Friday, July 27, 2012

A View from the Retail Market: The Promise of Theological Interpretation of Scripture for Preaching

“A View from the Retail Market: The Promise of Theological Interpretation of Scripture for Preaching” by Patrick J. Wilson, Pastor of Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, Williamsburg, Virginia. From: The Journal of Theological Interpretation volume 2.2 (2008) Available at EBSCOhost: Accessed 07/18/2012

     Once again the title of the article intrigued me, which should say something about titling of sermons, but that would best be reserved for another article. Wilson, a pastor in Virginia, has written many articles on preaching and ministry. In “A View from the Retail Market: The Promise of Theological Interpretation of Scripture for Preaching” Wilson looks at preaching from an expository style that would readily relate to the so-called market place of Christianity, the Sunday morning pew sitters.

     Wilson’s premise is that the exegete can prepare creative and imaginative sermons and preach to live and intent audiences while faithfully preaching theologically sound messages. In Wilson’s mind, it is easy for the daily grind of ministry and the three-to-thrive mentality to entice preachers to run to easy-to-preach passages. Subsequently, this has caused a great vacuum in modern homiletics.  Also, the degradation of Biblically literate congregations also frustrates the homiletician that wishes to preach from Philemon or Obadiah. Nonetheless, he stated thatwe do not have to run away from these obscure passages.

     In a wonderful insight from the demands of the “market place,” Wilson encourages the preacher to view the art of preaching in a mirrored image of the contemporary concept of sermons and congregational expectations. He writes that we tend, as pastor-theologians, to reverse the order of authority in regards to Scripture and relevance.

     Imagine what would happen if the pastor believes “that a shift can imperceptibly occur so that the stress falls on the scripture's being rendered useable for preaching, as opposed to the sermon being crafted to be useful to God's message in Scripture." In other words, the pastor, in preparing a sermon, does not beat out of Scripture a nugget of golden truth, but instead allows the truth already present escape. In this way, the theological truth becomes the usable teaching point.
     Wilson is correct in his estimate that these nuggets of truth do not come in moments of sheer inspiration. Not even will they show up in the second, or for that matter, the tenth reading of the passage. They will appear through an abiding with, and as a part of, the Scripture, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us. So called “rabbit-chasing” (the act of running all over Scripture to provide a point) stops the exegetical process from unveiling the true nugget. The homiletician that stays put in a pericope has the best chance of revealing the present nugget of truth, as opposed to hacking it out for himself.

     Wilson gives a final truism in how preachers can better theologically interpret Scripture. Wilson writes that, "No preacher can ever be astonishing (in a positive sense!) unless he has first been astonished. The astonishment that funds preaching seldom happens in the blinding moment of inspiration but rather occurs with amazing regularity for those who ‘abide’ deeply and quietly with a text.” In a more Southernesque colloquialism, “You cannot truly amaze the audience, until you have been amazed by the Word!”

     Wilson ends the article by asking the question, “What is the point of theological interpretation of Scripture?” The answer to that question could be cumbersome and verbose, to say the least. Notwithstanding, however, is the simplistic assertion that the purpose of the theological interpretation of Scripture is the grand purpose of all life--giving Glory to God. All proclamation of Scripture should have that as its end goal. As Wilson points out, even the angels proclaiming the Advent did so for God’s glory.

     Wilson’s article is light-hearted and humorous (my favorite type) with-out being flippant or coming across as arrogant. His look at the scholarly theme of the theological interpretation of Scripture is brought to life with and by a pastor/preacher's heart. He readily acknowledges that his article is a look at the market place from the market place and as such he presents an article about preaching from a preacher.

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