David Fitch’s The Great Giveaway turns in chp 5 to the “Preaching of the Word” and he sub-titles his chp “the myth of expository preaching.” What do you see as the primary function of preaching? To be an exposition of the biblical text itself in a verse-by-verse fashion (or close to that) so that each of us can live more effectively? Or is it a communal act of interpretation?
Fitch then really drives the point home by the continuation of the subtitle: “Why me must do more than wear scrolls on our foreheads [the Jewish practice of wearing phylacteries].” He’s picking a fight here, and he wants to. What is preaching really all about? Is it possible, we might ask, to support “expository” style by appeal to biblical preaching and texts?
Fitch pushes the button of postmodernity here: pastors are tempted to turn expository preaching into agendas and so Fitch proposes, somewhat along the line of D. Pagitt, Preaching Re-imagined, which I responded to with Brad Boydston here and here and here. (Fitch’s book approaches this issue more philosophically, while Pagitt’s is more personal.)
After a brief history of expository preaching in the USA (where he finds his favorite targets: modernism and seeker-friendly churches), Fitch proposes to uncover the myth of expository preaching: exegesis and history do not yield a consensus meaning of the text so the preacher himself (or, less likely) herself adjudicates meaning for the congregation. But, he continues, the congregation never quite comes to the “same” meaning.
Expository preaching assumes that individual preachers can speak to isolated, individual selves in the congregation.
Postmodernity, Fitch contends, contends that “meaning and truth can only be worked out in the language we speak and the lives we negotiate” (133). It encourages the community to live as a community while expository preaching encourages individualism. He argues that it takes a community to interpret the Word because the Holy Spirit is at work in the community of faith. [Here Fitch assumes a democratization of the Spirit; I’m not so sure this is consistent with the prophetic Spirit of the NT where the Spirit overwhelms individuals. But, his point about the community is needful today.] Interpretation, then, is communal — whether the individual preacher knows it or not. There is an ongoing tradition out of which each of us speaks.
What we need, Fitch argues, is to come together to submit to the Scripture together in the Spirit.
The danger of ripping Scripture out of the community is that preachers can dogmatize their own social habits and not be challenged by the community.
Fitch proposes a “narrative-based” preaching: the narrative re-shapes our identity. We are invited to participate (Pagitt’s sense of “implicate”) in the grand narrative. This kind of preaching is “description” (unclear just what he means) and it funds counterimagination. Thus: “we must first truly engage and live into the world of Jesus Christ as Lord” (144). Instead of showing how the Bible is like or relevant to our world, we are to draw folks into the narrative web of the Bible. It invites “response” rather than “application.”
1. Return to the lectionary
2. Practice performative reading (oral interpretation; this is a huge need in my view)
3. Tailor the conclusion for response: submission, repentance, obedience, praise. Lord’s Supper.
4. Employ narrative-based preaching
5. Promote communal discourse (he mentions “Paggit” but means “Pagitt”).
6. Persevere in times of conflict.
Many of us are deeply committed to and concerned about preaching, and this chapter gives us lots to think about.