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! 

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