In The Hermeneutical Spiral, Grant Osborne discusses the issue of ‘distanciation’ (the cultural gap that exists between biblical times and today. Preachers have devised a number of erroneous approaches, including:
- Literalistic preaching assumes God automatically bridges the gap and preaches the text as if it were written for today. Normally this is accompanied by a lack of serious effort to understand the text, resulting in shallow, subjective sermons.
- Allegorizing…assumes that beneath the literal, surface meaning lies the “real” meaning, such as the Song of Songs as a picture of Christ and the church. The problem is that this normally ignores the intended meaning of the text and degenerates into eisegesis (reading into the text whatever you wish).
- Spiritualizing takes historical passages (such as the David and Jonathan story [1 Sam 20]) and uses it as a parable illustrating a spiritual reality (such as earthly friendship). While there is some validity in this (namely, when the text itself is allegorical), it too often ignores the historical context and fails to do justice to the intended theological meaning of the text.
- Moralizing looks on all texts as providing examples of virtues (or vices) to be imitated (or avoided) by the Christian. Sidney Greidanus says, “Unfortunately, in overemphasizing virtues and vices, dos and dont’s, and in not properly grounding the ethical demands in the Scriptures, they trivialize them and turn them into caricatures”. This is often seen in biographical preaching, with Esau exemplifying the carnal Christian and Jacob the Christian with proper priorities. The problem again is that the actual message of the text is ignored, and often a message contrary to the intended meaning results.