Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Book Review: "Privilege the Text" by Abraham Kuruvilla

Privilege the Text: A Theological Hermeneutic for Preaching (Chicago, Moody: 2013) is an academic work that is relevant to pulpit preaching but written for the classroom. The language is heady, the writing style is technical, and the four primary chapters are very long (57 pp and longer; the book also includes a brief introduction, a brief conclusion, and a lengthy bibliography). Kuruvilla’s work is insightful and precise, and it will help any humble preacher who endeavors to read it. But fair warning, it is not an easy read.

Privilege the Text is about the pastoral endeavor of applying the ancient text of Scripture to modern life through pulpit ministry. Accordingly, Kuruvilla argues that the attempt to bridge the gap between text and context has led many preachers either to systematize or to atomize their applications. In the one case, preachers tend to see every text as a sort of proof text that must fit into their a priori theological categories. In the other case, preachers react against this tendency and see every detail of the text as fodder for applications that may or may not honor authorial intent. Kuruvilla’s aim is to create a via media by developing a theological hermeneutic that is grounded in pulpit preaching and focused on the pericope as the preferred unit of Scripture.

Chapter one, then, deals with general and specific hermeneutics, that is, general principles of interpretation and specific rules for reading the Bible qua sacred Scripture. Kurvilla argues in chapter two that since the Bible is most often preached in the context of the local church, our attention ought rightly to be directed toward the pericope (preachable unit of Scripture) as the bridge between the theology of the Bible and the application of the same to modern life. He carefully shows how one can discern and apply biblical precepts, principles, and practices in the life of the local church, persuading one and all, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be formed into the image of Christ. For my money, this was the most helpful and useful part of the book, one which will surely impact my process and practice of preaching.

Chapters three and four deal with issues raised by the focus on what Kuruvilla calls pericopal theology, namely, how preachers ought to interpret and apply the legal portions of the Bible (especially of the OT) and how preachers ought to read and preach the entire corpus of Scripture in light of Christ, respectively. His arguments in these chapters are too detailed to cover here but from my point of view he develops fairly complicated arguments to make simple points and, in the end, advances a point of view that is nearly identical to traditional views on both subjects.

Privilege the Text is a unique and helpful work, but again, it’s an academic book that reads like a doctoral dissertation. It’s worth the work ot reading but I fear that a limited number of preachers will actually put in that work unless they're a seminary student! For this reason, I plan to write to Kuruvill and encourage him to write a smaller and simpler book, articulating the core principles in Privilege the Text in a way that’s more accessible to the common pastor-preacher. Hopefully he'll have the time and desire to do so because his work is important. 

I might write another blog or two about this book but either way I do want to be clear that I appreciate and highly recommend it. Push yourself, do the work, read this book! 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Book Review - "Deep Preaching" by J. Kent Edwards

In preparation for my current doctoral course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School I recently read J. Kent Edwards book Deep Preaching: Creating Sermons that Go Beyond the Superficial (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2009). Edwards argues that deep preaching is about moving from exegetically precise but dry preaching to awe-inspiring, life-transforming preaching. It’s about moving from the trite to the substantial. Instead of playing marbles with diamonds, preachers must learn to handle and admire and preach the Bible in a manner worthy of what it actually is—the living Word of God.

Accordingly, the book starts by dealing with various challenges to preaching in the modern world like the avalanche of information available to preachers and people alike, the widespread use of media and corollary issues related to attention and entertainment, and the flood of expectations that pound down upon local pastors every day of their ministries. 

Edwards understandably asks why we should preach at all, and then offers theological, historical, and practical reasons why preaching is, and always will be, central to God's gospel strategy in the world. With the place of preaching firmly established, Edwards moves on to argue that deep sermons cannot be preached by shallow people, rather, profound sermons can only emerge from people who have a profound relationship with God. The heart of such a relationship is God's passionate and relentless pursuit of his people, a pursuit that drives biblical preachers to seek God with passion and deep hunger. 

In the context of this kind of passionate relationship, then preachers ought to seek to preach the Word of God on its own terms, working through one passage at a time and seeking to unearth and articulate the "big idea" of each one. Having done this hard and important work, the preacher ought then to enter into "the closet" of prayer, meditation, and fasting in order to allow the Holy Spirit to do his work of teaching, empowering, impassioning, and applying the "big idea" to life. In order to do this well, the preacher must leave aside his gadgets and tools, and simply come into God's presence with a Bible and a blank notepad. The idea here is to spend as much time as necessary in the presence of God, allowing him to lead us where he will. 

To help guide this time, Edwards suggests that we spend our time looking backward, upward, inward, outward, and forward, and he offers five questions that will help us do so: 

1. Why was this big idea necessary for the original recipients? 
2, Looking Upward: What is God revealing about himself through this big idea?
3, Looking Inward: What is God saying to me through this big idea?
4: Looking Outward: What does God want to accomplish through this big idea?
5: Looking Forward: What could negate the progress I’ve made with this big idea, i.e., how will Satan seek to attack me and the congregation, and how can I counter-attack? 

Edwards concludes the book by outlining eight aspects of deep sermons and six aspects of deep preachers. This section of the book is basic and could have been improved by at least offering suggestions on how preachers might go about writing deep sermons, but having said that, it is insightful and helpful for preachers who are interested in putting Edwards' wisdom into practice. 

I really enjoyed reading this book and I will undoubtedly benefit from it as a preacher. Edwards is articulate and creative, and obviously practiced what he preached in the writing of this book--that is, he prayed, meditated, and fasted as he wrote, it's pretty obvious. Although much of his wisdom for preaching is old wisdom, his plea to come away and spend more time with the Lord is magnetic. Surely the impact of this book upon my life is that I will indeed invest more minutes--more hours--in the presence of Jesus as I prepare to preach and this will glorify God, help others, and augment my joy. 

If you're a preacher, or think you might want to be, you should read this book. It's worth every penny and whatever time you'll invest in reading it. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Update - Duluth and Back or Bust

Over the last few months I have been working toward the goal of riding my bike from the northwest Twin Cities to Duluth in one day (about 150 miles) and then back in one day after a couple days of rest. But as my training has progressed I've decided to delay the trip - not cancel it but delay it - for the following reasons. 

1. Over the last year or so I've been very undisciplined with exercise and thus I've lost my previous level of fitness. Although I've trained well over the last few months, I've been experiencing some pain in my upper body and feet when riding for more than 65 or 70 miles, and bottom line, this means that I haven't been enjoying the longer rides. Since I'm not entering a race or cycling event, I can take the ride to Duluth and back anytime I want to and I think it will significantly augment my joy in doing so if I put it off for a few months. 

2. The manner in which I've trained this year has allowed me to ride fairly well for 50-60 miles but at that point my lack of overall fitness becomes obvious and unavoidable. So it seems best to me to prioritize fitness over endurance and spend some time on and off the bike strengthening my upper body, core, lower body, and aerobic capacity. 

3. Another benefit of prioritizing fitness is that I will gain in average speed, and it seems best to put speed before distance. To this point I've aimed to complete the 150 mile trek at an average speed of 14 mph which means that I would spend 10 hours and 45 minutes on the bike. But if I take a few months and build a better base of fitness, I can complete this distance at an average speed of 16 mph or higher which means that I would spend 9 hours and 20 minutes on the bike - quite a big difference! 

So, bottom line, I'm delaying my "Duluth and Back or Bust" ride to build fitness, develop speed, and increase my joy on the bike. It seems a good decision to me and I look forward to the process from here on out.