While the core of scriptural truth remains the same from culture to culture, the outworking of those truths is much more fluid.
“What is biblical preaching?” inspires a host of responses. Among the answers there is a strong emphasis on correct exegesis of the biblical text with a lesser, but still prominent emphasis on contemporary application. But so often these two sides of preaching – text and context – remain separated. Text is always first—it is objective, ordered, and culture-free. Context is always second – it should only come into play after exegesis, providing a contemporary landing point for the text.
But can these ever be separated so completely? More importantly, should they?
I first questioned the role of culture in the preaching task not long out of college. The answers I found were inconsistent and ultimately unsatisfactory. After ministering in a variety of cross-cultural contexts and co-authoring a preaching textbook that was translated into multiple languages, my questions became more focused and more urgent.
I decided to do in-depth research on the role of culture in biblical preaching. After reading, listening to, experiencing, dissecting, comparing, contrasting, and studying sermons from three preachers located in different U.S. settings (Southside Chicago, Suburban Grand Rapids, and upper Manhattan), I came to a new understanding of and appreciation for the relationships between preaching and culture. Here are a few of my conclusions.
First, there is no such thing as culture-free biblical exegesis.
As much as we’d like to think we can objectively uncover the meaning of a biblical text, this just isn’t possible. Not only are we unable to separate out culture from our own thought processes, Scripture itself was not meant to have one and only one interpretation – even when there …
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