the point anyways? Put simply, the LORD (the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…the God of Israel) is lord of all. The LORD will not be mocked. The LORD is truly God. The LORD is the champion of His people. The LORD will act to deliver through those whom the LORD chooses to anoint.* This is ultimately a story about the LORD.
So the next time you preach 1 Samuel 17…make sure you know the point of the story…and don’t just start loading your slingshot with whatever you find along the way, try using what is already there. You may be surprised what the LORD will do with His own word.
* I just realized I gave five points…now that should go in my pouch for future slinging. 🙂
Adapted from my post authored at bluechippastor.org on July 1, 2013.
As I look to the coming years and what the Lord might allow me to do, I like to plan ahead what I might be able to read. The types of things which give direction to my choice of books are the projects I’m currently working on (or interested in potentially working on) and, now that I’ve been teaching, those subjects which I have and will teach. For whatever it is worth, I always welcome reading recommendations (but know that my Amazon wishlists contain somewhere in the vicinity of 300+ titles already 🙂 ). So here are a few of the volumes I will be reading in 2016 to be “discipled” further in several areas. Hermeneutics
Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.
Bartholomew, Craig G. Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015.
Ricœur, Paul. Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1976.
Ricœur, Paul. Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action, and Interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Preaching
Alcántara, Jared E. Crossover Preaching: Intercultural-Improvisational Homiletics in Conversation with Gardner C. Taylor. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015.
Witherup, Doug. Interrobang Preaching: A Renewed Homiletic for the Twenty-First-Century Church. NC: Witherup, 2014. Theology (just for fun)
Diller, Kevin. Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014.
Isgrigg, Daniel D. Pilgrimage into Pentecost: The Pneumatological Legacy of Howard M. Ervin. Tulsa, OK: Word & Spirit Press, 2008.
Spencer, Archie J. The Analogy of Faith: The Quest for God’s Speakability. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. So what books are you scheduling to read in the next year to develop in specific areas of your life and calling?
The following is a six minute video where I introduce the idea of the “occasional” nature of epistles by describing the significance of Paul’s instruction in 1 Cor.16.20 to “greet one another with a holy kiss”.
The Resurgence has posted The Beginner’s Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Law and offered the commonly received Reformed categorization of the Torah as ceremonial, civil and moral. The problem is that this is an external distinction not found in the text of Scripture itself. And while it may be helpful as a basic categorization to separate what is still “in force” for the Church, it offers a system that creates its own problems which are foreign to the Torah itself.
On the other side, J. Daniel Hays (“Applying the Old Testament Law Today” Bibliotheca Sacra 158 [Jan-Mar 2001]: 21-35) wrote a terrific treatment on the topic where he discusses why such categories are not as helpful as many have been led to believe. Here are his concluding remarks:
The traditional approach of dividing the Mosaic Law into civil, ceremonial, and moral laws violates proper hermeneutical method, for it is inconsistent and arbitrary, and the Old Testament gives no hint of such distinctions. This approach errs in two ways. On the one hand it dismisses the civil and ceremonial laws as inapplicable. On the other hand it applies the so-called moral laws as direct law. In addition the traditional approach tends to ignore the narrative context and the covenant context of the Old Testament legal material.
Principlism, an alternative approach, seeks to find universal principles in the Old Testament legal material and to apply these principles to believers today. This approach is more consistent than the traditional one, and it is more reflective of sound hermeneutical method. It also allows believers to see that all Scripture is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Joseph Kelly blogged about this last year in relation to Rachel Held Evans “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” (and Tim Keller’s review of it) wherein he argues she likewise subscribes to the “naïvete” of such distinctions in the Law. He notes that mainstream Biblical scholarship has largely moved from such distinctions (even though I note it has had little effect on the wider churches’ understanding and application of the Torah).
I offer the following several paragraphs from my M.Div.Honours thesis concerning an essential aspect of the nature of theological interpretation:
The primary intent of Scripture (i.e., the theological intent) is normative for a proper interpretation that regards authorial intent with due respect. If the theological meaning and significance were excluded from one’s interpretation this would suggest that the reading of Scripture is not to be read as Scripture, but simply as objectified artifact.Certainly the Scriptures can be read in this manner with some benefit, but it fails to grapple with original intent. This “original intent” does not pertain to any fabricated attempt to get behind the text to an undocumented “original” of the text, but understands the text to offer its own implied author and audience. The implied author and audience are suggestive for how one should read the text. Any other manner of reading the text may be helpful in other studies, but is not ultimately helpful for reading the text as Scripture and therefore theologically. 
The failure to read Scripture theologically may in fact explain much of the maelstrom of debate surrounding Gen 1, specifically concerning the use of yôm. A theological reading understands there is more to be interpreted than simply one term in relation to other terms or in relation to genre, but also recognizes the grounding of any reading within the overall cultural, sociological and conceptual worldview as the text has been preserved. The context and genre provide the means by which one should arrive at any proper theological interpretation. It would seem that many fail to understand the importance of the theological intent of a given passage. This, more often than not, leads one to inadequately interpret the theological meaning of the passage and thus the intended theological significance of the passage. “When it comes to the Bible, the energy necessary to ‘hear clearly’ may be considerable, especially given the Bible’s ‘remove’ from the listener’s own language, literary traditions, and culture.”  In fact, the “ability to ask the proper questions presupposes that we come to the text with the proper expectations, and this in turn presupposes that we make an effort to bridge the spatio-temporal gap by developing, as best we can, an ancient linguistic-literary-cultural competence.” 
 Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress,1979), 72-76, 132-135; C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), 36, 37.
 V. Phillips Long, “History and Hermeneutics: How Then Should We Read the Bible‘Historically’?,” inFoundations of Contemporary Interpretation: Six Volumes in One (ed., Moisés Silva;Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 394.
 Long, “History and Hermeneutics,” in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, 394.
One of the things which has long bothered me about “historical-grammatical” (HG) methods of interpretation is the sense that it presupposes itself to offer a “scientific” approach to Scripture. While the methods of HG can not simply be ignored in the context we find ourselves in (nor should they be)…they simply can not be allowed to dominate our study and exposition of Scripture. What one needs is to be conformed into the image of Christ by the hearing of the Word. It is the making of the “virtuous reader” who is formed by this text through the enabling of the Spirit who inspired and now illuminates these words. Two particular things come to mind:
There must be humility in our hermeneutics that simply doesn’t seem present (or at least dominant) in the HG methods. It is the openness not simply to hear the text, but to be changed by the text, and by being changed to re-hear the text anew. This is not to be confused with the notion of unthinking embrace, but to genuinely take great care in hearing and therefore being transformed in that hearing. We are not to “check our brains at the door” of interpretation…we are to use all we have been given (knowledge, wisdom, experience) for the purpose of interpretation. In the giving of our whole selves to the Spirit we can then be remade (wholly) by that same Spirit. Love must define our hermeneutic. This is another component that just seems lacking in the HG methodology. If our interpretation does not drive us to love God and neighbor more fully, than we are not interpreting in a manner befitting the revelation of Scripture. Too often the HG school of interpretation would have us believe that we must be “objective” (as in removed from the text), but we are subjects both confronted and embraced by the subject of the text as the living voice of the living God. This is a hermeneutics of relationality, not of scientific abstractions. Our affections are called to the obedience of Christ…to the sanctifying work of Christ’s Spirit in and through us by this Word. To interpret correctly is to respond correctly is to love correctly.