Sunday, August 06, 2006

Individualism Redux

My original post about individualism was largely a response to David Fitch's first post on Out of Ur regarding expository preaching. Fitch has since published parts two and three of that series. In my post, I wrote:
I await his next installment to find out how he believes some other type of preaching would fare better, or how any type of preaching at all can be received by anyone other than individuals.
Fitch makes a reasonable attempt to provide a positive alternative, but it seems to me that he makes a distinction without a meaningful difference.

In part two, Fitch argues for imaginative proclamation as opposed to exegesis. Why these two things need be opposed is anyone's guess. Fitch disparages the work of the pastor exegeting the Greek text, calling it "hubris," and writes that the pastor should recognize that his own "brilliance" should not be substituted for the work of "thousands that have gone before." But how the pastor should choose from among the streams of traditions that exist, Fitch doesn't say. Where the imaginative proclamation, the "alternative interpretation of the way things are," comes from, Fitch doesn't tell us. He seems to assume that there is an already-agreed-upon reality to which we can appeal for our proclamation. With regard to some passages and issues, that may be true; with regard to some, it isn't. But if the proclamation isn't drawn out (exegeted) from the Word, then where is it coming from, and why should the congregation view it as authoritative? One of the reasons Fitch denigrates expository preaching is because the listener (or the pastor) hear (or read) their own meanings into the text; but if they do not even attempt to exegete the text, how can they possibly avoid this pitfall? One may as well argue, "It's dangerous to walk this path if you don't have good vision; better to shut your eyes altogether."

I come from a church tradition that favors emotional preaching over expository teaching. I get the impression that Fitch comes from the opposite: one in which dry exposition of the text is the norm. Both extremes are bad: emotional preaching has no anchor and dry exposition cannot sail. There's nothing wrong with imaginative proclamation with solid exegetical study to ground it.

In part three, Fitch attempts to argue for liturgical response as opposed to individual application. I have no problem with liturgical response, although in my experience it tends to become dead formalism for those who have practiced it for a long time. It reminds me of my wife's story of how, growing up Catholic, she asked her catechism instructor, "Why do we put ashes on our heads on Ash Wednesday?" "Because we're Catholic!" was the response she was given. She had to come into another church tradition and read scripture about repenting in sackcloth and ashes before she had any more understanding.

The problem with liturgical response is that it only lasts as long as the service lasts. Yes, it gives the appearance of responding as a community rather than as individuals, but when we leave church, we need to live out the gospel. Individual application points have their own problem: there's a pressure on the pastor to "be relevant"; i.e., to reach for applications that are "practical," that touch on people's perceived needs. The end result is to "use" the gospel to repair one's marriage, get one's finances in order, do one's work more efficiently, and raise one's children more effectively. The challenge--and this is where Fitch is right--is to reorient one's life to be centered on Christ. It's not to make the gospel relevant to our lives; it's to make our lives relevant to the gospel. Imaginative proclamation--being able to see oneself in another type of existence--is certainly valuable here; but I don't see why it needs to be opposed to exposition.

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