This book was so-so, at best. I had never encountered Kuruvilla before but after hearing Donald R. Sunukjian say he is “one of the best homiletical thinkers today” I was happy to give this book a whirl. Unfortunately, I found the ride to be a little slow and a lot monotonous. I’m just glad that it’s over.
If I were trying to be nice, I suppose I could say this book would work fine for a beginner seminary student for establishing a basic overall “vision” for what preaching should be. Maybe a first book among many? This book combined with a few others would perhaps get the ball rolling in the right direction, but the vision itself is far too vague for my own tastes, and I was surprised that the corresponding chapters didn’t add much depth or specificity to the discussion. I can’t say exactly why I didn’t like it (I suppose I could put some words to it if I thought hard enough – but that seems like unnecessary work at this point) besides to say that I was bored most of the way through. Confession: I skipped three chapters (6, 7, and 8), because I just couldn’t handle it any more.
In case you are curious, and you like ***spoiler alerts***, Kuruvilla’s vision for preaching is as follows:
“Biblical preaching, by a leader of the church, in a gathering of Christians for worship, is the communication of the thrust of a pericope of Scripture discerned by theological exegesis, and of its application to that specific body of believers, that they may be conformed to the image of Christ, for the glory of God – all in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
If you are amazed at that particular articulation of a vision for preaching then let me know and I’ll mail you my copy of the book for you to read it further. I don’t need it back.
However, not everything in the book was all-bad. His little section on the value of ordination (pages 36-45) was the first “defense” of the practice I had read, and I think he has me convinced that it is indeed, a very important practice for both the preacher and the congregation.
As well, I liked a few of his stories/analogies/examples that began a few of the chapters. They were short, powerful, and prepared the reader well for what was coming. In discussing the importance of figuring out what a Scriptural author is doing with what they are saying (page 78), Kuruvilla goes to an old Aesop folktale about “the dog that found a bone…”
“On its way home with its booty, the canine happened to cross a bridge over a stream, and as it looked into the water it spotted “another” dog with a bone. Well, greed took over: the real animal barked at the reflected one, and thereby lost the bone it had.
While the story deals with dogs, bones, bridges, streams, and reflections, the thrust of the story is about being content (and the loss one incurs otherwise). This is what the text is all about, its thrust – the pragmatics of the text. That is what Aesop was doing with what he was saying, and that is what he would want readers to catch and respond to: One practices the prudence of contentment rather than lusting for the ephemeral. Indeed, only after grasping this thrust of the text can one ever move to valid application consonant with the author’s purpose. In other words, it is not enough to comprehend what authors are saying (the semantics of the utterance); one must also arrive at what authors are doing with what they are saying (the pragmatics of the utterance) – the text’s thrust. In the fable by Aesop, the semantics deals with the description of the specific events – the dog-and-bone theater; the pragmatics or the thrust of the text is an endorsement of contentment – that was what the whole story was about.”
The genius in this example is in the simplicity of the story. At least 70% (95%?) of the misinterpretations of Scripture that I hear from myself or from people in my own church who are spouting out some theological idea they have [usually proof-texting in the process] is a result of someone not asking: What is the author DOING with what they are SAYING? The distinction isn’t surprising to me. I learned at Gordon-Conwell that this is a NECESSARY question-of-the-text. What HAS been surprising to me is how often we in the church don’t ask that question when we are reading Scripture.
I’ve learned the unfortunate truth that almost no one in the real-world ever asks that very important question when they are reading Scripture: “What is the author DOING with what they are SAYING?” Instead, most readers, without even realizing it, look at words in a text, then interpret that text (“I’m just pointing out what the text says!”) according to their own interpretation of those words without asking the broader question regarding the very meaning of the passage itself – let alone truly doing the work to ***try*** to discern the potential overall authorial intentions at play.
So, while I’ve known this is a problem in the real-world for a few years now, I’ve had a similarly difficult time explaining to people the significance of the problem. The illuminating question begs a question of clarification – and I haven’t always known how to answer it concisely without getting all philosophy-of-language on people [and you can imagine the almost instantaneous-glaze-overs].
But, this story about the dog and the bone? This story works! It shows how if we don’t ask what the author is doing, then we haven’t yet understood what the author is saying. Cool, I’ll take that story to the bank! I’m hoping to utilize this story in conversations when I am trying to explain to my friends the sort of work we should be doing when we read any book, but especially when we are trying to figure out how to understand Scripture so we can properly obey it.