Here in South Carolina there are four seminaries that account for just shy of 100% of our pastors. Two seminaries make up the greater part of that number. Each seminary has an accent. Within the first minute of a sermon I can usually determine which seminary produced that preacher. But, a homiletic malfeasance seems so increasingly prevalent regardless of divinity school affiliation that I am wondering if I have become too sensitive, or if somebody is actually teaching this. The method involves finding a point on which the text is silent, imagining what could fill that silence, and then preaching from one’s imagination.
Two high profile cases:
I was taken aback when a couple of years ago a preacher of status in our conference delivered a sermon at a conference-wide event. The text was Luke 10:25-37 (The Good Samaritan). The speaker pointed out that the text does not say what was taken by the robbers and suggested that the victim was robbed of their dignity. This was followed directly by the condemnation of a host of power centers that are robbing people of their dignity and a rousing call for the church to stand up and put a stop to it. The sermon was well received and widely praised. It was, bold, prophetic, a word for or time. It also took a text where Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors and turned it into, “Let’s go get the s.o.b.” Every word of it came entirely from the preacher’s imagination and it had no relation to the text. We only got there by following the preacher into a hole in the text.
At GC 2016 a bishop began a sermon by saying that the Bible doesn’t tell us who wrote Matthew so for a moment we should imagine it was written by a woman. At that point I left the live feed to attend to weightier matters than a bishop’s imagination. Perhaps the bishop pulled out of the nose dive before a complete crash and burn. The social media comments were highly approving. However, I take note that none of those comments seemed to connect the bishop’s speech with the text that was read. A pretty good rule of hermeneutics is, “If we don’t know, its ‘cause the Bible don’t say, ‘cause it don’t matter.” If the vernacular offends you, then try this: If (p ∧ q) → r and (p ∧ ¬q) → r then q is of zero value as a proposition. Stay in the text.
It would be wrong to take this as ridicule of the preachers cited. Please do not come to my church and evaluate my effectiveness on one sermon. By my count I have delivered just shy of three thousand sermons and I fear I have at least one like that in there somewhere. I choose to believe that day by day these clergy do a praiseworthy job of the due administration of God’s word and sacrament.
I realize this is not a new error, but it is most often associated with proof texting preachers who can’t even find a proof text. One can allow that a well-meaning pastor just runs out of things to say about bread or sheep and it is tempting to jump in to the hole of one’s imagination, but please stay in the text (May I suggest a lost whale for a lost sheep). My concern is that eisegesis has become so commonplace that it can be found throughout the church and even among the highest offices of our clergy orders… even at events where we ought to be at our best. My concern is that few people seem to notice.