Theological vs. Traditional Exegesis – an Excerpt from A Vision for Preaching

The following is an excerpt from A Vision for Preaching, by Abraham Kuruvilla.

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What has been taught and practiced over the centuries in the “old” homiletic is an indiscriminate excavation of the text, the exegetical turning over of whatever can be unearthed, whether it be earth, wood, bone, stone, potsherds, whatever.

These operations of traditional exegesis, integral to the “old” homiletic, involve a slicing and dicing of the text with word studies, sentence diagramming, linguistic analyses, historical investigations, geographical inquiries, and so on. Much information is dug up; unfortunately, none of it very useful to the preacher to craft a sermon for changing lives with that particular text.

Cover ArtWhat is necessary is to grasp the thrust of the text, what the author is doing with what he is saying, to comprehend the projected world, the theology of the pericope. I therefore propose a theological exegesis that privileges the text, looking for clues to its theology—not a random dig but a directed one that searches specifically for those gold nuggets of pericopal theology.

Within every text, there are literary and stylistic traces of authors’ agendas, evidence pointing to the authors’ doings, signs that lead to the discovery of pericopal theology. But only a privileging of the text by theological exegesis will discover that precious ore.

All texts, sacred and secular, and particularly those intended to influence behavior over a lengthy span of time (i.e., the classics), are agenda-driven creations of their authors. It is no different for the canonical classic that Scripture is. Its human authors, too, were writing with an agenda, and their literary productions were intended to convey that agenda—the theology of those texts.

….In sum, it is the text that must be privileged, for it alone is inspired. Events behind the text are not inspired and therefore not expressly “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). All this to say, for the goal of life transformation, it is not the events that must be attended to but the Holy Spirit’s accounts of those events—the text must be privileged.

Or to put it differently, the text is not a plain glass window that the reader looks through (to discern some event behind it—traditional exegesis in the “old” homiletic). Rather, the narrative is a stained-glass window that the reader looks at (theological exegesis in the “new” homiletic).

©2015 by Abraham Kuruvilla. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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