Toward an Exegetical Theology, Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Walter Kaiser’s classic book on exegesis and preaching is still valuable and greatly needed.  His concern, when he wrote in 1981, was to close the gap that existed between the study of the text of Scripture and the delivery of the message (pp. 8, 48).  That gap still exists today, and thus the current need to continue to study Toward an Exegetical Theology.  Kaiser calls his approach the syntactical-theological method of exegesis and sermon building (p. 9).  There are two issues being addressed:  exegesis and delivery of the exegetical message.

The bulk of the book explores the first of these, including discussions concerning hermeneutics (pp. 25-30), authorial intent (pp. 21, 33, 59, 79, 83, 106), differences between meaning and significance (p. 32), definition of exegesis (pp. 43-44), and the history and importance of gramatico-historical hermeneutics (pp. 44-47, 55, 60-61, 87-89, 197), although Kaiser proposes a name change to syntactical-theological method of exegesis (p. 89).

Part two of the book provides the nuts and bolts of the syntactical-theological method, offering a chapter on each of its parts.

  1. Contextual analysis (chapter 3), including a warning about the misuse of the analogy of faith (pp. 82; cf. pp. 134-140).
  1. Syntactical analysis (chapter 4), including literary types (pp. 91-95), and the use of block diagrams (pp. 99-103).
  1. Verbal analysis (chapter 5), including a rejection of sensus plenior.
  1. Theological analysis (chapter 6).
  1. Homiletical analysis (chapter 7) in which exegesis comes to terms with the audience (p. 149). In this chapter, Kaiser teaches the process of principlizing themes by formulating the main points of the message of the exegesis without diluting or expanding their content (p. 152).  “To ‘principlize’ is to state the author’s propositions, arguments, narrations, and illustrations in timeless abiding truths with special focus on the application of those truths to the current needs of the Church” (p. 152).  How to practice principlizing is given ample attention (pp. 152-163).

After giving illustrations of syntactical and homiletical analysis (pp. 165-181), Kaiser turns to the special issues of prophecy (pp. 185-196), narrative (pp. 197-210), and poetry (pp. 211-230) in expository preaching.  All of this toward a stated goal:  “That preparation for preaching is always a movement which must begin with the text of Scripture and have as its goal the proclamation of that word in such a way that it can be heard with all its poignancy and relevance to the modern situation without dismissing one iota of its original normativeness” (p. 48).

There are few books in the same league with Toward an Exegetical Theology in the expositional genre.  Yet the process of accurately exegeting Scripture, and teaching it with relevance in the contemporary context, is ever a challenge, and even Kaiser falters in places.  For example, he interprets Isaiah 6 as a work by which the Holy Spirit touches the preacher’s lips with a “live coal from the altar of God [as] we also need the Spirit’s gift of the freedom of utterance” (p. 239).  This is a faulty exegesis of Isaiah 6.  Nor is his interpretation of Saul losing the Spirit, and warning us today of similar consequences, any better (p. 241).

These examples simply demonstrate the difficult task before those who would endeavor to exposit the Word of God.  But Toward an Exegetical Theology goes a long way in equipping the expositor to approach the task well.

Toward an Exegetical Theology, Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (Grand Rapid: Baker Academic: 1891, 1998) 268 pp., paper $25.99

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel

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