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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Privilege the Text!" (Abraham Kuruvilla)

TITLE: Privilege the Text!: A Theological Hermeneutic for Preaching
AUTHOR: Abraham Kuruvilla
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (336 pages).

How can preachers and teachers interpret the Bible for preaching and teaching purposes? How can anyone really bridge more than 2000-3000 years of history and make it relevant for contemporary hearers? Is it right for an evangelical to read Christ into all of the Old Testament texts? When should we do systematization (big picture) and when can we adopt atomization (micro-analysis)? These questions and many more are addressed in this important book about preaching, interpreting, and the art and science of hermeneutics.

Beginning with a provocative question about the challenges of Bible interpretation and how to bridge the ancient texts with contemporary hearers, Kuruvilla asserts that the Bible is not only authoritative for the audiences then, it is also applicable for modern hearers too. Preachers and teachers are to be able to do both the exposition of what the texts meant then, and also what it means for modern audiences now. The basic hermeneutical principle that Kuruvilla asserts is this. Both hermeneutical faithfulness must be matched with rhetorical effectiveness, with preachers and teachers to be faithful and respectful to the texts, and be relevant for the audiences. By privileging the text, the image that Kuruvilla brings forth is a very creative one. For hermeneutics, he suggests six ways to read the Bible, basing it on the history and tradition. For the "theology of the pericope,"  he calls preaching a two-step process; firstly from text to theology; and secondly, from theology to application. When it comes to obeying God's Word, relationship is foremost, while responsibility is second. With the relationship, one begins a journey of responsibility to be holy for God is holy.

A key concern in the book is the preaching of Christ. While not disagreeing with the need for a Christocentric hermeneutic of the Bible, Kuruvilla argues for a Christiconic understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures. Using the image of a glass window, preachers must not simply interpret Scripture as if it is seeing through a clear glass through to the ancient times. They need to look at a Christ-aware lens, like looking through a stained glass window, where Christ is the glass in which the interpreter reads Scripture. This is the general stance, in the light of the use of the Rule of Centrality, which is an interpretive stance based on the pre-eminent person of Christ, and the redemptive work in Christ. Also called the Redemptive-Historical hermeneutic, one also needs to be careful not to be too "big picture" that one loses the details of the micro-narratives. Taking the positions of speakers like Calvin, Mohler, Carson, Luther, and other Reformers, Kuruvilla urgest the preaching of Christ in every sermon.

With keen insight and scholarly expertise, Kuruvilla who is both a medical practitioner as well as a Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, shows us the way by using a rigorous theological hermeneutic that essentially gives the privilege of interpretation to the text. It is not only about expounding the Scriptures. It is also about spiritual formation, preparing to preach, and to let the interpretation by guided by God through the Holy Spirit and the Word. Kuruvilla does not take the position of seeing Christ in every verse of the Bible. Instead, being Christiconic means to see the events of Scripture as being fulfilled in man through Christ. We see the world of Scripture with Christ in front of the text, rather than behind the text. The latter tries to project Christ as being inside the original texts, while the former adopts Christ-like perspectives toward Scriptures. Every biblical pericope points to a "facet" of the Person of Christ. It takes the whole Bible to help us complete the whole picture of the Person of Christ.

My Thoughts

As a preacher, I agree with Kuruvilla about the need to preach Christ in every sermon. That is still quite different from trying to superimpose Christ onto the original Scriptures. This book essentially highlights the Christiconic hermeneutical method to enable preachers and teachers to see how the entire Scriptures reveal the whole Person of Christ. While not every pericope reveals everything, every pericope reveals something, or some facet of Christ. Some may be more, while others less.

As I read this book, I prefer to take the hermeneutical stance a little farther. Rather than trying to visualize Christ, or whatever facet into the text, let us be guided by the Holy Spirit to view Scriptures with the mind of Christ. The interpretive stance of Christiconic method is a good way to distinguish the difference between reading behind the text versus reading in front of the text. This is an important distinction. While there are examples that Kuruvilla has used to show the application of Kuruvilla's theological hermeneutic, what is not clear is how much of Christ can readers see in other pericopes. There are much left unsaid that keeps Kuruvilla's book very open-ended.I agree with Kuruvilla that the historical approach with regards to Scripture is an exercise in over simplification. Yet, it is a good way to remember the trajectories of each era.

  • Antiquity (100-500): Truth handed down in tradition via defense;
  • Middle Ages (500-1500): Truth handed down in church via dogma;
  • Reformation (1500-2000) Truth handed down through the canon via deliverance;
  • Contemporary (2000-present): Truth handed down within the pericope via duty.
While I am generally inclined to agree with the first three eras, I am not too convinced about Kuruvilla's take about the contemporary era, that it is the era of the pericope. What the author is actually saying that the contemporary duty of man is all of the above. Perhaps, more space can be given for the author to expand on this perspective. 

I commend Moody Publishers for publishing this important resource not just for teachers and preachers, but also for students and laypersons. Helpful for preaching, it gives us a fresh look at how to interpret Scripture from the mind of Christ. I am also touched by Benjamin Jowett's reminder for us as interpreters and teachers to bear. "The true use of interpretation is to get rid of interpretation, and leave us in company with the author." What a great way to conclude!

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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