Applicability and Preaching

The coming Sunday is my ordination day, and I therefore want to reflect a bit on praching. When I was reading homiletics before my final exam, at the seminary (at the School of Mission and Theology in Stavanger, Norway), I was thinking about the actualisation of Biblical texts, I remembered a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien. I do not think that Scripture has a own ‘allegorical sense,’ but I believe that we can deduce principles from the texts, an apply them on different situations. Tolkien distinguished between allegory and applicability, as we see from the foreword to The Lord of the Rings:

I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.[1]

This, I think, is what should be done in preaching. When the text is made actual, actualised, it should not be ‘allegorised.’ We should not say that a text ‘really’ means something else. But what we can, and must, do, is to deduce the principles of the text, and apply them on our own life.

PS! I know that there is a tradition of deducing different ‘senses’ of Scripture[2] (particularly the literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses). Now, I think the word ‘allegorical’ is unfortunate here. ‘Allegory,’ as Tolkien uses it, mainly refer to the belief that certain events ‘really’ mean something else entirely, while the way ‘allegory’ is used when talking about it as a ‘sense’ of Scripture is that some events can point towards other events, but that they are literally what they are. The same goes for the ‘anagogical’ sense. The ‘moral’ sense is really just normal applicability – we can deduce principles from the text to see how we should act.

[1] Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (HarperCollins 1995): xxiv. I use the Kindle version, and the precise location of the quote is found in loc. 361-364.

[2] See hither, hither, hither, hither, and hither.

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