Saturday, February 2, 2008

"The Integrity of Preaching" on Relevance

In my last quote/excerpt from John Knox's little book "The Integrity of Preaching" he makes what at first appears to be an important statement of how to apply narrative texts to our selves and our hearers. I would agree that his third method of applying the passage is more effective than the first. And I agree that is is likely ONE of the reasons why this passage was included. (I am not ready, as he is, to exclude the other two). image

But the conclusion he draws from it are troubling and show the theological basis (biases?)from which he comes:

When we speak of the “original sense” of a passage or of its meaning in its “original context,” we should have in mind, not simply its logical relations within the sentence, paragraph, chapter or book in which it is found, but also something vastly richer and more significant. The “original context” is not a mere form of words, but is the actual like of the ancient religious community in which the text was first heard and treasured.

I can imagine, for example, three types of sermon on the familiar Gospel story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who cried out, as Jesus passed by, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:46) and whom Jesus healed with a word. One sermon will find in the incident the proof that Jesus was the Messiah—he was called "Son of David" and he demonstrated that he deserved the title by his miraculous act. The purpose of the sermon will be to awaken or confirm the belief that Jesus was in truth the Christ.

The second sermon will emphasize the human compassion of Jesus. Jesus is walking by, concerned with other business, when the beggar's cry is heard. He stops, asks what the man wants, and graciously fills his need. The purpose of the sermon will be to encourage a similar sensitiveness, courtesy, and generosity. The first of these two sermons can make the better claim to using the text authentically, but it is in the last resort irrelevant, and therefore, however true it may be, it is not a true sermon. No one can be convinced by an incident in the past that Jesus was the Christ, and an intellectual conviction based on a past fact of this kind would not be significant anyhow. The second sermon could make a better claim perhaps to being relevant; but certainly so shallow a use of the text cannot be authentic. The story was not remembered and finally recorded in the Gospel because this kind of meaning was found in it.

But the third sermon will treat the incident, not as a past event from which we can derive true or useful lessons—whether doctrinal or ethical—but as an event in our own history. We are blind Bartimaeus. Christ calls to us, "What do you want me to do for you?" It is we who answer, or would answer, "Master, let me receive my sight." And in the measure of our faith we are brought out of our darkness into his marvelous light. It is obvious that only when the text is understood in some such way is it deeply relevant. But it is just as true that only such an understanding is historically authentic. For that is the kind of meaning the text had from the beginning. It was because it answered thus to the realities of the life of the primitive church that it became a part of its preaching and was later embodied in the Gospel. Such use of the text is not fanciful allegoriza­tion. It rests on the only adequate kind of exegesis. For if we do not hear such texts as spoken to us, we do not hear them as they were heard in the early church, and therefore we do not hear them in their true and original context.

Unfortunately, Knox then goes on to say that this way of interpreting/applying the scriptures means that "questions about who first spoke or wrote it or about how closely it corresponds with some actual incident or fact become, largely irrelevant." I don't believe that this is a necessary corollary. Some might say that it is. I believe that his technique of putting himself in the place of Bartimaeus is helpful. But if it means that the integrity of the text is violated, then is it not helpful.

Input? Thoughts? Ways to help me clarify this for myself?

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