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exegete your text AND your culture – andrew lim

Preaching demands that you “reprove, rebuke, and exhort.” 2 Tim 4:2. Scrutinising these three imperatives more carefully, it will mean that preachers are to reprove (admonish, repudiate); rebuke (denounce, reprimand); and exhort (appeal, implore). This is a tall order. It demands that we do more than merely exegete the text. We will have to expound the text in such a way that our listeners are cut to their hearts leading them to seek God for renovation.

This is the heart of preaching, and this, is what exposition seeks to do.

If missionaries have to work hard at understanding the culture of the people they hope to win over, what makes us preachers think we may be spared from that labour?

It is as crucial to exegete our culture as it is to exegete the text.

Paul, for all his boast over his fine Jewish pedigree, was willing to subdue those traits and chose to widen his own cultural categories, so that someone like Cornelius, who was a total stranger to Paul’s cultural backdrop, could make sense of what he was preaching. Paul did not use the same approach when he addressed the Jews at a synagogue in Antioch as he did when he addressed the thinkers and scholars in Athens.

At Athens, he showed that he was conversant with the basic rubrics of their philosophy; indeed well-versed with the stuffs that was found in their textbooks. He quoted from their philosophers to help them cross over from the known to the unknown. He exegeted the Athenian culture in order to build bridges. David Wells says, Evangelism demands your willingness to be involved in a clash between worldviews.”  If we insulate ourselves from the thinking of the world, we have a high price to pay. The price of our isolation is irrelevance.

While we should never realign our message to mesh with our prevailing culture, we may use their materials to help people move from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

We do this by learning to detect the cultural narratives that float freely in the space we commonly inhabit. These potential points of connectivity are found located everywhere in almost everything we encounter daily, from a quote from a classic, a line from a song, an anecdote from a movie to a biographical narrative.

Epistemologically, the preacher and his listeners live in two separate worlds. Increasingly, with the majority of our listeners, we may no longer assume that our listeners have any conception of sin. Neither may we assume an understanding of truth or guilt on their part. But there are sounds, scents and sighs of people around us that we can sniff out so we may better understand what fundamentally drives them as people; what their passion, desires, motivations and sensitivities are, and consequently help them see what, in reality, is driving their hopes and desires, and why, for example, they view sex, money and power the way they do. We capitalise on their own materials to help them see some motivations that lie deep down in the subterranean level of their hearts.

Our landscape is littered with cultural iconography of all sorts, and we ought to be cultural cartographers of our city mapping these out in our minds.

Following Acts 2:37, my aim in preaching is to “cut to the heart” of my listeners. And for that, I need to exegete my culture.

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