Preaching is Theological

June 1st, 2012| Topic: aBeLOG, Definition | 0

Preaching is Theological

Nehemiah’s narrative describes the assembly of God’s people who had returned from exile; in the assembly the word of God was read and made clear so that they might renew their covenant with their God. In previous blogs I’ve noted how this paradigmatic gathering undergirds many of our assumptions about preaching. Here’s another implication of Nehemiah’s account: preaching is a theological activity of a special kind.

All the people … understood the words which had been made known to them. Then on the second day the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law. They found written in the law how the LORD had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live ….
Nehemiah 8:12–14

Preaching is theological. Let me explain. Occurring as it does centuries removed from the giving of the law, the people had to figure out how exactly an age-old requirement could be fulfilled by them living many centuries later. The Israelites in their restored post-exilic circumstances under Ezra and Nehemiah would no doubt have wondered how ancient Mosaic regulations pertaining to a theocratic state in which the will of God was law could have any commerce under the monarchical rule of the Persian Empire of their time. The ancient text was (and still is) capable of speaking to a future audience, because theologically that text had perennial significance.

Consider Ephesians 5:18—“Be not drunk with wine.” Since only “wine” is expressly mentioned in the text, would it be acceptable to be drunk with an alcoholic beverage other than wine, say vodka? Obviously not. Why not?

In the circumstances and culture of the first century CE, the only known alcoholic beverage was “wine.” But in the new circumstances of readers today, that imperative is to be re-contextualized. What was the author of Ephesians doing with that command in that day? Clearly the sense that transcends time was not of “wine” per se, but of “all manner of alcoholic beverages.” And if one were to ask Paul if inebriation with vodka were prohibited in that imperative, he would (after first being educated about that potion) no doubt answer, “I ‘meant’ vodka, too.” It is this sense of “meaning” that I call the “theology” of the text. It is by means of this theology that not only drunkenness by vodka, but by rum, whiskey, brandy, and by your alcoholic libation du jour are prohibited.

This “transhistorical intention” (that transcends the particular historical element of the writer: “wine” vs. “all alcoholic beverages”) is the “theology” I am talking about. This theology portrays what happens in God’s ideal world, a world in which (by this text, Ephesians 5:18), God’s people are never intoxicated with alcohol, whatever its specific brand, flavor, or species. And, it is this theology that enables one to apply an ancient text in a modern day in a valid fashion. That is why preaching involves the theological exegesis of a portion of Scripture.

(I’ll talk further about this in future posts. For more detail you might want to peruse some of my articles here.)

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