Chapter 1 of The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text sets the stage for the rest of the book by discussing the basic issues of the nature and authority or preaching, the importance of the Bible in the task of preaching, and the importance of expository preaching. Greidanus traces modern preaching back to apostolic preaching and, before this, to prophetic pronouncements of God. Yet he does this cautiously and with a recognition of the important distinctions between modern preachers and the biblical prophets and apostles. Nonetheless, all of these are similar in that they proclaim God’s word. Furthermore, in all three instances there is an appreciation of the word of God as an event and not just as words. This is even true of the prophets, even though their message came through visions and dreams and was not dependent on a textual starting point. Furthermore, all three of these instances may be seen as a part of redemptive history (1-3). Thus, while modern preachers may not, of course, claim a direct word from God as the prophets did or the authority of the New Testament apostles, they may nonetheless have the certainty of being part of an “indispensable link” of proclaimers of God’s truth and of speaking God’s word insofar as they are faithful to that word in its written form (7,9). Greidanus points, as Ridderbos did, to the juridical nature of apostleship, as well as the juridical nature of the preaching task as it is revealed in the New Testament application of the monikers “herald” and “ambassador” to the apostles, in an effort to establish that the proclamation of God’s word through the medium of preaching is authoritative (4).
Greidanus argues for preachers to ground their sermons in the text of Scripture. He appeals to both Old and New Testament examples of this as evidence for this necessity. By proclaiming the word of God as it stands in written form, modern preachers are standing with the prophets and apostles in the flow of redemptive history. Preaching is itself an aspect of redemptive history and is used by God as a divinely sanction medium to reach the world.
The importance of preaching scripture is further expounded upon in Greidanus’s preference of expository preaching. Expository preaching is preaching that preaches the Bible as the word of God to men and women today. It proclaims biblical passages and does so with the assurance that this is God’s word. Furthermore, Greidanus argues that expository preaching is inherently authoritative as it stands in faithful proclamation of the revealed and authoritative word of God (12). As such, the Bible, not human opinions or human epistemological constructions, serves as the source and starting point of expository preaching (13-14). There is also an inherent safeguard in expository preaching. Preaching that is grounded in the scriptures is capable of being weighed and measured by and against the objectively verifiable written expression of God’s word. Greidanus also argues that expository preaching must be God-centered and must be “good news” (14-15).
Greidanus makes further arguments for the superiority of expository preaching. He points, for example, to John Stott’s four evidences for the preferability of this form of proclamation. First, the Bible places limits around the expository proclamation. Second, it “demands integrity” by tying the proclamation to the Bible. Third, by tying the sermon to the text, unnecessary and disruptive sermonic tangents are ideally avoided. Lastly, expository preaching gives the preacher confidence as he stands on the authority of the Bible. Greidanus goes on to speak of various ways that expository preaching is helpful to the Church as well (16).
Greidanus has a rather fascinating discussion of the variety of forms within scripture. In this discussion he seems to be combating the notion that expository preaching must forever be wedded to the old “three points and poem” paradigm. Instead, Greidanus argues that a close evaluation of the particular form and the particular intentions of the text we are interacting with will guide us in the careful application of a variety of expressions that reflect that form’s intentions. In other words, the Bible communicates itself with variety so why should the preacher not do the same? Greidanus believes that this can be done in expository preaching and, in fact, will show a higher degree of faithfulness to the actual form of the text in the process (18-20).
Greidanus’s opening chapter is a solid beginning point and is also very helpful to the modern preacher. His views concerning the authority of scripture are very similar to those of Ridderbos. This means that Greidanus has a high view of scripture as well as a high view of the nature of proclamation and the need for modern preaching to stand in faithful continuance of the biblical practice of proclamation. This, of course, is the crucial question for the modern preacher. Does he speak with authority? Greidanus’s contention that the preacher speaks with authority as he speaks in fidelity to the text is an extremely important point. Preaching itself bestows no limitless concept of authority on the various words a preacher might say. Rather, only those words that conform to the truth of scripture bear authority.
This conviction necessarily drives Greidanus to an appreciation of expository preaching as the most crucial mode of proclamation today. He has made his case well. I agree completely. We have seen in our various reflections on postmodernism the dangerous tide of subjectivity and existentialism that ensues whenever the objectively verifiable text is subjugated to a secondary status. It is against this potential for homiletical homelessness that Greidanus rightly argues for the need for preaching to be grounded in the text. His arguments are more than persuasive.
In chapter 2, Greidanus further separates himself from the postmodernist by asserting that the historicity of the events that lay behind the text is actually important (24). He points to the advent and current dominance of the historical-critical method as the purveyor of much confusion in this regard. In particular, he interacts with Ernst Troeltsch’s evaluation of the historical-critical method. To summarize, Troeltsch’s work reveals that the historical-critical method precludes any possibility of transcendence by positing that scripture is to be evaluated like any other text, that the reliability of the claims of scripture is determined as those claims are judged against our present normative experiences, and that history consists only of cause and effect events (25-27). The historical-critical method also believes in the inherent uncertainty of history and therefore brings doubt to its evaluation of any text.
Greidanus responds to this by noting that the historical-critical method rests on an a priori rejection of a “transcendent cause” (27). Consequently, the historical-critical method has resulted in an epistemological agnosticism in the field of biblical studies. Thus, truth has been separated from text, as Watson might say, not only practically but potentially. With this trend has emerged the postmodern concept of the hermeneutic of suspicion and despair.
Greidanus believes that this need not be the case. In fact, he believes that the foundational assumptions of the historical-critical method need to be critiqued. He begins by affirming Troeltsch’s first principle, namely that the Bible should be evaluated as any other document. We simply cannot ask, and should not wish, for this to not happen even though we accept the uniqueness of the Bible over and above all other texts (29).
Concerning doubt and history, Greidanus agrees that the historian must be cautious. The complexity of history itself would dictate this. However, when this doubt becomes unfettered by the possibility of arriving at a conclusion, and especially when this doubt so colors the historical-critics’ a priori assumptions that conclusions are ruled out de facto from the start, this doubt can be said to be out of hand (29-30).
Concerning the principle of analogy, Greidanus points out that it too is important but needs to be qualified. First, the danger of subjectivity in determining what is normative looms large in this task. Second, the principle of analogy is flawed in that it cannot handle events which we know to be true that nonetheless have no analogous point of reference. This principle therefore has obvious problems handling, for instance, miracles. This is not necessarily due to any absence of analogous point of contact but rather to a skepticism that forbids the possibility of such points of contact that is itself a result of the too subjective criteria lying beneath this principle (31-32). Thus, Greidanus argues that the possibility of the historical-critical method treating the Bible objectively on its own terms is ruled out in toto by the post-Enlightment assumptions that form its foundation. How can a system which rejects the possibility of divine activity in normative history or the element of transcendence adequately handle a book which has these two elements at its core? Truly, a more judicious model should be sought. To this, Greidanus turns his attention.
Greidanus proposes that the categories of the historical-critical method be rejected or, at least, modified so as to remove their unnecessarily restrictive criteria. Why should not the principle of correlation include the possibility of divine action in the world? Surely a rejection of this possibility is ideological in nature and not scientific. Greidanus proposes that Christians not speak of miracles in terms of a divine invasions of history. To do this is to construct an unnecessary dichotomy between normative history and God’s divine work. Instead, all work is God’s, be it normal or extraordinary. By so defining God’s work, the possibility of seeing divine action through the lens of correlation becomes possible (40). This also sets the stage for a rebuttal of the principle of analogy. Why should we, for instance, see all history as analogous? Certainly God may act uniquely and not in conformity with perceived patterns (42). By positing these qualifications of tradition historical-critical categories, Greidanus is attempting to bring the investigation of historicity back to the text and away from ideological assumptions that deny the validity of such an investigation.
Greidanus next argues for new criteria to determine historicity. The criterion of dissimilarity deems historical those acts which have emphases unique from the preceding emphases of scripture. This criterion is flawed in that it unnecessarily fails to adequately asses acts which are at one with preceding emphases (43-44). Secondly, one should ask if there is a wide range of attestation to an event in other texts. If so, historicity may be established. Third, the act or event must be coherent. Fourth, we may judge any event or act to be historical and authentic if it offers an explanation of a coming “collections of facts or of data” (44).
Greidanus is to be commended here for his extensive critique of the historical-critical method as well as his proposal of a new critical method whereby the Bible may be approached in a way in which is truthfulness is not deemed to be an impossibility from the outset. Yet he is not playing games here. He is not picking arbitrary categories that he simply prefers over others. On the contrary, in addition to the independent merits of these criteria, Greidanus’s proposal stands as a corrective to a system that is ideologically flawed. The historical-critical method must be rejected insofar as its foundational assumptions shape its conclusions before it even starts. Greidanus’s proposal, on the other hand, takes seriously the need to subject the biblical text to a critical evaluation while removing the precursory element of doubt inherent in the modern historical-critical method. This is done not because Greidanus does not like the outcome of historical-critical approaches to scripture but because he questions the validity of its starting point.
The preacher will find in Greidanus’s critique of the historical-critical method not only a necessary corrective to an ideologically founded, nonobjective approach to the historical validation of texts, but also a responsible framework in which he or she may honor the need for a critical approach while avoiding the flaws of the current system. In practical terms, the preacher may see the confidence of his proclamation as being grounded not in some blind leap of faith in the historicity of the events of scripture, but rather in the verifiable and carefully evaluated reality of that historicity. As such, Greidanus’s corrective stands as a crucial tool for the homiletical task.
Chapters 3 through 5 are given to discussions of the literary, historical, and theological aspects of what Greidanus calls a “holistic interpretation.” His goal here is to argue against what he perceives to be a stifling and insufficiently atomistic approach to scripture in which these three categories are sharply delineated. The result of this delineation is a failure to understand the scripture as a whole, an unfortunate assumption of the unrelatedness of the individual components of scripture, and a consequent inability to proclaim the whole Bible as being unified and relevant (48-51).
Greidanus begins his discussion by defining source criticism (which is concerned with the original written sources) and form criticism (which is concerned with the development of literary form, structure, intention, and setting) (51-53). He argues that source criticism is useful in terms of the insights it affords the preacher into the historical underpinnings of a text. However, the preacher should beware of allowing its speculative nature to sway him over to conjecture at the expense of proclamation (52).
In his handling of form criticism, Greidanus points to the unfortunately atomistic and piecemeal approach to the bible that form critics often take (53-54). Also, form criticism lends itself to conjecture as well as it seeks to establish a text’s prehistory (53). Form criticism is nonetheless important, says Greidanus, in that it gives us greater insight into the development and forms of a text. However, he rightly notes that a preacher’s job is to proclaim the Bible as it is, not to proclaim earlier forms of the text (54-55).
Greidanus next turns to redaction criticism. Redaction criticism is concerned with the overall theme of individual books as opposed to a focus on subparts of those books. It is concerned with the intentions of biblical authors. Greidanus criticizes redaction criticism for its lack of focus on the Bible as a whole but notes some relative value in it as it allows the preacher to understand the characteristic proclamations of each of the biblical writers (55-57).
Next, Greidanus evaluates rhetorical criticism. Rhetorical criticism seeks to understand what the biblical author is trying to say in his composition of the form of his writing. As such, rhetorical criticism approaches the text as an art form. Furthermore, the rhetorical critic evaluates the rhetorical devices employed by an author in order to ascertain the text’s intended meaning (58-60). It evaluates such phenomenon as repetition, chiasm, inclusio, and other devices as keys to understanding more fully the meaning of a text (61-63). This is important to the preaching task as it provides the preacher with a more nuanced understanding of the author’s intention and meaning. Furthermore, the variety of rhetorical devices used by an author offer the modern preacher unique opportunities not only to gain insight into the text but to communicate those insights more effectively. Nonetheless, the preacher must make sure that he does not allow a search for rhetorical clues of deeper meanings to eclipse fundamental exegetical approaches to a text. Also, the larger context of a rhetorical unit must not be neglected for a focus on its particular context (66-67).
Greidanus next extols the virtues of biblical theology. He states that it still has merit today and that its strengths should be reevaluated. In particular, biblical theology helps us uncover the overarching longitudinal themes of the whole Bible and not just the vertical themes of individual books or sections of books (69-70). Furthermore, biblical theology contains an idea of progressive revelation whereby the revelation of God is seen as progressing from the Old to the New Testament. This does not mean the Old Testament is not inspired or is unimportant. On the contrary, biblical theology would tell us that we can understand the Bible as a whole and view the New Testament as a culminative criterion of identification for the canon as a unit (70-72). Greidanus speaks very highly of biblical theology and its potential to make preachers view the Bible as a whole, formulate biblical themes, communicate biblical sermons, and come to appreciate the holistic character of scripture (72).
Finally, Greidanus speaks of the canonical approach of Brevard Childs. In this approach, the Bible is interpreted in its final canonical form. The reason for this emphasis on the final canonical form of the Bible is to be found in the canon’s normative status, the finality of its nature, and its importance as a channel for communicating the truth in the ongoing life of the Church (74-76). Greidanus believes that a canonical approach to the scriptures will likewise help the preacher view the scriptures in holistic terms and communicate the relevance of the contents of scripture (76-77).
Greidanus’s purpose in commenting on these various devices within literary interpretation is not only to point out the strengths and weaknesses of each position, but also to argue in the end for an integrated approach by which the positive application of all of these criticisms will assist the interpreter in reaching what will truly be considered a holistic understanding of the literary meaning of a text. In this, Greidanus is to be commended. Evangelicals have for too long focused on the abuses and potential problems of critical approaches to scripture. Too many have posited instead a naive, one dimensional, superficial, and ultimately palsied reliance on their own ability to get a meaning to a text. Against this type of interpretative superficiality, Greidanus proposes a healthy interaction with these criticisms.
The modern preacher will be aided tremendously by the careful application of these different subsets of the literary critical approach to scripture. His own understanding will be broadened and enriched. A fuller comprehension of the meaning of the author will ensue and a greater appreciation of the beauty, richness, and complexity of the Bible will be the result. Thus, the preacher will be able to communicate and reveal this beauty, richness, and complexity to his people as well. It is also not naive to assert that bringing a congregation into a direct encounter with beauty and richness where they expect only to find sterility and confusion will have the added result of creating in their minds a renewed desire to encounter the scriptures for themselves.
In chapter 4, Greidanus discusses historical interpretation. Historical interpretation concerns itself with the original historical situation surrounding the composition of a text. It is important insofar as it informs the interpreter and thereby provides him or her a more effective framework by which to approach the interpretative task. Also, it guards against an unwarranted subjective approach to interpretation by grounding the text in space, time, and a historical setting (80-82).
Greidanus highlights the past temporal, unverifiable, multidimensional, ambiguous, and inherently meaningful nature of history in order to show the complexities of the subject itself (83-87). He asserts that the Bible contains “history writing” as opposed to “history”. That is, the Bible offers us “literature about history” (86). Biblical history, for instance, contains prophetic interpretations. This means that biblical history is more concerned with the theocentric dimension behind historical acts than it is with the recounting of cold facts (87-88). The Christian views these biblical historical interpretations as authoritative because they are inspired by God (88). Furthermore, it must be kept in mind that biblical writers did not adhere to or even know of twenty-first century historical standards. Thus, to expect them to read like twenty-first century histories is untenable. They must be accepted in light of the general historical standards prevalent at the time of their writing (88-90). Lastly, the biblical writers had a purpose other than the relaying of chronological events. They had theological intentions in mind when they wrote. An acknowledgment of this fact will help the reader greatly in the art of interpretation.
None of this is to say that historical reliability was unimportant to the biblical writers. The above criteria for biblical history must not be understood as forming an antithesis to historical reliability. The scriptures must be understood to be historically reliable, though a microscopic examination of the historicity of minutia in the biblical text is unwarranted and unfruitful. Nonetheless, the veracity and viability of the interpretation and communication of the events of scripture rises or falls with the historicity of those events (91-92). In this regard, Greidanus stands firmly against the postmodern minimizing of the importance of historical realities though he does caution the interpreter to focus more on the biblical prophetic interpretation of an event than on the question of the historicity of the event itself (94).
Apart from these particular considerations of the nature of biblical history, Greidanus stresses the importance of realizing the overarching nature of the Bible’s view of history itself. He notes that the Bible presents a universal history of the world from its inception to the final culmination of the ages. This is called kingdom history due to the fact that the overarching historical vision of the Old and New Testaments is the kingdom of God (97). Greidanus identifies the major theme of kingdom history in terms of “Creation-Fall-Redemption” (98). This vision of history has been largely lost or rejected and needs to be regained for today (94-96).
The interpretative implications of kingdom history are substantial. The interpreter who accepts this historical construct will not deal with scripture or portions of scripture as if they abide in an a-historical vacuum. Rather, the scripture itself as well as what it reveals will be evaluated in terms of the “grand sweep of kingdom history” (100). Interpretations can therefore be evaluated in the light of their place in and relationship to the overall flow of kingdom history. Furthermore, the preacher’s sermon will begin to be communicated in kingdom historical terms. Passages will not be relegated merely to the here and now, but the enormous implications of the text’s standing in and relationship to kingdom history will be brought to bear on the interpretative proclamation as well. Furthermore, this will further reinforce a holistic interpretative approach.
Greidanus’s treatment of historical interpretation is particularly helpful to today’s preacher. To begin with, an awareness of the complexities and nuances of biblical history (as well as history itself) will help shape and form the preacher’s interpretation and communication of the text. Spending agonizing amounts of time on attempts to harmonize fairly inconsequential details will be seen to be the unfruitful exercise that it is. More importantly, false interpretations deriving from a faulty or incomplete understanding of the nature of biblical history will be avoided. In its place, a holistic interpretation informed by a proper understanding of biblical history will be brought to the congregation. They will then be shown the nature of this history and will be better equipped to avoid interpretative fallacies as well.
Greidanus’s discussion of historicity is crucial. The assumption that the actuality of the events spoken of in the text is not important has been subconsciously embraced by many in our churches. This assumption is a product of an existentialistic postmodernity that revels in uncertainty. Greidanus’s assertion that it is crucial that the events of scripture actually happened is correct and should be integrated in the interpretative and homiletical task in an appropriate fashion. This appropriate fashion will entail stressing the historicity of the event while not becoming sidetracked with an overemphasis on the verification of unimportant historical details.
A theological interpretation of scripture is concerned with the question of what God is saying in a text. This interpretation is ideally included in literary and historical interpretation if rightly done. Greidanus deems “unfortunate” the dichotomy that has been drawn between theological interpretation and these “scientific” interpretations (103). He argues that the application of literary and historical interpretative techniques alone will lead to an incomplete understanding of what is, essentially, a theological book (104). Instead of this division, Greidanus argues for a holistic and integrated approach to the scripture which includes literary, historical, and theological elements. In so doing, Greidanus is mirroring in a fashion Watson’s concern in Text and Truth.
Greidanus sees the impetus for a theological interpretation as residing in a number of facts. To begin with, he points to the Bible as God’s word (104). If this is indeed the case, as Evangelicals believe, then a theological interpretation is warranted on the basis of the very nature of scripture. Second, a theological interpretation is needed since the Church looks to the scriptures “as its standard of faith and practice” (105). Lastly, the Bible is a book of faith and it is therefore important to approach it with an evaluation of its theological message and one’s own faith content (105-106).
In another attempt to combat interpretative subjectivism, Greidanus advocates determining the author’s purpose. This will help immensely in the task of understanding where a biblical writer is headed and why. Furthermore, Greidanus argues that the identification of authorial intent will also help guard the preacher against imposing foreign meanings upon the text (106-107). He acknowledges that the identification of an author’s intent can be difficult, but he nonetheless rejects the view that meaning is found in the text, not the author, and that authorial content is therefore largely irrelevant. Greidanus’s rejection of this view is predicated upon his belief that authorial intent can be determined from an examination of the text and serves as the best foundation on which to base an interpretation (108-109).
Greidanus next advocates an identification of the wider purpose of a text. This he calls “God’s purpose” (111). To this end he advocates identifying the sensus plenior of a text. This fuller meaning must, however, derive from the explicit meaning and be informed and, if necessary, qualified and refined by other revelation (analogia Scriptura). These parameters that are placed around sensus plenior are done so in recognition of the great potential to use this concept as a justification of eisegetical impositions on the text (113). The ultimate goal of such an evaluation is the establishment of a “theocentric interpretation” and the rejection of an “anthropocentric interpretation” (114,116-118). This is in keeping with Greidanus’s contention that scripture has a “God-centered focus” and that the whole canon speaks of and points to Him (114-115).
The great danger for preachers is to disregard the theocentric character of the canon in favor of an anthropocentric approach. In this approach, moral or ethical lessons are derived from scripture. God is not so much proclaimed as the central character of the Bible as He is allowed to lurk in the shadows as an occasional reference point. This theocentric approach to scripture finds its fulfillment, Greidanus argues, in a Christocentric emphasis in interpretation and proclamation (118). Here, he proposes allowing the New Testament to inform our approach to the Old Testament (119). Furthermore, the testaments should be brought into interaction with one another in the task of interpretation and proclamation. Greidanus contends that this interaction consists not initially of a movement from the Old Testament to the New Testament, but rather from the New Testament to the Old Testament (119). Thus, our interpretation of the Old Testament is informed by our understanding of the New Testament, and, particularly, by the Christ to whom all scripture points.
I believe that Greidanus has done a good job of effectively establishing the need for the preacher as well as any interpreter to have a theological interpretation as well. He is correct in his assertion that the divorcing of this approach from the perceived scientific approaches (i.e., literary and historical) has led to something of a hermeneutical and homiletical tragedy. Not only has a dimension of interpretation been neglected, but the dimension of interpretation has been neglected. Certainly the crucial question for any interpretation is the question of meaning and purpose. “What does this mean,” is incomplete if not followed by, “What is the purpose of this meaning?” A theological interpretation of scripture reveals to us its purpose. Greidanus wisely finds this purpose in authorial intention. I agree with him in this but do believe that Erickson’s qualifications and clarifications of this concept as presented in Evangelical Interpretation need to be brought into the process of determining authorial intent.
Greidanus’s theocentric and Christocentric concept of scripture is of immanent importance to any who would interpret or proclaim the Bible. If interpretation is seen as a journey, then knowledge of the destination will serve as an important guide not only in the evaluation of all proposed destinations but also of the journey as well. Thus, one’s concept of the ultimate end or goal or destination of biblical assertions will be in many ways the most important component of the interpretative task. Greidanus proclaims that destination to be the glorification of God in Christ. I added my hearty assent to this proposal.
It is significant that Greidanus asserts the implications of a theological interpretation on preachers and preaching today in the end of this chapter (120-121). His doing so is reflective of the reality that the primary task of the preacher is to proclaim God’s word and point the people through that proclamation to God. This means, obviously, that a fallacy in a preacher’s approach to the theological interpretation of a text will necessarily mean a fallacy in the intention and goal of his proclamation on the basis of that text. To this end, an emphasis on the need for preachers to create a functional, theological, interpretative approach is more than admirable.
Greidanus next moves into a discussion of preaching by questioning the assumption that “textual preaching” and “thematic preaching” are mutually exclusive forms of exposition. He proposes instead a model of “textual-thematic preaching.” In this model, “the theme of the sermon is rooted in the text” (122).
Greidanus defines “textual preaching” as preaching that is rooted in and preaches on the basis of a text of scripture. He argues for the necessity of having a preaching text on the basis of the authority that the text will grant the sermon. In addition to this, a text will serve as a guide for a preacher and will put parameters around his homiletical endeavors. Furthermore, by preaching a text the congregation is given the capability and possibility of weighing the sermon against the textual objective criterion (123-124). Greidanus proposes that the choosing of a text take into consideration the church’s needs, the preacher’s predilection, the significance of the text to biblical revelation, and the text’s standing as a literary unit, whether this unit be long or short (124-128).
In arguing for “textual-thematic preaching,” Greidanus approvingly quotes Miller’s belief that each sermon should have a single theme. Greidanus defines a theme as “a summary statement of the unifying thought of the text” (134). Various subpoints may speak to that theme, but they must not serve as points of deviation from it. This adherence to the principle of a single theme is, in my opinion, extremely important and should be recognized as fundamental to the preaching task (131). The theme of the sermon should be the theme of the text. Greidanus argues that not every verse has a theme, but every literary unit of scripture, on which, by definition, “textual-thematic preaching” is based, does (132). It is important that the search for a theme does not lead to a distortion of the text. Greidanus further believes that the implementation and use of rhetorical criticism, especially the use of repetition, may aid the preacher in coming to identify a text’s theme (133-134).
In continuing to construct a foundation for “textual-thematic preaching,” Greidanus calls for the preacher to formulate the theme as an assertion. This assertion should grow out of the very nature of biblical texts which, by definition, are texts with a message (134). Furthermore, when attempting to identify and formulate a theme, the author’s viewpoint should take precedence over any other characters’ viewpoints in the text (135). This will help keep the theme in context.
Next, the theme of the sermon is to be formulated (136-137). The sermon’s theme is born out of the text’s theme. The sermon theme keeps the sermon “on track,” helps it to maintain unity, gives a sense of movement to the sermon, and assists in the application of the sermon (139-140). The theme of the text is the foundation for the sermon its theme. Greidanus next proposes that the preacher never overemphasize the text theme to the exclusion of the sermon theme or the sermon theme to the exclusion of the text them. This proposal is meant to ground the sermon simultaneously in the “then and now,” and to guard against the sermon becoming a history lesson with no application on the one hand or a talk to modern people with no application to the text on the other (137).
In proposing “textual-thematic preaching,” Greidanus has done the modern preacher a great service. Many preachers feel or sense or type of “either/or” tension regarding text and theme. Some use the text as a mere springboard to develop their theme. Others are wedded to the text alone and make no thematic proclamations or applications. As such, their sermons become microscopic examinations of passages of scripture. This is done in an attempt to remain truly biblical in preaching.
Against these two fallacies stands Greidanus’s fascinating concept of “textual-thematic preaching.” It is thoroughly biblical in its inception, execution, scope, and goal, yet it places a high emphasis on current thematic implication. What is more, this model provides room for creativity in the preaching task.
Undoubtedly, the defining of a textual theme and sermonic theme will require a change in much popular sermonizing. It will in mine. I believe it will cause me and any who seek to adhere to its tenets to be more cautious and deliberate in the construction of sermons. However, his will prove ultimately very fruitful and will serve as an extremely helpful model in the forming and delivering of sermons.
Greidanus next turns his attention to the issue of form. He rightly argues that form may either help or hinder a sermon. Furthermore, a sermon should have as its goal to bring the people into the same experience that is arrived at through a reading of the text in its form (141). This will necessarily involving not only an evaluation of the form of the text, but also an evaluation of the form of the sermon. Form’s importance is found in the fact that, among other things, it ushers the audience along to a response, affects the hearers’ expectations for the sermon, keeps the people’s interest, and “shapes the hearers’ attitudes” (141-142).
Greidanus mentions the strengths of deductive and inductive preaching and then moves to an evaluation of didactic preaching. Deductive preaching is the most popular form. It begins by stating a theme and then interacting with that theme in particular ways throughout the sermon. Inductive preaching, advocated by Fred Craddock, begins with particulars and moves towards a statement of the general theme. This form of preaching is effective with narratives and, according to Haddon Robinson, helps create “a sense of discovery in listeners” (143-144).
In his treatment of didactic preaching, Greidanus notes that it is thoroughly biblical and lends itself well to an easy-to-follow structure that follows and comments upon the text. However, many feel that didactic preaching relies too much on structured points. Furthermore, the desire to fit a text into a didactic structure may actually lead to a distortion of that text and often leads the preacher to neglect the form of the text and its potential implications upon the sermon (146-147).
Greidanus next turns to narrative preaching. This form of preaching delivers the sermon in the form of a story. It is claimed that this is the most effective way to communicate, if not the whole Bible, then certainly narrative passages (148). A narrative preaching of a narrative text would bring out the particular importance of that biblical form to the congregation. Also, the narrative form is dynamic and maintains movement. Third, the narrative form importantly utilizes the imagination of the audience in their hearing of the sermon. (151).
That being said, however, it must also be recognized that the narrative form is not appropriate for the preaching of all biblical forms. Second, the narrative form lends itself to an isolation from the overall flow of biblical truth. The preacher must take serious precautions against this. Also, by its indirect nature, the narrative form may not be communicating as clearly and forthrightly as, say, the didactic form would (152-154).
Finally, Greidanus considers textual forms. He reiterates that sermons should seek to follow the form of the text unless there is some legitimate reason to alter it. This means that neither didactic nor narrative forms will ever be adhered to exclusively. The sermonic form should be largely determined by the form of the text. Thus, Greidanus calls for a consideration of “textual forms” (154).
One of Greidanus’s strengths in his discussion of the forms of sermons is his moderation. He lists the relative strengths and weaknesses of didactic and narrative forms and then calls for a level of flexibility on the part of the preacher. He very wisely locates the need for this flexibility in an acknowledgment of the textual varieties of scripture. The point is well made. What would be the use of slavish devotion to one form or another if the Bible itself is not slavishly married to one form.
Preachers will greatly benefit from this concept of choosing our sermon form on the basis of the textual form. This is, quite frankly, a revolutionary thought to me. Have spent my entire life beneath didactic teaching I find that moving away from it is difficult to do. Nonetheless, honesty and a desire to effectively communicate scripture should cause me to set aside my preferences, or, more precisely, my comfort zone, and step out into preaching forms that will be more faithful to the form of the text itself.
Without a doubt, the desire to make the sermon relevant is one of the greatest desires of a preacher. Greidanus helpfully points out that the preachers’ task is not to make the Bible relevant. The Bible is already relevant and, if it was not, it is doubtful that preachers would be able to make it so. Instead, the preacher’s job is to show the relevance of the Bible. Part of this process is choosing a passage of scripture that will be relevant to the audience (158). The great challenge of making the sermon relevant, of course, is the wide distance of the cultural makeup of our world from the world of scripture.
Greidanus outlines a number of inappropriate attempts at being relevant. Allegory is inappropriate for a variety of hermeneutical reasons (159-160). Spiritualizing a text is also deficient as it almost always deemphasizes or ignores the historical reality behind that text (160-161). There is also a problem in pointing to biblical figures as examples or models to be imitated. Namely, this is not how the way in the Bible presents historical figures (161-163). Greidanus also points to moralizing as a flawed attempt to be relevant. This attempt plays to loose with the actual text and its intention (163-166).
Greidanus turns next to a consideration of how to make the sermon relevant. To begin with, the sermon must stay closely wedded to the text (166). The desire to step away from the original message in order to assert some point of relevance must be resisted. The intention of the passage in its entirety must be asserted throughout.
In order to arrive at relevancy, Greidanus asserts that the original message of the text must be evaluated in a number of ways. First of all, the principle of progressive revelation would dictate that a text’s meaning be evaluated and affirmed in light of the whole Bible’s witness (167-168). Second, the message must be evaluated in terms of the text’s standing in kingdom history. Third, the cultural changes between the culture surrounding the events of the text and our own must be taken into account (168-169).
There are, however, some points of continuity that Greidanus points to as well. The immutability of God serves as an obvious and all important point of continuity between the biblical culture and ours (169-170). A strong recognition of this fact will aid the preacher tremendously in thinking through the implications of a text for today. Second, the covenantal aspect of God’s relationship with His people is a point of continuity. This means that when God addresses His covenant people three thousand years ago, He likewise addresses His covenant people today (171-173).
Another key to establishing the relevance of a passage for today is ascertaining the goal of the original text. Why, in other words, was it written? Greidanus contends that establishing this goal is the first half of the journey towards relevancy. The second is finding a point of contact whereby that goal is applied to a modern audience (173). This can be achieved through defining modern parallels to the specific situations surrounding the original text as well as delineating the principles of the text (173-174).
Greidanus finally proposes that the preacher consider the specific concrete needs of his people, address the whole person, use dialogue, and use concrete, vivid language (184-186). Addressing the needs of individuals will serve to draw them into the sermon and will establish relevancy (184). Addressing the whole person means speaking to the person’s intellect, will and emotions (184-185). This will be difficult for preachers who prefer a certain style of application or who respond well themselves to certain styles. Regardless, if the goal is to communicate God effectively, comfort zones will have to be left behind. The concept of using dialogue is particularly helpful as well. Greidanus is not calling here for verbal dialogue as much as for a an awareness of how the audience will respond to the message throughout its delivery (185). This will add a new dimension to preaching that is too often presented as a monologue. Finally, the idea of vivid language is more than crucial in a day and age when people’s attention spans have already been reduced in length. There is simply no excuse for the preacher to employ dull and uninspired language.
I was particularly moved by Greidanus’s discussion of relevance. I realize that I have often resorted to bad or ineffectual methods in an attempt to relate. The most striking thought that Greidanus verbalizes in this section was the idea that it is not the preacher’s job to bring relevance to the text but rather to show the inherent relevance of the text. This humbled me greatly. It caused me to realize that there is something prideful and arrogant in the assumption that it is up to the preacher to make a “boring” Bible relevant. Greidanus’s perspective makes all of the difference in the world. It informs the preacher that he is a communicator of relevance, not a creator of it. The power and creativity of God’s word stands alone without human aid. Preachers are merely given the great honor of pointing people to it.
In The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, Sidney Greidanus offers a thorough, provocative, and careful analysis of the major issues leading up to the preaching task. He calls for creativity and freshness in the pulpit, but, most importantly, he calls for a radical faithfulness to the written word of God. In a day of faddish sermonizing and a-biblical pontifications, this is very refreshing. This is a tremendous book.