Book Review: Toward an Exegetical Theology

0801021979.gif There is a “crisis in exegetical theology.” This is why Walter Kaiser has written Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching. In Kaiser’s opinion the field of exegesis, by and large, has failed to accomplish its given purpose. Thus, there is a crisis that must be dealt with. This crisis “exists between the steps generally outlined in most seminary or Biblical training classes in exegesis and the hard realities that most pastors face every week as they prepare their sermon.” Simply put, men are not being trained to translate exegetical work into applicable material for the church at large. According to Kaiser the fields of theology and homiletics have both failed to bridge the gap between exegesis and application. The result is a “message that is so centered on a mere description of detail that it remains basically a B.C. or first-century A.D. word far removed from the interests and needs of twentieth-century men and women.” It does not take a detailed search of evangelical pulpits to confirm Kaiser’s findings. There are pastors and leaders all throughout the church who are not bridging this gap between the context of Scripture and the context of individual lives. This growing problem has had no small effect on the church. As a result of this gap people view the Bible as an antiquated document, and preaching as an academic exercise. Kaiser’s answer to this growing problem is “a loud call for preaching that is totally Biblical in that it is guided by God’s Word in its origins, production, and proclamation.” After defining the crisis that exists in exegesis, Kaiser immediately turns his attention to defining exegesis itself. “[E]xegesis may be understood in this work to be the practice of and the set of procedures for discovering the author’s intended meaning.” Had Kaiser stopped with this definition he would not have trekked any further than other authors before him, but Kaiser did not stop with this definition. Kaiser moves beyond a definition, mapping “out the actual route that the interpreter is to take as he enters the practice of exegesis.” This route is found in Part II of the book where Kaiser presents what he calls the “Syntactical-Theological Method.” The “Syntactical-Theological Method” includes five major steps all of which are explained in detail in their own separate chapters.Contextual analysis is the first step in this method. This step is aimed at viewing a text within its total context. The analysis of a text’s context must occur on four levels: sectional context, book context, canonical context, and the immediate context. By observing the context on these four levels the exegete guards himself from erroneously fragmenting, atomizing, and isolating a text. As Kaiser points out, “If the exegete falters here, much of what follows will be wasted time and effort.”

Syntactical analysis is the second step in the “Syntactical-Theological Method.” As the exegete comes to this step it is of the utmost importance that he understands the grammitco-historical hermeneutic. That is, the exegete must understand the literal sense of words within their historical context. With this understanding in place, Kaiser suggests that exegesis must involve a detailed syntactical analysis which identifies “(1) the theme proposition; (2) the relationship (coordinate or subordinate) of all other sentences, clauses, and phrases in the paragraph to that theme proposition; and (3) the connection of the paragraph with other paragraphs.”

Verbal analysis is the third step in the “Syntactical-Theological Method.” Because “words and idioms are the most basic of all linguistic building-blocks of meaning” verbal analysis plays a crucial role in the exegetical process. On this point Kaiser leads his readers to ask key questions about the way words are used. Kaiser is particularly insightful in the matters of authorial intent, and understanding cultural terms. On the subject of authorial intent Kaiser effectively argues against an over zealous senus plenior method. In Kaiser’s own words the Old Testament prophets “wished revelation had included something about time, but they knew what they were saying about that salvation God revealed.” On the subject of cultural terms, Kaiser reminds his reader that:

The decision must be based solely on those contextual clues supplied by the author himself. It is simply not true that there are as many approaches to the text of Scripture as there are cultures and societies. Squaring such relativism with the high claims made by the writers of Scripture for their text is impossible. The word of the text may not be removed by modern cavalier techniques.

Theological analysis is the fourth step in the “Syntactical-Theological Method.” With this step Kaiser begins to move beyond the science of exegesis to the art of application and proclamation. It is Kaiser’s contention that in order to relate a text directly and legitimately to the present day one must understand it within the theological context of Scripture as a whole. Historically this point has been expressed as the analogia fidei. Kaiser, however, makes the important distinction that interpreters must limit their “theological observations to conclusions drawn from the text being exegeted and from texts which preceded it in time.” Kaiser refers to this approach as “the analogy of antecedent Scripture.” Thus, the theology of a text must be inductively drawn from the text itself rather than imported from later revelation. Using this method Kaiser provides what he refers to as the “canonical center of the theology of this Old and New Testaments.” That is,

It is God’s word of blessing (to use the word especially prominent in the pre-Abrahamic materials) or promise (to use the New Testament word which summarizes the contents of the Old Testament) to be Israel’s God and to do something for Israel and through them something for all the nations on the face of the earth.

Homiletical analysis is the fifth step in the “Syntactical-Theological Method.” In this fifth step Kaiser concludes his proposed method and bridges the gap between exegesis and application. “Exegesis is never an end in itself,” therefore once we have come to terms with the authors intended meaning we must take the necessary steps to communicate that meaning. This is the step that pastors and church leaders will find to be the most useful as they prepare to preach and teach on a regular basis. Kaiser provides six steps that will guide his readers as they seek to move from exegesis to exposition. First, one must “determine the subject of the Biblical passage.” Second, one must “find the emphasis of the text under consideration.” Once one has determined subject and emphasis of a text he can then turn his attention to determining the main points of the sermon he will be preaching. From there he must then consider “the subdivisions of the main points.” Now that the skeleton structure of the sermon is in place one must “import doctrine and theology… to fill out the word we hope to teach and preach….” Here one must resist the temptation to submit to a systematic theology, and refer back to the theological analysis that was done on the text at hand. The final piece of Homiletical analysis is “to give the message a strong conclusion.” Here Kaiser urges his readers to “limit their work on the introduction and to devote that time and those energies of preparation to an expanded and clearly-thought-out conclusion.”

In addition to mapping out the actual route of exegesis in a step-by-step format, Kaiser provides his readers with specific examples of how to implement his process in particular contexts. Specifically, Kaiser includes individual chapters on “The Use of Prophecy in Expository Preaching,” “The Use of Narrative in Expository Preaching,” and “The Use of Poetry in Expository Preaching.” Finally, Kaiser concludes this work with a strong call for pastors to preach with the power of God.

Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching by Walter C. Kaiser is a must read for the preacher of God’s word. This work was born out of a love for God’s word, and a desire to see that word at work in the Church. Kaiser has laid out the approach necessary to see that happen; now it is up to pastors and teachers all over the world to implement this approach. One cannot help but to echo Kaiser’s closing words:

May God deliver us, the new generation of interpreters, and His Church, from such parochial use of the Scriptures. We cannot be acquitted as scholarly exegetes until we have led the Church to understand how to respond to the very words that we have analyzed most critically and carefully.