Monday, December 17, 2007

Preaching "Beyond" What the Bible Says

Ever since Friday when I added my "Amen" to the article about not using Mary and Joseph as an example of how to handle marital stress, I have had a bit of discomfiture. CB064047

The article seemed to make sense. But there was something about it that bugged me. And after giving it some thought, I think I have figured out what it was. (Caution: I have not heard the sermon that Darryl Dash, pastor of Richview Baptist Church in Toronto [the author of Theocentric Preaching] refers to. And so I am just reacting to his reaction to the sermon, which is always a dangerous thing to do.)

But the thing that made me uncomfortable is the unstated presupposition that it is illegitimate to take a secondary feature of a passage and make it a primary point for teaching and preaching.

Haddon Robinson, who is someone that we should be very cautious about contradicting says, “We must never take the incidental features of a passage and make it the focal point of our teaching.” Or put in other words, “One must not take a secondary feature of a passage and make it the focal point of a sermon.” But is that true?

I have referred in a previous post or two to a series of lectures by Daniel Doriani (a Presbyterian pastor in St. Louis) who gave this fall's preaching lectures at Westminster Theological Seminary.

And in his closing lecture (provocative entitled, Beyond the Sacred Page: When The Story Doesn't Quite Say What You Wish) he states that not only CAN we do so, but it is necessary to do so. And we do so in the best of company. JESUS did so. Doriani gives several examples:

  • Matt 12:1-8=Jesus takes a secondary point (that David & his men took the showbread from the tabernacle & ate it) to make the point that mercy allows for his disciples to take wheat on the Sabbath and prepare and eat it.
  • Matt 22:29=Jesus takes the self-revelation of the Father to Moses ("I am who I am") to explain why there is not marrying or giving of marriage in heaven. That is definitely not the point of God's self-revelation. Jesus takes a secondary feature and makes it the primary point of his teaching.
  • Doriani also uses the example of multitudes of preachers at weddings who have said that Jesus blessed weddings by the performing of his first miracle at a wedding in Cana. Blessing weddings was NOT the point of the Cana story or of the Cana miracle. But still...we take a secondary point (Jesus' presence at and miracle performed at the wedding at Cana) to make the point that this was a blessing of the wedding ceremony.

And so to take the tension between Mary and Joseph and to use it as an example of how we should/could handle stress in our marriages today (while recognizing that is not the main point of the passage), COULD be a legitimate use of the passage. It also could be used illegitimately, but that depends on how the passage is used in the specific sermon. Bro. Dash doesn't tell us HOW the passage was used, just that it was used to make this specific point.

That is why I felt uncomfortable that I had (mostly thoughtlessly) added my "Amen" to that point, when I'm not sure (upon further reflection) that I still can.

You really should check out Doriani's lecture. A lot of it is a helpful reaction to I.H. Marshall's, “Beyond the Bible: Moving from Scripture to Theology.” That book moves well beyond what Doriani is advocating here into areas that would make most evangelicals shudder. But in countering that book, Doriani notes that there are several ways to go "beyond the Bible" and still stay faithful to the message of the text.

You will find the audio at: Doriani: Beyond the Sacred Page


Darryl said...

Good post. I tend to agree with you, although I think it's usually best to stick with the main point of a passage (the author's intent).

In this case, it's tough to turn it into a marriage sermon without trivializing it. It's like the sermon I heard of in which someone preached of Moses' encounter at the burning bush as a sermon on changing careers. Maybe possible, but hard to do without trivializing the passage!

It's also a challenge to resolve the marriage tension issue using the story of Mary and Joseph, because in the end most of us won't experience angelic visitations that set our minds at ease.

However, I think your post is right: sometimes the secondary issues of a passage are worth preaching on.

Cal Habig said...

You are absolutely right. It is our first priority to preach the main point of a text. To stress the minors and leave out the majors would indeed be a total mishandling of the text. Thanks for the response.

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