A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By G. T. Tran
Summary of Content
Homiletics and Hermeneutics seeks to “explore the hermeneutic that lies behind one’s theology of preaching” (xii). The book consists of four chapters, each representing a distinct approach on preaching. Bryan Chapell describes the redemptive-historic view (chap. 1). Abraham Kuruvilla presents the christiconic view (chap. 2). Kenneth Langley contends for the theocentric view (chap. 3), and Paul Scott Wilson advocates the law-gospel view (chap. 4). Following these four chapters, the conclusion features the editors’ evaluation of these views, highlighting both compelling elements in each approach as well as matters for consideration.
In each chapter, the author must provide a biblical rationale, a theological rationale, a homiletical rationale, and an applicational rationale for their method (xii). This presentation is followed by three responses from the other contributors. Generally, Kuruvilla and Langley share much agreement, and the same goes for Chapell and Wilson (cf. 76).
In the redemptive-historic view (chap. 1), preachers are urged to rely on the redemptive context of the Bible to discover where each text stands in relation to Christ’s ministry (7, 11). A text may be (1) predictive of Christ’s work, (2) preparatory for Christ’s work, (3) resultant from Christ’s work, or (4) reflective of Christ’s work (12). At the same time, preachers must put on “gospel glasses,” asking what their text teaches about God and human nature which provides and requires Christ’s redemption, respectively (16). Chapell argues, “If we consistently ask these two interpretive questions, then we need never pretend that all texts specifically mention Jesus or deny that they lead our hearts to him” (17).
The christiconic view (chap. 2) argues that each pericope in Scripture (i.e., any preaching text) projects an ideal world in which God bids his people to inhabit (54). By doing so, their lives are changed as God progressively conforms them to the image of his Son Jesus Christ (Rom 8:2) who alone perfectly inhabits that ideal world (59). Hence, each pericope also portrays a facet of Christ’s image (59). Additionally, Kuruvilla advocates a twofold movement in sermon preparation: the move from text to theology and the move from theology to application (58). In the first move, preachers must rely on all textual clues given in the pericope to discern both what the author says and what the author does with what he says, the latter otherwise known as “pericopal theology” (51, 57-58). Unlike biblical theology which tends to be more general, pericopal theology is specific to the pericope under investigation, thus “making for discrete sermons and distinct applications weekly” (58). Without discerning the author’s doing (i.e., pericopal theology), Kuruvilla asserts that finding valid application—the second move—is impossible (57).
As the name indicates, the theocentric view (chap. 3) demands that preaching “should be God-centered because God is God-centered and wants us to be God-centered in everything we do” (81). Since God is at the center of both the Old and New Testaments (82-88), preachers must employ their theology proper lens (90). “Other lenses,” Langley insists, “like covenant, law-gospel, or redemptive-historic, elucidate some texts but not all, or at least not all texts equally well” (89). Further, because Jesus’ own preaching is about the good news of God (Mark 1:14), Langley asks, “What could be more Christ exalting than to imitate Christ’s own thoroughgoing God-centeredness?” (88). His final exhortation: “Let God be central in the preaching of his Word” (106).
The law-gospel view (chap. 4) sees a bifocal nature of God’s Word, namely law and gospel (124, cf. 129), or trouble and grace (121). The law emphasizes obedience but given human inability (John 15:5; 2 Cor 3:5), they need to hear the empowerment of the gospel (121), which is “God’s actions of unmerited and unconditional grace on our behalf” (119). Thus, Wilson proposes that the aim of preaching is to proclaim the gospel (117). Accordingly, every sermon must feature both law and gospel (121), and preachers are advised to move in the order of law to gospel, not vice versa (126).
Evaluation of Content
The book is commendable for several reasons. First, the format allows the authors to promote their own positions without being interrupted. It also ensures that the critique from other authors is not based on any distortion of their views. For instance, Chapell decries the twisted perception that the redemptive-historic view seeks to make Jesus magically appear in every text (2, 7), and neither Kuruvilla, nor Langley, nor Wilson faults him for that caricature. Second, the response sections consistently model gracious and thoughtful interactions. While sometimes maintaining sharp disagreements, the authors openly acknowledge the value and contribution of each other in the field of homiletics. Third, the four criteria given by the editors (biblical, theological, homiletical, applicational rationales) provide helpful guidelines which make the book easy to follow.
Another commending aspect is that each contributor shares many good insights into the important question of whether Christ or the gospel should be preached in every sermon. Moreover, one of the goals of the book is to help those who have not formulated their own position develop and determine one for themselves (xiii). I believe that objective is met.
The book has much to commend, but I want to mention a minor critique. When Gibson and Kim evaluate the christiconic view, some of their questions are either already explained in the preceding chapter by Kuruvilla or could be answered by consulting other works of his (I suspect the same critique goes for the other three views). For example, they ask, “How do we know what the author was doing with what he was saying?” (160, emphasis original). I think the two examples Kuruvilla offers about the account in 1 Sam 15 and the testing of Abraham nicely illustrate the process (see pp. 45-51). Further, chap. 2 (“Discerning Theology”) in Kuruvilla’s A Manual for Preaching: The Journey from Text to Sermon (Baker Academic, 2019) deals with the topic in more detail (see also Abraham Kuruvilla, Privilege the Text! A Theological Hermeneutic for Preaching [Moody Publishers, 2013], 118-27). Another example has to do with Kuruvilla’s concept of an ideal world. Since each pericope portrays an ideal world bidding the readers to inhabit, Gibson and Kim press, “[B]ut specifically, what does this look like?” (160). The answer is that it depends on the pericope. As Kuruvilla explains, for the narrative in 1 Sam 15, the ideal world is one in which God’s people listen to God’s voice exclusively (54). Likewise, the ideal world depicted in Gen 22 is that one holds back nothing from God, fully trusting, fearing, and loving him (54).
Overall, Homiletics and Hermeneutics is a valuable resource in the ongoing homiletical discussion. Professors, seminary students, and pastors will benefit from reading this book. It should be a great and welcoming addition to one’s own library. I highly recommend the book!
G. T. Tran
Buy the books
HOMILETICS AND HERMENEUTICS: FOUR VIEWS ON PREACHING TODAY, edited by Scott M. Gibson and Matthew D. Kim