The Bible in the Pulpit

Leander Keck, Abingdon, 1978

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Another old book.  But a book that raises issues as clearly as does the sermon we heard yesterday.  Keck reiterates the historical thinking about the Bible, that every aspect of it and in it is conditioned by history (p 12).

        ‘It is no longer the amount of the bible cited that makes preaching biblical….  The bible does not belong to the guild of professional scholars; the Bible belongs first of al to the church’ (p 13).  Keck uses striking metaphors.  ‘Today’s preacher stands in the pulpit like a modern Lazarus, immobilized, showing no face to the public; (p 33).  ‘Good preaching is characterized by clarity and orderly presentation and frequently by simplicity as well.’

        Keck makes the cogent point that the religious communities (of Jews and of Christians) have recognized (perhaps even ‘made’) the bible as the canon of the church by church.  Just as there was an Israelite community and faith before there was a Hebrew bible, so there was a Christian faith and a Christian church before there was a New Testament.  Christianity is not a response to a holy book (p 70, 71); there was a community before there was a book.

        Keck emphasizes that renewal of biblical preaching is an alternative to worshiping (p 100), and he speaks devastatingly of the way that moralizing distorts the historical reality.  ‘Unity of the bible is not uniformity in theology but constancy of perspective (p 100), a pluralism of the contribution of canonical existence. ‘Why  was the story told?  How did it serve the religious faith and moral life of those who transmitted it? (p 130)  Keck has a helpful section on parables: they seek a response, not the enlightenment of ideas’ (p 136). 

        The last section of the book consists of three sermons preached on a parable (Ma 20), on Pilate’s trial (John 19), feeding of the crowds (Mark 6:30-44

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.