I’ve been doing some reading on canon this morning in preparation for a lecture of text and canon for my OT class. Working through Stephen B. Chapman’s article “Reclaiming Inspiration for the Bible” in Canon and Biblical Interpretation, I found interesting his discussion of an evangelical tendency toward “propositional revelation” as an answer to the question of the autographs of the text and later manuscripts in relationship to the canon. That is, concepts and doctrines remain intact, even through the text may suffer at the hands of later transmitters. In contrast, he argues that the Bible does more than convey concepts and doctrines; rather, the text also (1) “gives its hearers and readers a narrative world to live in” and (2) gives “phrases and rhythms” that “linger in the mind” and stories that “often provoke questions more than they provide answers” (p. 178). His point is that “[t]he literary features of the Bible cannot simply be peeled away in the search for propositional formulations” (p. 179). It’s at this point that he footnotes the following observation:
Sadly, the isolation and extraction of ‘principles’ from the biblical text is precisely what passes for theological interpretation in much current evangelical teaching and preaching.
I find this interesting and worthy of more thought, for if you are like me, that’s the primary way you were taught to approach the text when developing a sermon. The questions I have at first response:
- How do I adequately convey the literary features of the text in my preaching?
- Are preaching propositionally and preaching toward the significance of the text one and the same thing? [I already tend away from thinking about the text’s meaning and then turning to things about application. I think significance handles this turn toward the appropriation of the text to the modern audience better.]
- How does his statement square with the various types of literature within the text? That is, does propositional preaching excel in the epistles of the NT but flounder in OT narrative texts?