Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 15: The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part C
Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.
The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part C
2. Preaching must honor the principle of authorial intent, recognizing that the ultimate author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, God Himself.
The faithful expositor is humbled, even haunted, by the realization that when he stands to preach he stands to preach what has been given by the Holy Spirit of God. Why is he haunted? Because he understands that what is before his eyes is divinely inspired by God, and he trembles at the very thought of abusing, neglecting or altering what God Himself wrote. Yes, the Bible is best described as the Word of God written in the words of men. However, we must never forget it is ultimately the Word of God, and the divine author’s intended meaning as deposited in the text should be honored. The Westminster Dictionary (A.D. 1645) captures this well when it states, “. . . the true idea of preaching is that the preacher should become a mouthpiece for his text, opening it up and applying it as a word from God to his hearers, . . . in order that the text may speak . . . and be heard, making each point from his text in such a manner that [his audience] may discern [the voice of God].” Charles Spurgeon notes,
A sermon comes with far greater power to the consciences of the hearers when it is plainly the very Word of God–not a lecture about the Scripture, but Scripture itself opened up and inforced . . . I will further recommend you to hold to the ipsissima verba, the very Words of the Holy Ghost . . . those sermons which expound the exact words of the Holy Spirit are the most useful and most agreeable to the major part of our congregations. They love to have the words themselves explained and
expounded (Lectures to My Students, 73).
Haddon Robinson adds, “When a preacher fails to preach the Scriptures, he abandons his authority. He confronts his hearers no longer with a word from God but only with another word from men.” In the 20th century the issue of authorial intent came under heavy and sustained assault, especially with the popularity of the deconstruction movement and its godfather, the deceased Jacques Derrida. For a number of years the English literary critic E. D. Hirsch stood in the gap. Kevin Vanhoozer has exposed the underlying [a] theistic/ [a] gnostic agenda that was driving the deconstructionist all along. In his work, Is There a Meaning in This Text, he presents a careful and impressive defense for “Resurrecting the Author” (ch. 5) and “Redeeming the Text” (ch. 6). This is a much needed critique. It is a sad commentary how easily evangelicals can be fooled, if not by the academy, then by the culture. That this theological and hermeneutical quicksand is ever a serious consideration for those who man our pulpits and shepherd the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a tragedy with enormous consequences. We should not ignore what a reader or hearer brings to a text or a sermon. However, we should not deify (small “d”) it either.
3. Scripture must be interpreted and understood as it was given to the original audience. The text cannot mean today what it did not mean then.
Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart correctly assert, “A text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or his or her readers” (How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, 64).
This principle does not neglect the fact that the faithful expositor must build a sturdy bridge between the historical audience and their context, and the audience he addresses here and now. It does mean he will not “eisegete” the text, reading into it the preconceived notions of his own imagination or interest. Further, he will not injure the inspired text with a fanciful and irresponsible hermeneutic that surpasses the allegorist of the medieval period. As evangelical expositors we must continue to affirm that “the meaning is one, though the applications are many.” We must honor the text as it was given and as it would have been understood by the original audience. However, and this is crucially important. This principle does not ignore the divine authorship of Scripture, interpreting Scripture in light of the whole canon, the flow and nature of redemptive history and its Christological focus (principle #5 below), or the intriguing issue of Sensus Plenior. As Vanhoozer argues, and we find his argument compelling, “‘the fuller meaning’ of Scripture–the meaning associated with divine authorship–emerges only at the level of the whole canon . . .the canon as a whole becomes the unified act for which the divine intention serves as the unifying principle. The divine intention supervenes on the intention of the human authors. The Spirit will apply meaning, not change it” (264-65). In other words, implications and significances embedded in the meaning of the text, in light of the whole canon and the grand redemptive storyline may certainly come to light. This will provide balance, as well as a healthy affirmation of the principle of progressive revelation.