Chris Erdman’s Countdown to Sunday: a Daily Guide For Those Who Dare To Preach is, as you might guess from the title, primarily for preachers. In it Erdman suggests a weekly rhythm for preachers working with the text. He offers specific suggestions for each day of the week leading up to Sunday.
In the section on Wednesday, Erdman suggests “there are no innocent texts in the Bible. Every word, sentence, and page has an agenda.” He goes on to suggest exegetical work on Wednesdays that discerns “the mischief this text wants to do among us come Sunday.”
But it wasn’t the thoughts on exegesis, per se, that caught my attention in this chapter. It was the prayer Erdmans suggested for the hours in which the preacher is discerning “how Sunday’s text wants to form the people of God.”
“Lord, why this text? Why, among so much other material, was this little piece included in the Bible? I know it’s not innocent, but I’m not yet clear about what it’s guilty of trying to make of your people.”
I love that expression, “no innocent text.”
And I love that prayer, “What is this text trying to make of the people?”
And since it’s Wednesday and Sunday is closing in…
It’s time to pray!
It was over three years ago when I heard a preacher-friend make a comment that I cannot get out of my mind. He was speaking on a somewhat controversial topic. He was trying to describe his study and his method of working through a topic that challenges traditional church of Christ belief and practice (I will leave the topic unnamed so that the topic itself does not overtake what I am trying to express).
Here’s what he said – “When it comes to controversial topic, my exegesis tells me one thing, but my theology tells me something different.”
These words have troubled me, almost haunted me, for the last three years. I have wrestled with this statement over and over. For me the big issue is, does exegesis drive theology, or does theology drive exegesis? Or put another way, does my exegesis shape my theology or does my theology shape my exegesis?
There have been days when I have convinced myself that exegesis obviously drives theology. After all, how are you going to do theology without preliminary exegesis? But there also have been days when I have decided that theology drives exegesis. After all, how can you do exegesis without presuppositional theology?
And so I wrestle. I flip-flop. I have an internal “the chicken or the egg?” debate going on in my mind about exegesis and theology.
Just last week I was convinced that exegesis trumps theology. Yesterday I decided I had it backward. Today I am just trying to find some safe haven in the tension between the two.
So what comes first, the exegesis or the theology?