Conserving the Whole Counsel of God – 2

The first way that we conserve the whole counsel of God is by learning it ourselves. That requires a particular approach to the study and teaching of the Bible. We might say the conservative approach is exegesis and exposition, the opposite of which is eisegesis and imposition.
Exegesis (from the Greek ἐξηγεῖσθαι ‘to lead out’) is the analysis and explanation of a text, in our case, biblical texts. Exegesis is an approach which believes that God has invested biblical texts with meaning. The meaning was there when the human authors put it down. The meaning was there when the first audience read or heard it. That meaning is unchanged and has applications for listeners and readers today.
Therefore, the task of the exegete is to use various tools to bring out of the text its true and original meaning. He does this by understanding the original biblical languages, the historical context of a passage and its immediate context within the book and within the rest of Scripture. Once he knows what it meant, he knows what it still means, for it can never mean what it has never meant.
Certainly, he comes to a text with certain pre-understandings: he has a particular systematic theology to which he relates the parts he finds, and he has a particular system of interpretation (hermeneutics) that guides him as he practises exegesis. But hopefully, honest exegesis feeds back into his theology and hermeneutics, reshaping, re-ordering and revising as necessary – cleaning and sharpening the lenses of his interpretive spectacles, if you will.
The result of the process of exegesis is a growing understanding of biblical and systematic doctrine. The person or church interested in exegesis is interested in what the Bible says. All of it. The whole counsel of God, nothing less.

Exegesis is a rigorous task. It requires years of training to do well. It requires more skill to turn this exegesis into an interesting, digestible and memorable sermon. Exegesis should not be boring, because the Word of God is not boring. It requires even more skill to deliver such a sermon in a rhetorically adept fashion.
Even once trained in these skills, it requires a significant investment of time to execute adequately. For that reason, a church interested in exegesis should do its best to free its pastor(s) up to give themselves to this task.

Eisegesis is the opposite of all this. Eisegesis is the inserting of one’s own ideas, beliefs or hobby-horses into the text of Scripture, and disguising such an approach as the preaching of Scripture. It shows no humility before the text of Scripture, but is willing to impose its own ideas upon the text, and ‘make it say what it never said’. A pastor given to eisegesis is not interested in biblical doctrine. He may have certain noble goals for his congregation, he may even sincerely want to see practical holiness in the life of his people. But because he is not practising exegesis, he is not grounding their practice in theology, which means it will certainly dissolve once the agitations of his messages are forgotten. He wants the sheep to follow, but he is not committed to following himself, because he does not submit to the authority of the Bible by preaching its meaning. He does not trust the text of Scripture itself to be able to deliver what God’s people need to love Him properly, and substitutes it for unbalanced topical messages, five point ‘how-to’ messages, cleverly alliterated outlines forced into a text, allegorical ‘new interpretations’, and so on.

Interestingly enough, eisegetical sermons are often very interesting, very moving, and quite memorable. This is usually because the eisegete has no limits on his creativity and imagination (least of all the text of Scripture), and he conjures it all up into a hour’s worth of jokes that amuse, pithy sayings that cause a smile at some home-made wisdom, moving stories that stir people up to pity, maudlin tears or false optimism, or passionate cries that provoke extreme emotion. Moreover, the crowds will come for their hour of titillation.
Many an exegete looks at his small church, compares it to the mega-church built on eisegesis and wonders if he isn’t beating a dead horse.

Conservative Christians must resist the temptation to turn to such techniques, even at the risk of being ‘small’ or characterised as ‘boring’. Exegesis is hard to do. It is even harder to do well. But it is the only hope of the church knowing and preserving the whole counsel of God, which is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.


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