Review: The New Testament: Methods and Meanings

December 2nd, 2013
This article is featured in the Stuck: Now What? (Feb/Mar/Apr2014) issue of Circuit Rider

The New Testament: Methods and Meanings, Warren Carter and Amy-Jill Levine. Abingdon, 2013

I am bored with my preaching, a colleague said to me recently. And if I’m bored, I can only imagine how my poor congregation feels.

I know how she feels. It can be paralyzing to try to tell the old, old story in novel ways week in and week out. Evangelism experts will rightly remind preachers that if your congregation is made up of folks under sixty, it’s likely your people lack much in the way of familiarity with that old, old story. Preach the Bible, we are told. Avoid stories about your dog, children, or preferred political party.

That can be good advice, but for those who want to preach thematically, —who were taught that proof-texting was a sin – it can be difficult to say, and render compelling, why this healing story is different than that healing story; why it matters if Paul was or wasn’t the writer of this so-called Pauline epistle; what’s problematic and yet holy about this pericope.

For the bored pastor, or the frustrated, hungry congregation, however, solid and creative biblical interpretation makes all the difference in the world. I heard a doctoral student preach a reading of Jonah earlier this fall that I’d never heard. Her sermon was about justice and reconciliation, and it was both deeply pastoral and hugely prophetic. It was, admittedly, long. But I was fed, and my congregation gushed for weeks. My colleague and I finally had to step in so the preacher could escape coffee fellowship.

I want to be that kind of preacher, that kind of writer, that kind of teacher – the kind who has the time and knowledge to do that kind of reading and interpretation. There are a number of reasons I’m not, at least, not every week. But the easiest one to remedy is a lack of good resources readily available. I can’t just sign up for a New Testament class every time I have to preach…but I can stock my library.

Warren Carter and Amy Jill Levine are thoughtful, challenging teachers and scholars, and their new book, The New Testament: Methods and Meanings, provides a wonderful resource for preachers and teachers. Their hermeneutic is carefully explained at the outset, in terms even lay readers can follow; “the questions you ask shape the answers you get,” they point out in their introduction. Bringing together a wealth of tools – from form criticism to the historical-critical method – Levine and Carter walk with preachers through the New Testament and point out what is worth seeing anew. Whether one sits to read this thick volume all the way through, or picks it up to read each chapter as a letter or book arises on the preaching schedule, spending time with this text will enliven and deepen the way you approach the biblical text.

Preachers: buy this book. You and your congregation will be glad you did.

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