Pragmatics and Preaching—A Dialogue

September 11th, 2017| Topic: aBeLOG, Uncategorized | 2

Pragmatics and Preaching—A Dialogue

Please consider this an invitation to peruse and respond to:

1) Article by Abraham Kuruvilla, “‘What is the Author Doing with What He is Saying?’ Pragmatics and Preaching—An Appeal!” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 60 (2017): 557–80 (this JETS article will also be posted on this site the first week of October 2017);

2) Response to my article by Buist Fanning, Senior Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary; and

3) Rejoinder to Buist Fanning’s response by me (Abe Kuruvilla).

Article, response, and rejoinder are/will be downloadable in PDF format.

Feel free to comment below in the box, adding your thoughts and ideas to the discussion. Of necessity, this will be a moderated conversation; remarks will show up in the comments section with some delay.

Thank you, in advance, for you participation and prayerful consideration of these issues at hand.

I nurture the hope that such discussions will further preaching, the heart of pastoral ministry, in Christendom.


  1. Joe Izaguirre September 12, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Hi Abe,

    I always enjoy your writing and I have tried my best to follow your work, while I have been away at the University of Illinois. I find much comfort in your vision for preaching and have encouraged young preachers to preach “pericopal” theologies and to elaborate on the “world in front of the text.”

    One problematic nags me, however, as I work through your pragmatic frame is what Buist points out on p. 5: “I have the same impression in trying to follow how to discover ‘the world in front of the text’ according to his approach. It gives a winsome and compelling vision but not enough specifics of how to reach the goal.” Discovering the “pragmatics” of text, I can grant, is probably the “easiest” thing to do in your paradigm (although I think that Derrida’s critique of Austin and Searle in _Limited, Inc_compels a revisitation of the concept for preaching), but as Buist points out, we need still a methodological/theoretical framework for working through how the sermon might take on the pragmatic thrust of the biblical text. The construction of the sermon requires remediation (from written communication to oral communication), a sense of propriety that sustains the pragmatic thrust of the sermon for the audience right before the preacher, and an means of evaluating the reach of the “doing” of the text and the “doing” of the preacher. These, I believe, have significant bearing on establishing a pattern for preaching according to the paradigm and vision you promote.

    Fanning brings this up, perhaps, as a tangential point, but as someone that has adopted your paradigm, I hoped to read a more sustained treatment in your rejoinder. I have yet to read the initial article, so I hope to read that once it is published. Maybe your initial article talks more about it. Nevertheless, I’d appreciate engaging with you on these issues if you have time.

    Thanks for your ministry, Joe.

    • Abe Kuruvilla September 13, 2017 at 12:07 am


      Thanks for the kind comments and your thoughtful remarks.

      The issue, as I noted, is that of a diagnosis in medical practice. If I tell a trainee to make a diagnosis [find the pragmatics/thrust], they would ask, “How do I know what to look for, what is important, and what is not [observations/clues in the text that point to the thrust]?” All I can say is, “Learn by apprenticeship, watching, catching.” (Which, BTW, is how practical medicine is learnt.) I doubt if there is a method to this, a form of art+science. You are welcome, though, to go through my commentaries and see if you can identify a single method that works on all texts, all the time. I am skeptical of that enterprise.

      Besides, even in the days of the Big Idea (the alternative to pragmatics), how is that discovered? Standard questions like: What is the author talking about? and What is the author saying about what he is talking about? are not very helpful. No better than my asking my trainee, “What is the diagnosis?” without giving him/her any guidance.

      All that to say, these questions of methodology aren’t new. Whenever diagnosis (of texts or patients) is involved, there is going to be an inferential process, that, by definition, is non-codifiable. An abductive process, Pierce called it.

      Keep thinkin’!


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