Raymond Bailey (Contributing Editor), Hermeneutics for Preaching: Approaches to Contemporary Interpretations of Scripture (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), $15.95, hardcover, 223 pp.
Hermeneutics for Preaching demonstrates seven of the many ways the Scriptures may be approached in order to interpret them. Readers must not think of this book as a full course meal in each approach, but as a table full of appetizers. Fortunately, each chapter includes sufficient notes to enable the reader to research further. A well-chosen bibliography with a focus on hermeneutics, but not homiletics, also encourages more substantive investigation. The components of each chapter include introduction, analysis of a text, explanation of the hermeneutical method, sermon, and conclusion.
In his introduction, Raymond Bailey, professor of Christian preaching and director of the National Center of Christian Preaching at Southern Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, addresses the necessity of hermeneutics, describes its benefits, and provides “an overview of the major trends in hermeneutic theory and practice from the biblical period to the present” (p.12). The overview offers a very brief sweep through the history of biblical interpretation, but leaves a major question unanswered. “The Christian expositor must decide if the meaning lies behind the text, in the text, in a world universal consciousness, in the listener, or somewhere in the interaction of these points” (p.23). This strategy becomes standard procedure throughout the book as methods are offered uncritically.
Chapter 1 presents “A Historical Model” by David S. Dockery. This approach gives prominence to the biblical author’s historical context and meaning as expressed in the text and discovered through a literal-grammatical study of the text. Dockery, following E. D. Hirsch, Jr., distinguishes between meaning and significance with the goal of interpretation being “to determine the author’s purpose as revealed in the linguistical structure of the text” (p.33). Dockery’s analysis and sermon demonstrate the benefit of understanding the text in its historical context, but offers a heavily exegetical exposition with the emphasis on the text rather than the listener.
In Chapter 2, John D. W. Watts addresses “A Canonical Model.” Watts undertakes to show how “a text can be reinterpreted (resignified) within a canonical context, and explore the possibilities for preaching that this suggests” (p.54). Interpretations of Habakkuk 2:4 are offered from its original context, its Septuagint translation, and its Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38 citations. Three steps outline the canonical method of interpretation. Two methods of preaching in the canonical model are suggested. Once again, however, the sermon is both text-centered and text-focused with the main emphasis falling upon explanation.
Chapter 3 provides “A Literary Model” by R. Alan Culpepper. Many readers will recognize the narrative approach this essay follows. Character, setting, plot, and rhetorical device, including narrator, aid the interpreter in understanding “both what the text says and how it says it” (p.78). Culpepper’s analysis of John 1:43-51 offers many excellent observations from the text, but inadequately explains how readers could discover them for themselves. The sermon reduces preaching to a re-telling of the biblical narrative with only brief and abstract asides into application.
Craig A. Loscalzo offers “A Rhetorical Model” for hermeneutics in Chapter 4. Narrowing his discussion to the works of Kenneth Burke, Loscalzo focuses on “the dynamic and dramatic way that written works engage readers and move them to a change of attitudes and behavior” (p.105). Concise discussions of language as symbolic action, rhetorical situations, the dramatic pentad, and identification provide an excellent introduction to Burke. This essay uncovers an interpretive tool which should prove useful for many readers. Taking the listener into account through more relevant illustrations and extended applications, Loscalzo’s sermon provides a better homiletical model than the previous sermons.
Chapter 5 offers “An African-American Model” by James Earl Massey. Three basic African-American hermeneutical perspectives are identified. Massey’s overview of other hermeneutical traditions within the African-American community provides a starting point for further study in the black hermeneutical tradition. The sermon reflects Massey’s goal of relating “some textual help with someone’s soul struggles” (p.140).
In Chapter 6, Dan R. Stiver’s “A Philosophical Model” addresses the concept of understanding from a philosophical perspective. Stiver’s analysis of the text depends more on narrative, rhetorical, and synoptic methods than on philosophical methods. This should come as no surprise. Philosophical hermeneutics provides little immediate help for practical exegesis. Stiver argues that both Gadamer and Ricoeur promote a hermeneutic in which one gives oneself to the text in such a way that it is possible to “understand oneself and reality anew” (p.180). Since the reader has already been prepared for the subject of misunderstanding, the sermon on Peter’s misunderstanding provides a degree of interest.
The editor’s chapter, “A Theological Approach,” presents the hermeneutical method of Karl Barth. Not all readers will buy Barth’s theology in which “The Bible is not identical to the revelation of God consummated with Jesus Christ; rather it is an inspired witness which proclaims and affirms that revelation” (p.195). Nor will they buy the method wherein “God speaks from above the text. The Holy Spirit who inspired the original writer must inspire the contemporary reader/listener” (p.203). As in the other chapters, the reader is left to critique both the presuppositions and the methods as presented.
A knowledge of the contents of Hermeneutics for Preaching should be required of every serious preacher. Too many preachers have become stuck in a single method of approaching every text. Most of us need to expand our ability to interpret the Scriptures. However, this recommendation comes with three cautions. (1) Only Loscalzo offers any critique of the method he presents. Readers would be wise to evaluate both presuppositions and procedures before practicing them. (2) The brevity of the discussions prohibits immediate practice of the methods. Further research will be required. (3) The model sermons would be more accurately classified as exegetical or expositional lectures which demonstrate a much greater concern for explaining the text than for applying its immediate and particular relevance to an audience. Readers should take this into consideration before imitating the homiletics of Hermeneutics for Preaching.
Bryan Chapell, Using Illustrations to Preach with Power (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), $12.99, paper, 223 pp.
Because this book says as much about the essence of expository preaching as it says about illustrations it deserves every preacher’s attention. Bryan Chapell, vice-president and academic dean as well as professor of practical theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, argues that illustrations contribute to effective preaching not simply because they entertain, but more importantly because they evoke emotion which in turn stimulates willful decision-making. Divided into three parts, Using Illustrations discusses “Background and Theory: Deciding About Illustrations,” “The Method: Making Illustrations,” and “The Practice: Working with Illustrations.”
Part One is worth the price of the book. Introducing his thesis with a real-life illustration, the author purposes “to demonstrate why and how illustrations can be used in biblical preaching” (p.13). Chapell asserts that life-situation illustrations invite listeners into an experience that captures not only the intellectual, but also the emotional and spiritual aspects of the biblical principle expounded. A proper use of life-situation illustrations will enhance sermons rather than “distort or diminish biblical content” (p.31).
Chapter Two reasons that real-life stories enable preachers to minister to the whole person because, “When illustrations arouse emotions they do more than pass information on to the mind. They stimulate decision-making responses; they influence the will” (p.38). The use of real-life stories enlivens and enriches sermons today even as in biblical times. Chapell traces the consistent pattern of life-situation illustration employed by Moses, the historical writers, the poets, the prophets, the Gospel writers, Paul, the Apostles, and especially Jesus.
Building on the maxim that truth is fully understood only when observed in the context of life-situation, Chapell argues that spiritual transformation comes only when truth is lived out either imaginatively or materially. During too many sermons listeners have an intellectual experience without having a spiritual experience. Messages that ignore the lived-out experience of truth demonstrate insensitivity to the nature of human personality and insulate the listener from the burden of decision-making.
A further benefit of story may be seen in its community-building ability for “narratives become essential seams in the fabric of any religion that will not be torn from its original design” (p.70). Propositions prove inadequate for passing on transcendent values. Stories, on the other hand, contextualize truth in universally communicable terms. Ultimately they enable listeners to transcend logic for “even when we cannot logically or propositionally make sense of the totality of the message, we ‘understand’ its truth if we live it” (p.84).
In Part Two, Chapell turns the insights of phenomenology, the study of how people apprehend meaning, to set out three tasks for the illustration.
Description occurs when a life experience is isolated from its context and associated with a biblical principle. Preachers must learn to “bracket” real-life experiences to provide listeners access to similar experiences of their own. Chapell compares the ability to identify potential illustrations to framing a picture and then snapping the shot. The goal is to find a snapshot of life that will draw listeners into the experience not just intellectually, but also emotionally and spiritually.
Reduction occurs when the preacher “pares down an experience to its essentials so that extraneous details and secondary concerns do not complicate or cloud the analysis” (p.90). The goal in this stage of the phenomenological process is to involve listeners in the specific experience of the illustration. This may be accomplished by distinguishing the defining characteristic of the illustration and identifying the point of connection to the biblical principle. Ultimately, “decipherable details can remove an audience from detached consideration of Scripture and actively involve them in a spiritual experience by creating the mental or emotional world in which truths can be seen and applied” (pp. 118-119).
The final step in preparing illustrations is Interpretation. Once the illustration has been framed and filled out, it must be focused. The preacher must tell the significance of the illustration for it to prove beneficial. Chapell maintains that “having enabled listeners to discover experiential meaning through an illustration, the preacher still may need to state specifically how the details relate to the truths expounded” (p.129).
Part Three examines several practical aspects of working with illustrations. That a preacher tells life-situation illustrations and the way in which a preacher tells them enables a congregation to gain insight into the preacher’s total personality. When the congregation can see the application of a biblical truth through real-life illustration, “the truths have the ring of authenticity that makes your listeners more likely to apply them” (p.143).
Chapter Eight offers “Cautions for Effective Illustrations.” Several excellent points are made including the most effective use of illustration, the high level of retention that illustrations provide, the danger of overshadowing exposition with illustration, the balancing of illustration and exposition based on the nature of the audience, and the dangers of emotional manipulation.
The first eighty-six pages of this volume contribute significantly to current homiletical theory. The second part of the book presents essential information from a phenomenological perspective that is both novel and useful. The third part adds little to what has been said many times in many places. The appendix, along with end notes and a well-chosen bibliography, provides a starting point for further research as Chapell demonstrates a wide reading in the field of communication as well as theology and homiletics. Helpful illustrations fill out the argument of this text.

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