Sermoneutics

I would like to introduce you to my first official sniglet, sermoneutics.

sermoneutics (ˈsər-məˈnü-tik) – n. The art of interpreting Scripture in a sermon by giving its meaning as an abstract, peripheral idea that is not the main point of the text.

My motivation for the above word is Dr. John Walton’s post Hermeneutics and Children’s Curriculum. He lays out “five basic fallacies that appear repeatedly.”

1. Promotion of the trivial
2. Illegitimate extrapolation
3. Reading between the lines
4. Missing important nuance
5. Focus on people rather than God

This is a very good article that I hadn’t seen yet.  Let me briefly explain the coincidence providence in how I learned about it today.  As I got in my car to leave for work a local well-known preacher was on the radio.  I listened for a few minutes before putting on yesterday’s Issues, Etc.  I noticed some points being made that I will touch on below.  A good friend calls me about 10 minutes later and tells me about Dr. Walton’s article above and how several people, including my friend Pastor Reggie, were commenting that it’s not just childrens’ curriculum that has this problem.  We talked about this well-known preacher I had just heard and it all fit together nicely and hence, sermoneutics came to mind.

For an example of sermoneutics, I will touch on what I heard this morning.  The topic was God’s favor and the illustration came from Nehemiah. I picked up this sermon at the point of Nehemiah 1 transitioning into Ch. 2 where Nehemiah finishes his prayer to God and the king asking why Nehemiah was sad.

So the well-known preacher (WKP) asks, “How do I know [Nehemiah] walked in there with faith?” in refering to Nehemiah going into the presence of the king as cupbearer.  WKP’s answer, “Because of what he requested” of the king.  “He walks in” and the king notices a problem and inquires.  The WKP tells us how Nehemiah, in answering, just “let it fly which a cupbearer would never do” and “notice how he said it in verse 3” which was “rather courageous” for a cupbearer.  Then, the WKP asks “why would the king respond so quickly and so affirmatively.” To which we’re told it is because Nehemiah had been crying out to God and he walked in there believing that God sent him and it was God’s responsibility to make these things happen.

i. Did Nehemiah “walk in?”  This may be very frivolous, but why keep saying it? Is there some sort of imagery being painted?

ii. The picture of Nehemiah walking in and requesting something isn’t accurate to the text.  He was answering the king’s question.

iii.  How do we know a cupbearer would never answer in such a manner?  This was a very trusted and prestigious position.  Plus, Nehemiah was very respectful in answering.

iv.  We don’t know how “quickly” or “affirmatively” the king responded since we’re not told.  The point?

v. The inference of Nehemiah’s faith as causing the king to respond as he did isn’t in the point and that’s not what Scripture says.  This breaks down to having faith in faith rather than faith in God and His promises.

vi.  Nehemiah was able accomplish such things because of God’s faithfulness as seen in his prayer in chapter 1.  The case is being built about Nehemiah for our example, but what are we learning about God here?

The WKP then tells us that Nehemiah had the favorable hand of God upon him because “he was a man with a purpose in his life and he was a man who knew how to pray and talk to God.  And he was a man that was willing to trust God for every single need.”   And that Nehemiah was walking into a situation of needs which Scripture doesn’t indicate he had the skills to fulfill, but since “God sent him God would make it happen.”

i.  The text doesn’t tell us God’s favor was found because Nehemiah had a purpose.  That’s so general and what does it even mean in this context?  Is it not God who supplies His own with purpose anyways?

ii.  What does it mean he knew “how to” pray and talk to God?  The text doesn’t explicitly tell us this.  Doesn’t Paul tells us that we don’t always know how to pray?  What does this insertion even clarify?

iii.  The lack of Nehemiah’s ability is inferred from the silence of Scripture and then the point of having faith built upon that inference.   Why make a blind observation and then teach on it as if the point is explicit?

There are definitely more assertions of  what God “probably” did and said as well as what Nehemiah “probably” did and said.  Then, from the “probably” statements are accurate teachings from other parts of Scripture.  It’s just that the conclusion, though accurate, doesn’t always follow from the premises.  There is more to point out to both illustrate my point and to praise contra my point, but this will suffice.

The word of God is not incapable of speaking to topics in our lives so that we must insert or even make-up ideas from which to teach and learn.

For what it’s worth…

Mark

(HT: JT)

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Reggie August 7, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Mark,

What a great title…sermoneutics. Ha! But I must confess that while I bemoan the prevelance of such preaching in America, I too am guilty. If Christian church members (those who are truly Christian) only knew how they need to support their pastor in prayer and vocally in the congregation, as he attempts to remain faithful to God rather than speak to the masses’ felt needs. Few and far between is the church member who, (1) knows the difference, (2) applauds the difference and (3) stands up for the preacher who does differently.

2 johnMark August 7, 2008 at 4:53 pm

Reggie,

I appreciate your words. I also understand to a point as one who was once on a church staff having seen behind the scenes.

Thank you brother,

Mark

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