It's after 10pm and the family is in bed, and I... I settle down for a little perusal of the daily offerings of the blogosphere, and what to my wondering eyes does appear? A piece written by David Fitch on the myth of expository preaching [and the commodification of the Word] from Out of Ur.
The piece resonated with me, perhaps mostly due to the fact that I spent almost twelve years at a church that preached "line upon line, word upon word" expository preaching as the only true way to teach. In reading Fitch's piece, I found myself nodding and having flashbacks [or perhaps a nervous, vomitous reaction]. Now don't get me wrong, I do appreciate expository preaching, and it does have its place. What I find disturbing is the insistence by some that it is the only way to teach, reducing all other approaches to teaching as doing damage to the text. This kind of thinking smacks of elitism and arrogance. The reality is that expository preaching it has some real and inherent dangers. Fitch makes this comment...
In reality what guides interpretation is not scientific individual interpretation of the text. It is the broad consensus interpretation for the Biblical texts found in the ongoing history of church doctrine. The myth that expository preaching is more faithful to the text is simply not true. There is plenty room for all kinds of human interpretation even within expository preaching.
Secondly, even if we could agree that each individual mind under the Holy Spirit can come to the one propositional meaning for the text using exegesis, we cannot assume then that these truths as communicated by the preacher will necessarily be heard as the same to every listener in the pew. As Derrida reminds us, repetition never leads to the "same." Each idea is heard in terms of each hearer's context. The person in the pew takes notes, selects what he or she hears for special notation, and walks away with "the nugget" for the day that can best support his or her current life or context.
Every preacher has had the experience of greeting people after church who thank him/her for what the sermon. Then the preacher is stunned to hear they took something from the sermon totally different than (s)he had intended. So even if there were a stable authorial meaning inherent to the text, it still could not be communicated in the ways expository preaching assumes.
Most disturbing about the myth of expository preaching in churches of N. America is the excessive individualism that is promoted by the assumptions that undergird it. Expository preaching can actually encourage the person in the pew to be isolated from further conversation and testing of the Scriptures within the congregation (1 John 4:1). This is because expository preaching commodifies the Word. It carefully dissects the text into three (stereotypically) points and an application, which is then offered to the parishioner as the means to further her Christian life. The person sits isolated in the pew encouraged to take notes, analyze, digest the sermon, rarely giving the Amen. Expository preaching operates under the assumption that the congregation (or radio listener) is composed of individual Cartesian selves isolated and separated from each other, yet capable of listening and receiving truth as information from the pulpit.
Fitch offers some fascinating observations in the article, which is well worth the time to read. From personal experience, I would add a few more...
1. Often times "line upon line" approaches are ironically turned into topical teachings anyway, with the person teaching merely using the text as a place to jump off on something that may or not be related to the text at hand. Seen this done a ton. [Hhhmm... Is this not the very thing that expostory preaching is supposed to avoid?]
2. Is it not possible that in teaching "line upon line" you might find yourself so deeply imbedded in a text that you miss how the particular text fits into the larger letter or narrative? The church I was a part of taught through the book of Matthew "line upon line". It took three years! By the end, most people were lost to the flow and beauty of the larger narrative. It was like trying to studying a beautiful, living animal by merely dissecting it. You might know something about the internal workings, but miss what makes the animal living and beautiful. In the end, rather than finding life, you end up killing it. [For those three years, were we really tapping into what the writer meant or where we in fact doing damage to the text?]
Just a thought.