Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Place of the Bible in the Virginia Seminary Curriculum: Homiletics

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Place of the Bible in the Virginia Seminary Curriculum: Homiletics

Article excerpt

The centrality of the Bible in the course of studies at Virginia Seminary is evinced not only in the structure of the curriculum, but also in the teaching of homiletics. In homiletics classes, the Bible is the primary object of hermeneutical interpretation and homiletical reflection. While allowance is made for topical preaching on occasion, Virginia Seminary instruction emphasizes expository, exegetical sermons. The outcome of such training, however, is sermons that are incarnational in homiletical theory and practice. Because Anglican sacramental emphasis locates the word of God in human experience and creation, the question our preachers must ask themselves is how one arrives at that incarnational center. At VTS the answer would be that our trajectory begins with the Bible.

In a recent article entitled "Theological Method and Episcopal Vocation," an American bishop wrote of his denomination, "Anglicans ... tend to do theology from `below to above,' from experience to concept to truth [and, finally,] to action."1 He continued, "in theology our reflection on our experience of God does not constitute a fourth source of authority per se, but is [sic] a priori upon which the scripture, tradition and reason are dependent." In other words, this author privileges experience before Scripture, tradition or reason. In his article he uses experience forty-four times as the ground for judgment of all things meaningful theologically.

Yes, God is available to us in our experience. At the very least, the doctrines of creation and incarnation compel us to affirm that God believed the created world to be good and, at a moment in time, was moved to empty himself and all goodness for it.2 God is surely present TO our experience, but is God present IN our experience? The question of the direction of incarnational flow has caused some liberal theologians to argue with Bultmann that creation and redemption are one.3 A Bultmannian incarnational preacher begins with humankind and humankind's experience. On the other hand, one who reads Anselm would define incarnational theology as the union of humankind with the Person but not with the nature of God. That is, an individual may be in relationship with God but cannot contain God's fullness. Therefore, an Anselmian preacher would be more prone to begin with the word of God as found in the biblical witness rather than beginning with human experience, because the latter is not only limited but also flawed.

But even beginning with the biblical text has its problems. We look at the text from a perspective. Modern hermeneutical theory implicitly recognizes the possibility of several interpretations of a single text. In part that is because there are numerous messages that can be derived from a single text. Furthermore, several interpretations of a single text are possible because there is no such thing as an unbiased stance from which to do exegesis, no such thing as an objective perspective. Each of us has a horizon from which we view the world, and that amalgam of experience and education influences what we see. We approach Scripture constrained by the cultural patterns or context of our upbringing. Our understanding of Scripture is not pure because our epistemology, our very way of knowing, is culturally conditioned. Each of us has an interpretive stance, a bias from which we exegete a text. The hermeneutical stance we take toward the biblical text determines the method we use to exegete that text, and the method we select predetermines what we will discover. "Method, understood as a preestablished set of procedures for investigating some phenomenon, in fact not only attains its object but creates its object."4

If only since the publication of Gadamer's Truth and Method,5 most preachers have been willing to admit that there is no such thing as an unbiased stance from which to interpret Scripture. As the aforementioned bishop wrote, "We engage the text within a given context or historical/cultural situation which shapes our appropriation and interpretation of how and what we express. …

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