Monday, 20 June 2011

More on Exegesis.

Thanks to Methodist Preacher for the following comment:

I am interested in your reference to the failures around exegesis. I keep hearing older Methodists complain that many of today's preachers just don't focus on scripture as the basis of their message. Is this because there is a failure to comprehend and respect the Bible as a key source for the understanding of our faith?

I am not sure that I can give a comprehensive answer to this but there are some observations that I can make based on four years of assessing and some of the comments that colleagues made on Saturday.

I think it is important to set the context of exegesis for those who may not know how students are expected to tackle the job. Essentially the task is divided into three parts with a total of 30 marks being awarded as follows.

1. Context and background = 8 marks

2. Original meaning = 10

3. Meaning for today = 12 marks

As with all other sections there is a requirement to achieve 40% to pass and it could be argued that a student who did really well on the first two and not well on the last part could still achieve the pass rate.

The guidelines in Faith and Worship and in the tutor’s handbook suggest that exegesis should be set out using the above plan and I think headed up but occasionally what could be called an essay could be submitted with no obvious divisions and it then becomes difficult to see where one part finishes and another starts, especially as the context and background stuff will spill into the original meaning.

The context and background is without doubt the easiest section as any decent commentary or even many Bibles will give a fair amount of information to complete this – i.e. who wrote it, when it was written, main themes etc. I have observed that occasionally there will be some disparity between students where the authorship is not entirely sure and one may take a particular stance while another will take the opposite view – in reality the students would do better to say that there are two views (or more) about the authorship of the book and maybe put forward which they feel more comfortable. 

The original meaning section often causes some difficulties because as we all realise things were very different to now and it does require a little thought to weigh up what the passage meant to the people involved in the situation. Again use of a number of sources such as commentaries or the internet can be useful in provoking thoughts and giving ideas of what scholars and theologians believe to be the case. Again I don’t think there is anything wrong with students putting forward a different thought or siding with one train of thought but I do think recognition of other trains lets assessors know that the thing has been given some consideration.

The meaning for today section is in my experience often and area where students seem to struggle but again commentaries and the like may be a good starting point as well as the internet and students may have some ideas of their own which they may wish to put forward. I think it should go without saying that the meaning for today should not be in any way contrary to our doctrinal view point. We heard of a student who had said that the flooding in a particular area was punishment because they had sinned – not what we believe I think!

It is acceptable to put forward their own ideas but obviously they need to expand on the how and why of  their thinking in an endeavour to convince the assessor of the validity of the train of thought.


I am not sure how it works on other panels but the chair of the panel I belong to sends us a marking guide and I will always be looking to match points in students exegesis to that. We are also encouraged to acknowledge original thinking where the  case is put effectively.


I have had some exegesis that I have failed and in all cases I will write quite comprehensive notes to assist the student in getting it right for re-submission. I did have one student who I failed and wrote two pages of notes to assist them and when they re-submitted there was almost no improvement and it looked as if they had either not read the notes or had chosen to ignore them.


Another student had not written anything for the meaning for today and I really do fail to say how anyone can expect to pass if they miss out a third of the task and the area that attracts the biggest number of marks. It might be worth saying that anything that I fail has to be cross marked by the chair of the panel to ensure I am applying the marking criteria correctly.

In respect of preachers of today not focussing on scripture there may be some difficulty here because as a whole we do not connect with the Bible in the way I did in my younger days and if the only time our folk read or hear the Bible read is on Sundays in church there will be limitations because the lectionary does not cover whole areas of the Bible.

The exegesis process is in my opinion a vital tool in sermon preparation and should be considered as such rather than just a task to be completed – good exegesis = good sermons and to some extent like many things the old maxim of practice makes perfect comes to mind.


I am not sure if I have rambled a bit here but I do feel Local Preachers in training and those who are fully accredited would benefit from being competent at doing exegesis – perhaps those who know a connexional assessor for a particular section might like to try doing one of the exegeses for that section and asking the assessor to have a look at it – we could be very surprised at the outcome.


Robert said...

It would be interesting to ask around about this one (I'm not sure how I'd phrase it - I wouldn't have the nerve to go asking 'Why didn't you preach on the Bible?'), but I can see a potential problem. The traditional paths for a preacher are well trodden; if you've spent a couple of decades listening to sermons, you've probably got an outline in your head for many of the well-known passages, at least.

But what if you're not comfortable with the traditional reading of the passage? Either you dream up an original exegisis - not always easy - or you talk about something else.

Fat Prophet said...

I will write a response to this later in the day when time is not quite so tight.