Principles and methods in the homiletics of John R.W. Stott
1. The purpose of this study. A closer specification of the aim of this study is threefold: * To undertake a closer investigation of and to describe his exegetical, hermeneutic and homiletic principles and methods. * To arrive at a descriptive analysis of his homiletic principles and especially, to examine his views concerning the application in a sermon, i.e., 'Bridge Building'. * To interpret and evaluate his principles and methods of sermon in the context of the biblical and Reformed theology. 2. The method of this study It is imperative to undertake an intensive analytical study of his published works because all of his principles and methods concerning exegesis, as well as hermeneutic and homiletic questions are contained in his extensive number of sermons and the treatise on preaching (/believe in preaching). The method of this study is threefold: * To investigate John Stott's works in literature by means of analysis and interpretation. * To examine the recorded tapes of his sermons, have a personal interview with him and closely scrutinize of all materials published by him on the overall subject of preaching. * In our presentation it is sometimes inevitable that many quotations and examples have to be used in order to elucidate his principles and methods. 3. Stott's biographical background The influences that his home (parents), the various schools (high school and university) that he attended, and the other primary factors (Nash, Simeon, Ryle, Morgan) had on John Stott molded the characteristics of the greatest preacher and evangelist of the late twentieth century. 4. Stott's exegesis 4.1. He stresses that without a proper basic understanding of the Bible, both the principles and methods of exegesis cannot help a preacher in attaining his goal: discovering the original meaning of the text. 4.2. His characteristic attitude to the study of the Bible is governed by at least three bases: * The exegete should study the whole Bible using the comprehensive method. * The preacher should face Scripture as far as possible with fairness and an open mind. * The pastor has to be expectant in his Bible study, i.e., God is going to speak to him through the text of the Bible. 4.3. We sum up all biblical exegesis as Stott's characteristic principles in three ways: * 'Scriptura sui ipsius interpres' - The Scripture is its own interpreter. This is not just a formal, technical rule. An obscure and doubtful passage of Scripture must be interpreted by another clear and certain passage. * The expositor must pray for the illumination of the Spirit of God before reading the Bible. Because without prayer we cannot understand the Word of God. Therefore, the important key to the exegesis of Stott is the confession 'Spiritus Sanctus est Verus Interpres Scripturae' (the Holy Spirit is the true interpreter of Scripture). * The preacher has to discern what the original writers meant by discovering the original sense or the natural sense, which may be either literal or figurative. He must also represent the precise meaning of the text as intended by the biblical authors. These are respectively the principles of history and of simplicity. 4.4. We summarize Stott's characteristic method of all biblical exegesis by stating that he does not use new exegetical procedures, but he reminds one afresh of the time-honoured exegetical practices: * The preacher must derive the text for his sermon from the Holy Scripture. * The expositor has to meditate on the text for as long a time as possible. * The exegete should approach the Bible inductively. Stott calls it the art of discovering the original meaning of the text. 4.5. Ultimately, exegetical aids (e.g., semantic and syntactic analysis) help the preacher to analyze a word's tense, case, and number so that its specific grammatical features can be identified or researched by a grammatical aid or lexicon. The exegetical tools will guide preachers to the original-language meanings and uses of the biblical words, and then they are available to help grant pastors confidence that they are preaching what the Holy Spirit wants them to say. 5. Stott's hermeneutics and the process of hermeneusis 5.1. His hermeneutics' prominent elements is described as follows: * His principles and methods of hermeneutics persist in the traditional viewpoint of interpretation of the Reformers. In that regard Stott concentrates on grasping the meaning of the passage of the Bible in which He speaks to us. * His deepest concern is to consider the context as part of any text. The first task of hermeneutics is to interpret precisely what a biblical author's statement means in its context. * The principles of his hermeneutics are dominated by guidelines of three teachers, e.g., the Holy Spirit, the preachers and the Church. It is by receiving the illumination of the Holy Spirit, by using our own reason and by listening to the teaching of others in the Church that we grow in our understanding of Scripture. * Stott emphasizes that the principles can be dominated by the threefold rules of hermeneutics, that is, the natural meaning, the original meaning and the general meaning. Each of his characteristic principles of hermeneutics is not only common but also an immutable rule in biblical interpretation. * Stott does not neglect the basic methods of hermeneutics, but he sticks to them. With regard to the meaning of the text, he emphasizes the pre-eminence of the contextual, the grammatical and the verbal approaches. In the case of the significance of the text, he stresses the theological and cultural understanding. * His principle of the salient features of hermeneutics is the Christ-centred approach. He consistently attempts to extract redemptive truths from all of Scripture. So his idea of a message from the text highlights the central theme of the atonement as it relates to all the issues of faith and life. The Bible is indeed the cradle that brings Christ to us. * Stott uses the principle of the 'analogy of faith' to guide his hermeneutics, as the Protestant Reformers did. This standard requires preachers to use Scripture alone as the basis for their exhortation. Stott determines the biblical truths intended for the persons addressed by the text and then identifies similarities in our present condition that require the application of precisely the same truths. 5.2. We sum up Stott 's characteristics in the process of hermeneusis: * The purpose of his hermenuesis does not merely obligate preachers to explain what the Bible says; it requires them to explain what the Bible means in the lives of people today. Therefore, he always tries to apply the original meaning of the text to the modem situation. * According to Stott essential elements in the process of hermeneusis are the indicative, the imperative and the promise in the text, because hermeneusis deals with the meaning of the text ' then' bridging the gap to 'today'. * The aim of Stott's hermeneusis not only inspires us by its example, but provides the principles and methods for the interpretation of the Bible by which the Church today can do what he has done during his life time, as the Reformers of old did. * The central elements in the process of hermeneusis are the revelation of the Triune God that the author makes known about God, i.e. His will, His mercy, His wrath, etc. and about His grace in Christ and His Spirit within us. 6. Stott's homilesis 6.1. He stresses that an expository sermon must be established on a sound theological foundation. The principles of the theological foundation are the doctrines of God: the Holy Scripture, the Church, the pastorate, and the preaching as the ground work. 6.2. The practice of preaching cannot be separated from the person of the preacher because the whole theology of a preacher lies beneath the practice of his sermon and a whole lifestyle stands behind it. Therefore, the preacher's personality and competence are of such vital importance to the delivery of the sermon. 6.3. His characteristic form of preaching is governed by a few basic homiletic principles: * The sermon must arise out of a text the preacher has chosen. Within his sermon Stott is committed to the idea that the text should dominate. He emphasizes that the text should always furnish the message and the theme of the sermon, regardless of the length of the text. * The sermon needs to have a sound and functional structure, i.e., the introduction, the body and the conclusion in a sermon. For Stott, formulating the sermon is of vital importance to creating a sound sermon structure. He states firmly that no sermon is really strong which is not strong in structure too. Just as bones without flesh make a skeleton, so flesh without bones makes a jellyfish. * For Stott, the purpose of the formulation of the sermon is an essential process to convey the message of the text and to lead the audience to face God. For this purpose the preacher has to study and develop his sermon. And then he has to be sure at all times that he must depend upon the Holy Spirit, and not rely only on his own skill. 6.4. Stott emphasizes that the preacher should interpret the Bible as Christ-centred, as well as preach the kerygmatic message, because there are some unbelievers among his congregation. Moreover, Stott thinks that preaching not only tells us about Jesus Christ but also stresses the presence of Christ in Christian communities. This has been at the very heart of John Stott's life and message. 6.5. The core of Stott's methods on homilesis is bridge-building as the application in a sermon. He describes the deep rift between the biblical and the modern world. His particular concern of bridge-building can be summarized as follows: * The preacher must understand the cultural background of the text in order to build a bridge. * The preacher also has to know the listener's contemporary situation (culture, politics, ethics) in order to make bridge-building comprehensible to him. * The model of bridge-building in a sermon is the incarnation of Jesus Christ. * The methods of bridge-building as an application in a sermon are governed by the direct and indirect way of application throughout the content of a sermon. * The final purpose of the bridge-building is to lead the people of God into maturity. 6.6. The way to improve our expository preaching is not to emulate Stott's homiletical principles and methods directly, but to imitate his passion and tender heart for the people of God. Above all, the real secret of his sermon is not the mastering of certain homiletic principles and methods, but the fact that he is being controlled by a consuming pastoral love for the people to whom he is preaching. 6.7. Finally, we want to conclude this thesis by quoting Stott's prayer that he has been praying for the past number of years before mounting the pulpit (Stott, 1982a:340): Heavenly Father, we bow in your presence. May your Word be our rule, our Spirit our teacher, and your greater glory our supreme concern, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Theology