Interpretive Principles and Practices
author say it in these words?” This may alert us to specialist vocabulary that often opens up major themes in the rest of the book of which our preaching passage is a part. Or it may challenge our pastoral rules of thumb, or even our doctrinal formulations. Additionally, we can ask, “Why is the author saying it to these people (his original readers)?” This raises the whole issue of contexts, both historical and theological, both of the book in the Bible and the passage in the book. Finally, “Why does the author say it here, at this particular point in his work?” This is an inquiry about the literary context, which helps us to build a picture of the development of the book’s major teaching themes, which will also greatly help with application of the passage to the context of today.
These questions help to discipline us to read the passage with our antennae up, specifically on the lookout for the challenges and sur- prises. Anything that pulls me up short and makes me say, “I wouldn’t have said that” or “I wouldn’t have used those words” is a great step forward in helping me listen to the message of this particular text. My presuppositions are being challenged and my habitual ways of thinking are being reshaped as the text, with its own specific content, questions my framework.
Approaching a Text Inductively
Like a lens sharpening the focus, careful observation of this sort enables the reader to probe beneath the immediate surface meaning of the text to begin to grapple with its intended purpose and significance. That is what produces clarity in exposition and gives the sermon an edge to penetrate beyond confused half-understanding and generalized no- tions. It enables the unique richness of the detail of a passage to have its intended effect, and when that happens the Bible really does speak. But it doesn’t happen without a good deal of effort and hard work. The reason for this is that we all read the Bible through our own presuppo- sitions. Inevitably, we cannot approach any text without inputting our own cultural conditioning into our reading of it. We have a particular background. We live at a particular time in history. Our past experi- ence, values, and priorities have all combined to build up a personal, individual framework of thought and behavior, convictions and attitudes, that makes each of us the unique people we are. But this framework can be the enemy of careful observation.
The danger is that certain words or ideas in the text will trigger ideas in the preacher’s memory bank that are then downloaded and uncritically included in a sermon. So we end up preaching our frame-