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Review Essay, Keeping the Balance

If sermons are not being structured around a section of scripture, it may actually indicate some unbelief in the importance and sufficiency of scripture. “Are hard passages being avoided or explained away? … Are important truths being neglected or ignored?” Downes observes that “the Bible is open to massive abuse in the hands of church leaders and preachers; not only can they misinterpret it but they may also preside over which parts are taught and which parts are passed over”, thus deforming our vision of God. Behind all this is a faulty theology, “for if what ‘Scriptures says, God says’, then teaching the whole Bible must be the priority of every church”.

How theology helps preaching “The starting point for faithful preaching must stem from a right view of the authority and life-giving nature of holy Scripture”, Downes writes. We have seen that theology that mars preaching “ultimately stems from a failure to teach the Bible”. In the remainder of his essay, Downes explains how good theology—specifically, exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology, and systematic theology, can ultimately supply the Church with a needed “panoramic vision of the greatness of God and his ways”.

In coming to a proper understanding of a text and its correct application, there is an important “interplay between exegesis, hermeneutics and biblical and systematic theology”. Exegesis endeavours to determine what the texts says and what it means, examining it carefully and taking into account its peculiarities of form, structure, literary type etc. This is not enough, however. Biblical theology comes into play because the text belongs to a particular context (eg. a chapter of book), from a distinct genre or corpus (eg. wisdom literature, gospels, the Pauline epistles), and from a certain stage in redemptive history (eg. Old or New Testament, pre or post resurrection), and understanding its context is crucial to correct interpretation. But then, the text must be evaluated to see how it fits into the total system of Christian truth and to see how that system aids our understanding of that text—and how Systematic theology is involved. We must get all of this right before we can approach the question of application.

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2006

About the Author: W. Simpson, PhD (University of St. Andrews, Scotland), is a physicist and writer with an interest in theology, currently engaged in scientific research in the middle-east.

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