As North American congregations become increasingly diverse, individualistic, and pluralistic, the cultural diversity beckons preachers to assume that someone in the pews is objecting, ”Pastor, I disagree with your interpretation!” The hermeneutical process cannot be completely separated from our cultural backgrounds, theological presuppositions, and life experiences, because our interpretation will be colored by the lenses we wear. As evangelicals, the ultimate aim, hermeneutically speaking, is to derive the same interpretive conclusion while recognizing that the applications we provide will reflect the congregation’s various hues. Yet we are not naive enough to think that interpretive variances do not exist; instead, they are often forthrightly defended with great zeal. The history of Christianity, in light of both subtle and overt nuances, shows how varied biblical interpretations can be.
Consequently, this chapter seeks to provide a new hermeneutical model for preachers that will guide us as we consider the cultural diversity of our listeners. This hermeneutical model will be employed in each cultural context that we explore in the rest of the book. How do we faithfully interpret Scripture while keeping in close view the listeners who may read and interpret Scripture differently? How can we more effectively engage interpretively with their cultures, experiences, questions, and concerns, and still remain faithful to the original authorial intention of the text? These questions will be the focus in what lies ahead.
Hermeneutics for Homiletics: Definitions for hermeneutics abound. One of the trailblazers in hermeneutics, Anthony Thiselton, defines it in this manner: ”Hermeneutics explores how we read, understand, and handle texts, especially those written in another time or in a context of life different from our own. Biblical hermeneutics investigates more specifically how we read, understand, apply, and respond to biblical texts.”2 Hermeneutics, put simply, is the art and science of interpreting the Bible. Preachers employ hermeneutics to understand the meaning of the text and then apply this meaning to their listeners’ lives. John Goldingay notices the tight-knit relationship between hermeneutics and homiletics: ”Arguably any true biblical interpretation must eventually take the form of preaching, and vice versa, because ‘the Bible itself is preaching.”’3 While theoretically a straightforward task, myriad factors influence how we read and interpret the Bible. It is worthwhile to consider these challenges to a faithful interpretation of the text.
Pre-understanding: Every student of Scripture approaches the text with his or her own pre-understanding. In their helpful resource Grasping God’s Word, J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays define pre-understanding as ”all of our preconceived notions and understandings that we bring to the text, which have been formulated, both consciously and subconsciously, before we actually study the text in detail. . . . The danger here is for those who assume that their pre-understanding is always correct.”4 Taking a somewhat different slant, Walter C. Kaiser Jr. writes, ”The interpreter must bridge the gulf of explaining the cultural elements that are present in the text of Scripture, acknowledge [one’s] own cultural baggage as an interpreter, and then transcend both in order to communicate the original message of Scripture into the culture of the contemporary audience.” In other words, our pre-understanding is textured with numerous elements that influence our interpretation of the text: our sinful nature, family, friends, cultural backgrounds, life experiences, world-views, theological presuppositions, what pastors and influential others have instructed us, opinions (whether acknowledged or unacknowledged), and other factors. In the same vein, our listeners similarly approach the text with their own pre-understanding of what a given text means, which complicates the entire hermeneutical process. The fundamental responsibility of evangelical preachers, then, is to determine first the authors’ (i.e., divine and human) meaning of the biblical passage or Cultural Intelligence in Theory pericope-”a segment of Scripture, irrespective of genre or length, that forms the textual basis for an individual sermon”-as we acknowledge and make sense of the pre-understanding of the preacher and of the listeners.
Content taken from Preaching with Cultural Intelligence by Matthew Kim, 2017 Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission of Baker Publishing http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/books/preaching-with-cultural-intelligence/350190