“Jacob and the Prodigal” by Kenneth E. Bailey

The bibliographic material contained recent scholarship from tremendous Biblical scholars.  Bailey also included sources outside of the Western tradition that were more akin to the culture of Jesus.  This helped to provide insight into parts of the text that might otherwise be foreign to us.  As Bailey mentioned, it is important to dialogue with other cultures because our interpretations can be challenged and corrected in the process.  However, Bailey does not include women in his bibliography, which is an unfortunate area of lack, considering Bailey’s emphasis on the female characterization of God in the text.

To better understand Jesus’ parables, it is important to understand what type of teacher he was.  He was often called rabbi and taught in rabbinic fashion.  This suggests that Jesus had formal training as a teacher of the Law.  As such, when Jesus engages the scholars of his day in discussions of the Law, he is teaching in a deeply theological manner.  In other words, these aren’t merely the words of a simple carpenter, but they are carefully constructed metaphors that clearly communicate Jesus’ theology.

All stories are bound up in language and the culture that language inhabits.  As such, to truly grasp a story, one must understand the context from which that story emerges.  The Western Church is far removed from the Middle Eastern way of life and it should pay careful attention to that culture’s way of life and the interpretations of Scripture from that culture.  It may be that light could be shed in new ways where our cultural blinders prohibit us from understanding more fully.

It’s also important to understand the story of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son(s) together, not separately.  Each is connected closely with the next and sheds light on God’s character, as well as Jesus’ character.  Furthermore, we cannot read these as allegory without inherent dangers.  We cannot read something that the original hearers would not have understood.  That does damage to the intent of the parable.  And, a parable can have one meaning, one meaning with sub-points, or multiple points of meaning.  We should keep this in mind as we read these texts.

It is interesting to see how Jesus uses Old Testament images for God and helps them to re-function in these parables.  The shepherd, the woman, and the father are all given new life that is now centered on who Jesus is and what Jesus does.  To claim equality with God, while at the same time confronting the religious leaders in this way, would have been grounds for death (which is what happens later).  Parables can be a dangerously subversive method of communicating.  Using Old Testament texts, such as the Jacob saga, in new ways was a typical method of communication.  The difference is that Jesus utilizes the Jacob saga to create dissonance in the audience by using both similarities and differences in the two stories to highlight his particular vision of God.  More importantly, Jesus paints the story to show that he is the key to properly understanding those Old Testament stories.


“Preaching with Variety” by Jeffery Arthurs

The bibliographical citations are from reputable resources.  Arthurs uses ideas from several well-known preachers and theologians: Thom Long, Fred Craddock, David Buttrick, Robert Alter, and C. S. Lewis, to name a few.  Although Arthurs does quote Elizabeth Achtemeier, his sources are scantly filled by women or minorities.  This is a real drawback to the book in terms of holistic styles of preaching.

God is the “Great Communicator.”  Scripture is the means by which God communicates with us.  Within Scripture there is a variety of genres and literature types.  If God uses variety, then there is a good reason for us to use variety in our sermons as well.  The variety of literature also provides for a variety of responses in the audience.  Through these various modes of communication, we are able to look at the facets of reality.

Preaching with variety also involves preaching in the vernacular of our congregations.  If we cannot communicate in culturally appropriate ways, it may be difficult for our audience to receive the messages we send.  In our present context, we need to engage the visual senses.  Likewise, personal experience and participation is expected in our sermons.  Although sermons are auditory and oral events, we must find ways to include a holistic experience that engages the entire person.  Long-term learning best occurs in this environment.

The contents of the book are separated into several genres: psalms, narrative, parables, proverbs, epistles, and apocalyptic literature.  Each of these forms communicates in a different fashion, whether through song, story, metaphor, or logical progression.  Each form has its own peculiar way of communicating.  Sermons in some way should mimic the intention of the genre.  In this way, the impact of the genre might also be upheld.  Fred Craddock states, “Let doxologies be shared doxologically, narratives narratively, polemics polemically, and parables parabolically.  In other words, biblical preaching ought to be biblical” (166).

This might include making a brief statement to summarize your sermons over a Proverb.  Or, it might include singing or responsive readings in the sermon of particular Psalms.  Perhaps, instead, they would be poetic in describing God’s activity.  Apocalyptic might use symbols, hymns, and doxologies to convey its contents of God’s victory.  Story might be woven throughout a sermon to help the audience identify with the characters of a narrative.  Dialogue and discourse might be implemented to convey an epistle’s meaning.  The impact of the genre, rather than its exact form, is a vehicle for transporting meaning from the text to the audience.

Overall, I thought this book was extremely helpful in understanding the Biblical genres and how their forms might be implemented in a sermon.  Although we do not have to be slaves to the genres, they provide some very creative frameworks from which to construct your sermon.  And, in doing so, one can potentially keep some of the intentions of the text for the contemporary audience.

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