12 February 2006

Three Obligations for the Preacher

While the last post dealt with a personal requisite for the preacher, I wanted to highlight three obligations the nature of the preaching task demands of him: hermeneutics, exegesis, and homiletics.
How do these relate to each other?

Exegesis and hermeneutics are often used with a great degree of overlap, and Liefeld is no exception to this trend in usage (see p. 24 where "hermeneutics" entails "convey[ing] the basic message of a biblical passage faithfully"). However the two disciplines are often distinguished from each other.

As Liefeld implies elsewhere in the book, hermeneutics pertains to the "principles" of interpreting a passage (p. 17). Hermeneutics is the study which concerns itself with the necessary foundations (and therefore the proper methods of) exegesis. Within the purview of hermeneutics comes questions like "Is language univocal or equivocal?" "Is communication between rational beings possible?" and "What are the necessary preconditions of successful communication?" However, building on these foundational concepts, hermeneutics also encompasses answers to less abstract questions such as "What is the aim of interpretation, authorial intent or reader response?" By answering these questions, hermeneutics provides the principial framework within which exegesis takes place.

As has already been implied, exegesis is the activity of interpretation proper. If hermeneutics writes the rulebook for interpretation, exegesis plays the game. Good exegesis works within the confines of good hermeneutics in an effort to arrive at authorial intent (that is, what the author wanted to convey to his readers). Exegesis follows the method established by the principles of hermeneutics.

As exegesis relates to homiletics, the former is the activity which discovers meaning; the latter is the activity which presents the meaning to a public audience. Part of the homiletical task is considering what Liefeld calls the "human need" aspect of expository preaching. The preacher has the responsibility of casting the truths of the text in imperatival form for the audience. If good exegesis arrives at authorial intent, good homiletics cannot fail to address contemporary application. Those who sit under a well-crafted sermon will know what it would look like in their lives to submit to the Biblical text.

While application forms the driving motivation of any sermon, the task of the homiletics, as we normally speak of it, concerns the logical and persuasive structuring of the sermon so as to best communicate authorial intent to the contemporary audience. The goal of the homiletician is to produce in his audience three levels of appreciation for the passage of Scripture: (1) comprehension of the text (Do they get it?), (2) retention of its meaning (Will they remember it?), and submission to its truth (Will they obey?). Preachers must strive for no lower goal if they are to obey the commission of Christ "to teach them to obey all that [he] commanded" (Matt 28:20). Therefore, the preacher’s sermon, especially the big idea of his sermon, but even the main points of his outline, should therefore be incisive, memorable, and persuasive.

To sum up the obligations as a whole then, hermeneutics gives us the framework within which to interpret. Exegesis is the activity of interpretation itself. Homiletics takes the data produced by exegesis and forms it into an incisive, memorable, and persuasive sermon.

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