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The Preaching Life ~ The Drunk and the Lamppost

I don’t preach anymore, but a thought came to me one dark night that perhaps when I was preaching I had become a proof-texter. It is such a hideous crime for a preacher to become a proof-texter that I began to wonder if I had become confused about the exact definition of proof-texting and thus was falsely accusing myself of the crime.  After all, no minister wants to acknowledge he or she is or was a proof-texter! So, I turned to that rich seam of communication: Facebook. I wrote this:

Can someone give me a definition of proof-texting? All of a sudden I'm wondering if  what I think it is, is not accurate.

Within a couple of minutes I got back this:

It's using the Bible like a drunk uses a lamppost...For support instead of illumination.

This communication made me laugh and despair simultaneously. Laughter because it was funny, despair because it reinforced the fear that I had indeed become a preaching drunk leaning against a lamppost. I quickly googled proof-texting. For those of you who have not gone to seminary or trained to be a preacher, here is a more formal definition (from Theopedia: A Encyclopaedia of Christianity):

Proof texting is the method by which a person appeals to a biblical text to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage they are citing.

In one last desperate attempt to clear my name, I decided to ask a completely neutral person who has heard me preach on numerous occasions. At dinner I asked my wife if I had become a proof-texter. She said: “No you illumine the biblical text with your ideas.” Then, without taking a breath, she laughed with more gusto then seemed appropriate.

How did it happen? I did not become a proof-texter as some act of rebellion (I have never been a rebel looking for a cause, though on many occasions a cause, often with a human face, would find me, entreat me, seduce me to do something, not because I was particularly needed, but because I was a human being). I did use the lectionary for years. I mean, how could I not? In my time it was purported that the lectionary had come down from on high, free of crass human influences such as history, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, economics, politics, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and theology itself. The lectionary by its very nature is purity, offering a weekly divine mystery to be solved though prayer and study (actually why did God put these particular Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament and Epistle readings together this week?). It’s all nonsense, of course. A major characteristic of the West’s understanding of reality is that its understanding is free floating, unpolluted by life itself. In the West we speak universal truths. They come to us through Platonic archetypes or divine revelation. For example, while others do Third-Eye theology, Minjung theology, Liberation theology, Black theology, etc., in the West we do Theology. This too is nonsense. Primarily, we do straight white male theology with a leaning towards market capitalism (though times are changing thanks to Feminist, Black, Liberation theology, etc.). Sometime in the past someone or some gathering of someones (let’s hope it was a gathering) wrote the lectionary, and they didn’t do it having somehow magically removed all memories of and influences in their lives. What they did represents a certain understanding of reality and theology.  

Be that as it may, somewhere along the way I stopped using the lectionary. I attribute this heretical act to the death of a sixteen year old girl, though my memory may suggests this tragic event precisely because it is so dramatic. It no doubt reasoned that I might be able to justify my crime given the demands of responding to a youthful death. The story is this.

I was the minister in the only church in a small town south of San Francisco. One a Friday night a sixteen year old girl in the town died in a motorcycle accident. The lectionary readings for Sunday were useless. I had three choices: one, cram the girl’s death into the readings; two, ignore the girl’s death; three ignore the lectionary. I chose option three, and have been sliding down the slippery slope ever since. If the lectionary didn’t work given the lives we were living in our church, community, nation and world, then to hell with the lectionary. Guilty as charged. No excuse. Take me away.

In an email correspondence about biblical interpretation I wrote this:

[B]iblical interpretation is influenced, if not determined, by these factors: the biblical text (the text itself guides our understanding of its narrative world); theology (our understanding of God); Christology (our understanding of Christ); tradition (our community’s understanding of faith and action through time); and praxis (the interaction and relationship among the text, theology, Christology, tradition and what is actually happening in our world and lives at the present time).

I would suggest that you can replace “biblical interpretation” with the word “preaching” and it still makes sense.

Copyright © 2012 Dale Rominger

Reader Comments (1)

I too dumped the lectionary a long time ago. While there is some value in struggling with texts we might otherwise avoid, in the main the lectionary often seemed disconnected - created by well meaning academics who perhaps were more interested in the sophisticated nuances of the text than in the "So What?" necessary for the good pastor/preacher.

October 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKevin C. Brown

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