Monday, June 06, 2016

BookPastor >> "A Vision for Preaching" (Abraham Kuruvilla)

This review was first published on Jan 4th, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint. 


TITLE: A Vision for Preaching: Understanding the Heart of Pastoral Ministry
AUTHOR: Abraham Kuruvilla
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (214 pages).

Three words anchor this book: "Preach the Word." The purpose is to let the Word shine in this world biblically, pastorally, amid an "alchemical and distillatory tendencies of this generation." This means not submitting to humanistic desires for newness but to re-tell God's story faithfully regardless of old or new. This means not succumbing to tendencies to reduce to Word to what it is not, but let the Word speak clearly, insightfully, and powerfully. As far as the author is concerned, it involves eight questions based on eight preaching thrusts:
  1. Whose words were these words originally? (Biblical)
  2. Who said it? (Pastoral)
  3. In what context? (Ecclesial)
  4. What should these words convey? (Communicational)
  5. What is the general thrust of the text? (Theological)
  6. Who was the audience? (Applicational)
  7. Why was it said? (Conformational)
  8. To what ultimate end? (Doxological)
  9. By whose power? (Spiritual)
All of these are summarized in one vision statement: "Preaching is biblical (Biblical) - by a leader of the church (Pastoral) - in a gathering of Christians for worship (Ecclesial) - is the communication of the thrust of a pericope of Scripture (Communicational) - discerned by theological exegesis, (Theological) - and of its application to that specific body of believers, (Applicational) - that they may be conformed to the image of Christ, (Conformational) - for the glory of God (Doxological) - all in the power of the Holy Spirit (Spiritual)."

Kuruvilla makes it plain that it is a "vision" rather than a "definition" primarily because "vision" is more of a target to be reached. It is for preachers to capture and to work toward. In that sense, it is what preaching is about: to tell and to show. Preachers need to catch this vision to elevate the excitement of preaching. At the same time, it is a reminder to take responsibility for preaching the Word of God faithfully, accurately, theologically, carefully, and worshipfully. Kuruvilla is Professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary and also a practicing dermatologist.  He is author of several books, one of which was "Privilege the Text!" He blogs at Step by step, he shows preachers eight dimensions of preaching.

First, preaching is biblical. Without any doubt, this is what preaching is all about: The Word of God. Preachers of the Word must be convicted in the abiding nature of the Word; the weighty nature of God's inspiration; binding nature; and the importance of lectio continua. He laments that the latter has fallen into disuse where many preachers have chosen lectio selecta (selected verses disconnected from week to week) instead of preaching continuously whole books of the Bible. Preaching biblically essentially means preaching all of Scripture in a continuous manner.

Second, preaching is pastoral. Kuruvilla makes a strong case that not everyone can preach, pastors especially are called to be the primary preacher. He goes in depth about the significance of ordination and makes a contrast to lay ministry by calling the pastor-preacher appointment as a "sacred trust." Not everyone can preach. Neither should everyone preach. Only the called should preach. Those who are uncomfortable about the distinction should also note Kuruvilla's scorching examination on the responsibility of the pastoral character of the preacher. With great authority comes great responsibility.

Third, preaching is ecclesial. Historically in the Old Testament, there is always a liturgical element in the exposition of Scripture. Word and sacrament go hand in hand for both involve the presence of God. There is a real presence of Christ in the preaching of the Bible. Preaching is to be in the context of worship and worship is part of the ministry of preaching.

Fourth, preaching is communicational, a new form of rhetoric as the preacher opens up God's Word for hearers. Kuruvilla laments the loss of the old homiletic and the rise of the modern usage of "arguments and points." Instead, we need to understand what the original writers had intended all along, to be doing what they are saying. We should not be too quick to distill Scripture into points and arguments. Rather, we ought to learn the Scripture's "narrative art form", to show audiences the Aha! moments during the preacher's study and preparation phase. Preachers then communicate God's Word as witnesses of what the Holy Spirit had shown them.

Fifth, preaching is theological. Getting information from the pericope is not the main goal. It is expounding the theological truth in a manner that brings forth the transformational dimension of the text. There is a intentional movement from text to application in what Kuruvilla terms a "pericopal theology." As one progressively expounds from one pericope to another in a continuous manner, hearers can be oriented to the thrust of the Scripture. As preachers put the world before the text, and to let the text inhabit the world we live in.

Sixth, preaching is applicational. Preaching must go beyond mere explaining the text but to show hearers what the text means in a practical and applied manner. By application, it refers to what theology means in real life. It means understanding the contexts and circumstances of hearers and how the Word speaks to that situation. It honours the relationship between God and people and let the Word develop and build on that relationship.

Seven, preaching is conformational primarily with helping hearers to be conformed into the image of Christ. Pericope by pericope, hearers align to the theological thrust of Scripture. Using his dermatological training to use, Kuruvilla likens preaching to hypothetical weekly visits of patients to a skin doctor. Week after week, the doctor advises how to improve the skin condition of his patients. Every pericope needs to emphasize on "a facet of Christlikeness." He distinguishes between "Christiconic" vs "Christocentric." The latter preaches Christ explicitly everywhere while the former illuminates the implicit expressions of Christlikeness, unless of course the text specifically mentions Christ directly. I think this is an important point. While we want to preach Christ everywhere, we must remain faithful to what the texts say in the first place.

Eight, preaching is doxological. How apt it is to point out the chief end of man and all toward the glory of God. Being holy brings glory to God. For Kuruvilla, glorifying God is the ultimate end of all preaching.

Nine, preaching is spiritual. We are reminded that all preaching must be inspired by the Holy Spirit. From preparation to delivery; from study to exposition; from personal character to the public communication of the Word, the Holy Spirit is involved in all. The preacher's primary task is to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit; to live by example; to be discipled by the Word; and to live out the Word preached.

This is a lengthy treatment of a very important subject for preaching. It has a very clear vision statement about what biblical preaching is about. More importantly, it brings back into focus that the task of preaching is fundamentally a work of the Holy Spirit, with the willing preacher listening, studying, and applying the Word of God for contemporary audiences. The nine dimensions of preaching are to be seen as one whole vision. It is tempting to break down the vision into discrete components, which is what the book had essentially done. While convenient and easy to follow for modern readers, it is mainly a pedagogical tool. The essence of preaching is not to remember the individual points per se but to be able to bring all of them together into one message based on the Word of God. I would caution preachers from trying to do everything at the onset, but to let the texts lead the way. Like a template that we can begin with, let the Word of God fill in the details. Remember that the sermon is not a Bible study. Neither is it a talk that dishes out spiritual advice. It is the Word of God made alive in the hearts and minds of people listening to the Word.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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