The Pulpit is the Prow

When I was four years old, I would (so I’m told) stand the ottoman in the living room on its end so that it could serve as a pulpit. I would place my mother’s hardback copy of The Living Bible on it, opening it at the middle, to a passage I couldn’t read. And I would arrange a few stuffed animals in a semi-circle, stumped as to how to provide them with pews but willing to make do regardless. There is still a recording of one of these sermons that my parents have on a cassette tape, that they delight in playing at inopportune times. On that recording I sound emboldened, fiery; I am quoting Bible verses from memory. And that, I think, was the beginning of my devotion to preaching—to the proclamation of the Christian gospel. The ardent, authoritative preaching I heard at First Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas, where my newlywed parents attended, must have prompted my childhood sermonizing. A recent alumnus of Dallas Theological Seminary, the pastor of First Baptist had been marinated in dispensational theology, a method of biblical interpretation that—its serious (and bizarre) flaws notwithstanding—made for Scripture-centered, whole-canon-focused sermons. I must have absorbed his passion, and I must have admired it. Why else would I perform such an elaborate flattery of imitation? Buried somewhere in my attic is a sheaf of drawings I made as that pastor preached, week after week—a three year-old’s scrawled renditions of David and Goliath, Daniel in the lion’s den, and Jesus hanging on the cross. And these were the stories I spoke about when I addressed my congregation of plush toys from behind the ottoman pulpit. Continue Reading »

Traditio Deformis

The long history of defective Christian scriptural exegesis occasioned by problematic translations is a luxuriant one, and its riches are too numerous and exquisitely various adequately to classify. But I think one can arrange most of them along a single continuum in four broad divisions: some . . . . Continue Reading »