Find Books on Cross-Cultural Hermeneutics from Amazon.com and international bookstore sites.
  Hermeneutics |   Church & Pastoral |   Missions & Evangelism Bookstore

Implications of Cross-Cultural Hermeneutics for Preaching

      

The awareness of the need to conduct this study has arisen from the conviction that good Christian communication is not just a matter of language.  Good hermeneutics is often a powerful means for clear and influential communication.

        During the last decades a group of theologians have asked the hermeneutical questions for preaching, namely, "how we can build bridge between the world of the Bible and the world of today, between the original context and the contemporary context."  One way to put this question missiologically is:  "What are the essentials of the Kingdom of God proclamation that can be translated into the language that even most unlearned people can understand?"  Here we need to distinguish our approach from those approaches that simply employs the tools of systematic theology.  Systematic theology tends to provide more a prepositional statement of doctrine.  A systematic theologian does not have to ask the question in a context.  But for us, we ask the same question in a context—in a biblical context, in a contemporary context, and in a ministry context.

        Following Anthony C. Thiselton’s work, there exist two hermeneutic horizons for Bible interpretation—the horizon of the original writer and that of the contemporary interpreters.  But when we understand the goal of biblical hermeneutics as missionary proclamation, the interpreter as a missionary preacher still finds one more cross-cultural horizon ahead him or her—namely, the horizon of the audience, who also have their own field of vision in which they respond to what they read.

        The reason for the ‘cross-cultural hermeneutics for preaching’ becomes self-evident when we consider with Friedrich that “True proclamation does not take place through Scripture alone, but through its exposition.”  God does not send books to men; He sends messengers.  Now, as Grant R. Osborne sets forth it, “The preacher/missionary has the dual role first as interpreter and then as Proclaimer.”

        Whether he intended it or not, Osborne’s hermeneutical work is a breakthrough toward a missiological understanding of preaching.  He incorporates missiological discoveries into his hermeneutic method.  He also helps us refresh our missiological insights, especially in the areas of communication, preaching, and hermeneutics. 

        Osborne observes that the same principles are working in “contextualization” in the field of missiology and “application” in the field of homiletics.  He, then, discovers that at the heart ‘contextualization’ entails cross-cultural communication.  Thus, from his hermeneutic theory, he supports the assumption of the study that preaching entails cross-cultural communication.

        James E. Massy indicates the cross-cultural implications of hermeneutics when he states that hermeneutics is “that science or methodology by which the meaning in a text is sought, discovered, and then related and applied to one’s own cultural context and life-setting…. Once understood, that meaning is to be expressed and applied to teaching, counsel or proclamation.”

        For Karl Barth cross-cultural hermeneutics is the foundation of his theology of proclamation, and therefore, the foundation of the whole framework of his theology.  This is what he expresses in his famous motto, namely, preaching is the Word of God and the word of man. This implies that the preacher should be familiar with the biblical context, as it is 'the actual situation of the text.'   The preacher also needs to enter into the situation of his audience, as it is 'the context to which the text is to be applied.'  This is how we find the principle of duality of exposition and application in his hermeneutical approach.        

        Barth's hermeneutical approach stresses that a preacher should connect biblical text to contemporary needs.  He says, “When preparing their sermons, preachers have to mediate on the texts both as genuinely people of their day but also in such a way that the text can really become a Way to their contemporaries.”  In short, each word that is to be proclaimed to the listeners must become a word that is specifically and decisively addressed to our own present.

     Both Barth and Osborne view the preacher as the Bible expositor as well as cross-cultural communicator between the biblical times and the contemporary world.  He or she is a messenger who is sent to the world to communicate the redemptive relevance of the biblical message to modern audience.  In this sense a preacher messenger is a missionary preacher.

        A preacher as the messenger is a communication bridge between two different cultures or sub-cultures.  Again, a preacher is a messenger who is sent out to a specific culture, to a specific people group to communicate the redemptive relevance of the biblical message to modern audience.

        Barth’s theology of preaching confirms that there are three horizons in our Bible interpretation for preaching.  With Barth, the preacher should be not only a reader of the Bible, but a learner of the audience—both believing community and unbelieving neighborhood.  Surely, the preacher’s hermeneutic task involves learning the hearers of the message in their context of life—in their concrete situation of lives.    

        Padilla and others have rightly pointed out the gap between the biblical world and the modern world.  Yet, From Van Engen, Morgan, and Greidanus’ discussions, we infer that what was relevant to biblical audience is also relevant to modern audience in terms of life experiences and human needs.

        From Karl Barth’s missiology of preaching we learn that the heart of missionary preaching is to preach as the one who is sent to the audience. To be sent as a preacher means more than a mere physical presence. It means entering into the situation of the audience in our hearts and minds, in our prayer and Bible exposition, and in our spoken language and life message. It means the re-reading the Bible in the situation of the people so that the message is relevant to them in their need of divine grace.

        Gerhard Ebeling’s hermeneutic work sets forth that theology is for proclamation.  His work is a result of his struggle to overcome the tension between the scientific theology and church proclamation.  He employs the concept of word event.  Word event is the event of interpretation taking place through the word.  He declares, ‘Proclamation that has taken place is to become proclamation that takes place.'  This translation from text to sermon is a transition from Scripture to the spoken word.  This task consists in making what is written into spoken word---in letting the text become God’s word again.

        With Ebeling, the sermon is 'execution' (or implementation) of the text.  It carries into execution the aim of the text.  It is proclamation of what the text has proclaimed.

        Whereas Ebeling describes the hermeneutical problem for preaching as “the tension between scientific theology and church proclamation,” Ian Pitt-Watson puts it as “the tension between ‘the original language of the text’ and ‘the meaning which are possible within our culture.’”

        David S. Dockery’s work is a demonstration that cross-cultural study has become an essence of hermeneutics.  He suggests that textual inquiry should begin with the questions: “What is the author’s historical situation?” and “What is the cultural context out of which the author wrote?”  He believes that interpretation is the most important step in seeking the textual meaning from an author-oriented perspective.   The question to be asked is, therefore, What did the text mean in its historical setting to the initial readers?

        What follows interpretation is to determine the theological significance of the passage by posing the questions: (1) What does the text mean to contemporary readers?  (2) What cultural factors need to be contextualized or retranslated?

        Sidney Greidanus, however, discovers that there is a continuity between biblical and modern life experiences.  He suggests, therefore, the holistic interpretation in order to address the issue of relevant contemporary application.  His point is that we today live---albeit at a different stage—in the same history as did the Israelites of old.  He maintains, “there is not an unbridgeable gap between then and now but a definite continuity: the Ancient Israelites were involved in the same struggle for the coming of God’s kingdom as we are today; their needs and obligations were very similar to ours.”

        A recent development of interaction between missiology and homiletics is conspicuously observed in the work of Leonora Tubbs Tisdale (1997), who maintains that, in a respect, every preaching is a cross-cultural communication.  A preacher. therefore, needs to be sensitive to the peculiar subculture of his or her audience.  She believes that theology needs to be contextualized for local congregation. 

        Tisdale’s work is an attempt to develop the ‘holistic preaching’ model. She views preaching as folk art.  What she means by it is that preaching may needs different modes depends on the subcultures of the audience. While one group of the audience can be reached by the good logic of preaching, the other group will be more responsive to the relevant stories that touch their heart and emotion. 

        Tisdale even takes a step further to suggest for a multi-faces exegetical method, describing the pastor as ethnographer. She believes that if preachers are to achieve the theological contextualization and effect in our sermons a fresh hearing of the gospel for a particular people, then, it is essential that we engage in interpretive activities that not only give access to the worlds revealed in biblical texts, but also give access to the subcultural worlds in which our congregations live.

        James Barr, Eugines A. Nida, and Anthony Thiselton are among those who insist to respect the particularity of the text.  Their discussion is a response to the conventional hermeneutics based on etymology because they see that the etymology of a word is not a statement about its meaning, but about its history, and that words do not carry with them all the meanings which they may have in other sets of co-occurrences.  Thiselton argue, therefore, that “The interpreter of the New Testament must respect distinctive particularity of meaning conveyed by individual passage, and resist the temptation to interpret them wholly in the light of pre-understanding already decisively shaped by the interpretation of other passages.”

        Lesslie Newbigin’s hermeneutic approach is a result of his effort to re-evangelize the secularized Western society by overcoming the limitations imposed by post-Enlightenment definitions of truth.  He maintains that the job of the missionary to both the East and the West is to challenge the "reigning plausibility structure" by examining it in light of the revealed purposes of God contained in the biblical narrative.

        Newbigin is a preacher of holistic mission.  With him, the hermeneutical task involves recognition of God's revelation both in the past and in the present time through the life of the community of faith.  Especially vital to the revelation of "present truth" is the involvement of the Church in the public sphere.  As believers live out their faith in their secular environments, they show that because Christ's reigning kingdom is both present and future, they can meaningfully participate in challenging evil in the public sphere while affirming that the goal of history lies beyond the horizon of death.

        René Padilla advocates what he calls ‘contextual hermeneutics’ because the approach addresses the mission communication issue: “How can the chasm between the past and the present be bridged?” It, therefore, seeks to interpret both the context of the ancient text and the context of the modern reader.  As Padilla puts it, “the contextual approach recognizes both the role of the ancient world in shaping the original text and the role of today’s world in conditioning the way contemporary readers are likely to ‘hear’ and understand the text” (Padilla 1981:18).

        Barth (1963), Ebeling (1966), Pitt-Watson (1986), and many others have rightly pointed out that there is a tension between theology and proclamation.  While the task of theology is to serve church proclamation, Scientific theology (or systematic theology) is accessible to only limited audience. What happened was that while theological libraries is growing, the gospel remained unheard to the majority of the mass.  Narrative theology has emerged as a group of theologians reflected and responded to this hermeneutic issue.   

        Osborne points out that narrative criticism was a response to the failure of form and redaction criticism.  This failure is due to fragmentizing the biblical text and failing to see the manning in the whole story.  As Osborne observes it, "The tendency to break the text into isolated units is widely perceived as counter productive, and so scholars turned to the much more literarily aware field of narrative criticism to breach the gap".  Thus, narrative approach to hermeneutics recognize that meaning is found in a text as a whole rather than in isolated segments. 

        Charles Van Engen’s recent discussion (1996) is a rediscovery of the significance of narrative theology to address the hermeneutical issues missiologically.  He advocates the need to develop an evangelically reshaped narrative theology as a way to draw most richly from both the wrap of the contextual particularity of God’s revelation at specific times and places, and the woof of the temporal universality of the mission of God. 

        Van Engen expounds narrative theology embedded in biblical stories.  For instance, we need to allow our theology to emerge from the entire narrative of Abraham's life (Gen. 11:27-25:11) so as to understand God's covenantal relationship with him.

        Biblical narrative is a theology that has audience in a concrete historical and cultural context, and that has missionary message to the audience, and that has message accessible even to the most unlearned in the audience.  Biblical narrative as a theology has the redemptive message which touches even the felt-needs of non-Christian's heart.

        Van Engen notes that the biblical narrative intends to teach those inside and outside the community the nature, acts, and purpose of Israel's God.  While systematic theology engages the intellect, storytelling engages the heart and indeed the whole person.

        Don M. Wagner, Charles Van Engen, and a group of narrative theologians have observed the abuse of theological method of Bible interpretation, especially in using Scripture fragments out of context.  In this regard, the study presents a case study in G. Compbell Morgan’s ‘contextual principle of Bible interpretation.’

        Morgan’s expository method is ‘interpretation in the context’—the synthesis of biblical text into its historical and literacy context.  The essential characteristic of his method is the application of the context principle of Bible Study.  Each verse of Scripture cut out of its setting must first be understood in relation to what immediately precedes and follows, before one can properly evaluate its relation to theological subject.

        Contextual principle is the interpretation of a given passage in the light of the text which surround it, diminishing in importance as one proceeds from the near to the far context—Two fundamental processes are involved in putting this context principle to work; they are analysis and synthesis.  Analysis takes apart and classifies or describes each other; synthesis assembles the part in a logical order.  The important fundamental process, therefore, is the correlation of parts to a whole.

        Morgan’s expository method stresses the Bible’s correspondence to human needs. The expositor of the Bible acts as an intermediary between the wells of truth and the thirsty multitude. Without the water’s suiting and satisfying that thirst, there would be no need for the bucket to draw it. This correspondence of the Bible is first to the need of the race, lost in sin, and even more to the regenerated soul.

        Historically, in English Puritanism we find a classical example of preaching to the human need.  Their anthropology accented man’s total depravity.  Ever since Adam, all the Puritans proclaimed, man has been a slave to sin. Adam's sin left man’s nature died.  This, however, did not destroy man’s rational and volitional faculties.  In these God’s image remains imprinted.  To men’s natural faculty God addresses himself in the book of nature and of Scripture.

        The significance of Gustaf Wingren’s hermeneutic approach is its re-illumination that missionary proclamation is relevant to human needs.  He perceives that the Word of God is in dynamic relationship to human needs.  He asserts that preaching is not preaching aimed at self-sufficient human life seeking to add something religious or spiritual to it.  We come to God’s Word as found and conquered human beings in order to hear the word which sets humanity free.  We come to hear the word that gives us our human existence.  To be human is to hear God’s Word that creates us, recreates us, and sets us free for human life.

        In sum, all of these these discussions point out that there are implications of cross-cultural hermeneutics for preaching.  In asking, "How can a preacher be a person of deep understanding in Scripture, and still use easy language for audience?", we cannot but come to see that sermon preparation has three levels of hermeneutical work.  First, we read the bible for our own personal revelation, for our own personal encounter with God.  The second step is that we meet our audience, as they are in their real situation— in their life experience, in their historical and sociological situation, and in their faith pilgrimage.  The preacher, then, reads the Bible again in the situation of his audience in order to get fresh for them—whether we call it adaptation or contextualization.

 

 


  © This manuscript was a part of Dae Ryeong Kim's research note.for his paper, "Hermeneutics for Missionary Preaching,"