Preaching has many ironies. Many are sure they are good preachers; but many congregants feel their is a famine of God’s word. Some preachers struggle weekly trying to find things to say. Others couldn’t be shut down with a gun pointed at their heads. Some preachers are deemed ‘brave’ because they dare to call out the ‘gay agenda’ and bathroom politics. Others are deemed cowards because they educate their congregations on issues of war and peace, prosperity and poverty, and more. Again, some preachers are a lifetime learning this work. Contradicting that are tonnes of ‘improve your preaching in three easy steps’ gimmicks.
A local IFB we’ve met mainly in civic-related matters recently wrote a few paragraphs on preaching. Among his points, Kevin Folger says that preachers should:
- …Approach the text…without preconceived ideas, notions or thoughts.
- …Approach the text simply — let Scripture say what it says.
- …Approach the text as a student, mining the text for truth.
Evaluating IFB Practice
The first point is explained by saying that the Bible should form our thoughts for us, rather than our bringing preconceived notions to the Bible. Maybe he thinks this results in a purer reading of the Scripture.
He may not know it, but Mr. Folger adapts a version of Aristotle’s ‘tabula rasa’ for Bible interpretation. John Locke and others held versions of the ‘mind as a blank tablet’ idea. Some take this on a ‘we are the sum of our experiences’ path. Other philosophical derivatives may exist also. The fact is, it simply isn’t possible to do what Mr. Folger suggests. His assertion that we bring no prior ideas to the text is itself a prior idea that shapes his own approach to the text. This is called a ‘self-negating premise.’
The second point on the surface attempts a good show. But it has at least two problems. The first further illustrates the issue with the earlier point.
Mr. Folger must make gigantic assumptions that the English language words in my text mean exactly the same thing as words written millennia ago for an alien culture and in languages we don’t know or use.
Moreover, ‘simply’ in ‘approach the text simply’ too easily ‘translates’ into speaking against any heavy lifting with the text. It’s as if we’re hearing, ‘read it a couple of times and you’ve got it.’ Now go and live it.
I addressed preaching and preparation in the ‘Leaving Fundamentalism’ series. Approaching Scripture and ‘simply’ allowing the text to say what it says doesn’t exactly encourage the diligence that preaching requires whatever Mr. Folger’s third point may say.
1Pe 1:10-11 explains that the prophets preparing questions and took them to the Scriptures in order to know what person or time Christ’s Spirit in them indicated, and what was spoken about his sufferings and glory. The Bereans also formulated questions and brought them to the Scriptures for insight into their value and correctness [Act 17:11].
Questions about faith arise from life. In stable faith traditions, believers discuss, study, pray and think about issues. Questions are formulated with care, prayer and in concert with others. Adjustments are made as needed. These questions are then brought to the Scriptures, which are searched in the spirit of 1Pe 1:10-11. God’s people listen for the dialogue in the Bible on these questions and issues.
When disagreements arise [in healthy traditions, they always do], you go back to reevaluate your questions in light of that fact, and review your process of study. This matters more than fundamentalists may suppose.
- Presumes that it comes to the text with no assumptions.
- Presumes that the text means what it says on the surface.
So when disagreement arises, it’s obvious that you’re disobedient.
- A rational process is followed at each step of the Biblical journey.
- Study follows a self-correcting path in concert with others.
And agree or not, the result is better theology and better preaching.