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Christian Preaching from the Old Testament #2

[This is the second in a serialisation and slight revision of an old essay of mine, in the hope of getting some interaction from others and also making it more accessible. (Part 1 here)]

The Bridge Paradigm 

In their ministry expositors serve as builders of bridges as they endeavour to span the gulf between the Word of God and the concerns of men and women. [1]

The ‘Principlizing Bridge Paradigm’ is perhaps the most common hermeneutical approach taught and applied in evangelical preaching, although it is frequently nuanced and seldom named.[2]  Two important evangelical convictions drive this model.  Firstly the need to respect the literal objective meaning of the text as it would have been understood by its author and original audience, for this is the only defence against a purely subjective interpretation;[3] secondly the need to relate the text to the modern world, for we do not preach in order to understand history or literature but to hear God’s word to us today.[4]   These two convictions leave us with a chasm that needs to be crossed from an original historical meaning of a text from a different time, culture, language, and geography to a contemporary Christian congregation wanting to hear God’s voice.[5]  This crossing can be accomplished by an extraction from the original text of a theological principle which can then be re-applied to the new situation.  So this theological principle then ‘functions as a bridge spanning the river of differences.’[6]

Fig 1. The Principlizing Bridge Paradigm[7]

It is surprising (for evangelicals) to note that the development of the Bridge Paradigm can be traced back to Freidrich Schleiermacher; the founding father of both modern hermeneutics and liberal protestant theology.[8]  Significantly, he reoriented hermeneutics to be driven by the desire to seek understanding, rather than validate a prior understanding.[9]  Two particular strands of his thought are relevant here:  One, the difference between understanding and application, and two, the analogical nature of religious experience.[10] Thus, for Schleiermacher, it is a matter of scientific method to understand the text as its author did[11] before extracting principles from that text to apply to one’s own religious experience which is analogous to the authors.[12]  Schleiermacher, when using these principles in his work, concluded that the OT was in fact a pagan non-Christian document, not suitable for preaching.[13]  Logically this will be our conclusion if we consider original historical meaning to be the only definitive criteria for interpretation.  For the OT ‘was not in the first instance a document of the Christian faith at all, but of the faith of Israel’[14] and, ‘One cannot foist a later Christian meaning on a passage that was supposed to have a distinctive religious sense in guiding the Jewish people of old.’[15] 

The Bridge Paradigm easily appropriates the NT for modern preaching, because the authors of the NT were Christians and writing to Christians.  In fact many passages of the NT invite such an approach because they elucidate both application and the principle on which it is based.[16]  In the OT the authors were ancient Israelites[17] who write in an array of different literary styles most of which do not invite us to extract theological principles because those principles, while sometimes arguably present are seldom explicitly articulated.[18]  For Schleiermacher the religious ‘river’ between the testaments could not be crossed, preaching from the OT could only be Israelite preaching.    For us there appears to be a contradiction between the Christian desire to preach from the OT and the desire to work within the assumptions of the Bridge Paradigm.

[1] Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching , Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001, 54
[2] Shepherd, William H., “A rickety bridge: Biblical Preaching in Crisis,”  Anglican Theological Review  (Spring 1998, 80:2) 186-7
[3] And so became increasingly important for Evangelicals in the last century as they struggled against liberal theology and higher criticism and is now seen as a vital bulwark against the uncontrolled subjectivism of post-modernism.  J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A hands-on approach to reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 175-180; Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 24
[4] Duvall and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 213-214; Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 410-11
[5] Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral,  25
[6] Duvall and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 21
[7] Duvall and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 24
[8] Anthony Thiselton, Thiselton on hermeneutics: collected works with new essays, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 20; McGrath 101
[9] Thiselton, Thiselton on hermeneutics, 18-19.  His desire to make the Christian faith tenable in the light of modern knowledge manifested itself in the application of the passage rather than the understanding of its original meaning.
[10] It should be noted that these were not so simple or so blunt, and Schleiermacher’s thought is far more subtle and complex than this, but nonetheless these trains of thought are demonstrably (though not exhaustively) his legacy.
[11] John W. Wright, Telling God’s Story: Narrative Preaching for Christian Formation,(Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), 22-3
[12] Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral,  468
[13] Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament, 64; WK 36
[14] Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament, 53
[15] Fitzmyer, The One Who is to Come, ix
[16] E.g. John 13, the historical action of Jesus washing his disciple feet illustrated the principle of servant leadership. The exception to this is Revelation which is apocalyptic narrative, and therefore essentially in code!
[17] As opposed to modern day Jews, or Israelis.
[18] Cf. Duvall and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 348


  1. But surely, Herr Dr Prof S was right, unless we listen to Jesus and see the OT fulfilled in him?


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