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Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application Paperback – March 1, 2001
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In Daniel Doriani’s book, Putting the Truth to Work, the author seeks to lay out a method of applying the Bible in sermons in a way that has theoretical wisdom and is actionable for those in regular preaching ministry. The first half of Doriani’s book is focused on developing a theory of application that will inform how practices develop.
Doriani does not involve himself in the deepest waters of skepticism, but he does spend one chapter addressing the question of whether finding meaning in texts is a useful endeavor, and argues that speech acts invite and expect a response. In light of that, and since application is the action of a person (the preacher) calling for response, the courage, character, and credibility of the one speaking is of enormous importance. With this groundwork, Doriani lays out the seven biblical sources for application: rule, ideal, doctrine, narrative (redemptive), narrative (exemplary), image, song or prayer. This is followed by the four aspects of application: duty, character, goal, discernment.
The second part of the book focuses on the practice of application. This begins with the issues related to applying narrative, such as how to tell the difference between that which is descriptive from that which is prescriptive. He follows this with chapters on developing a plan for applying doctrinal and ethical texts. His final chapters are on Christ-centered application and how to select a text.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Doriani’s book is an impressive resource of interpretive options, filled with checklists and rubrics that provide the preacher with dozens of chances to consider how to approach the development of application. It seems like the reason why Doriani provides so many options for interpretation was his willingness to suspend use of “always” and “never” in most matters of interpretation. For example, it is generally true that we are not to moralize narratives, though sometimes narratives are intended to provide moral guidance, so that is still held open as an interpretive option. The challenge of all these options is the overwhelming quantity of them, and how to hold in mind the possibilities, but this is result of a posture where the reader (and preacher) are below the text, in submission, following it wherever it leads.
Another strength of Doriani’s work is his ability to make helpful distinctions in interpretation. One example is in the area of narrative, where Doriani distinguishes between drama, report, and speech stories as subsets of narratives, offering different methods of application for each.
A book on application begins with asking the question of why we want to apply the Bible in the first place. What is helpful about application? Bible application is important because it promotes a relationship with God and conformity to Him. Application is not pursued as an end in itself, but as a means to relationship with God. Since Christians are people of grace, application does not command, but expresses truth in a way that its relevance is obvious.
Out of Doriani’s repeated lists of checklists and rubrics for preachers, and the one that I will come back to most often, was his discussion of the four aspects of application – duty, character, goal, and discernment. After reading that chapter, I realize that I have used all four of those as motivations for financial giving for our congregation:
Duty – “You have a duty to give God your tithes.”
Character – “Don’t you want to be a generous person?”
Goal – “Let’s meet our giving goal for the year as a church.”
Discernment – “Invest in heaven rather than earth.”
Of course, over the period in which I have given those messages, I did not have Doriani’s four questions in mind, but now that I am familiar with these questions I can see using them in complementary fashion in other application environments, as well as my biases where I put most of my efforts and where I need to improve. I want to get better at application in the area of duty. Our congregation is used to be appealing to character or goals, but I do not as often tell them an application from the text is their duty.
In the chapter on the interpreter, Doriani touched on how the preacher is below the text together with the congregation, and therefore is just as in need of application as they are. Therefore, he is to express humility in a way that can help others. I have struggled to figure out how to do this well, and how to model applying the biblical standards to myself, so that I am not asking the congregation to do something I am unwilling to do. This raises the question of how do I express humility and confession in the pulpit in a way that helps others. I don’t want to be like the guy who says with perverse pride, “See, even my sins are profound and interesting.” But, I do think that humility is a powerful tool in the preaching act. In times when I have been self-disclosing, and done so in a way that does not make me the hero, it connects me with the congregation and gives me credibility to speak to them more than I would otherwise.
So what did I think of it?
First, I'm glad there's a textbook like this on application. Most of us have heard too much cheesy application (i.e. we have to be a "Daniel" to our culture). On the flip side, some pastors wrongly make little or no application. So this book is needed for pastoral ministry.
I appreciated how Doriani strongly opposed man-centered application as well as legalistic application. I was also glad that there were some charts/diagrams scattered throughout and summary paragraphs given at the end of each chapter. The book is very extensive and exhaustive - it isn't quick and light reading. Yet it certainly made me think about application in my own sermons. "Putting the Truth to Work" is worth reading because it helps the pastor think more about good application. In the best sense of the term, it's a thought-provoking book!
However, I'm not going to enthusiastically recommend it. Why not?
First, because it is not easy to read - the writing style didn't flow well for me. I know it's a bit subjective, but in many places I got bogged down and was tempted to just quit reading. Doriani isn't the best writer. Now that I'm finished, I have a tough time even remembering the big picture since the details were far too exhausting. The book was much too detailed and cumbersome for me to read with excitement.
Furthermore, his four aspects of application (duty, character, goals, discernment) are debatable and a bit ambiguous; I'm not convinced a preacher should stick to these four, and I'm not sure where he got these from. Since he spent much time on these four aspects, a big section of the book has a question mark by it for me.
Finally, although he was against moralism and legalism, his Christ-centered approach wasn't as robustly gospel-centered and grace-full as I had hoped. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't lack gospel, it's just that gospel of grace didn't permeate all the discussions of application. It seems like Doriani thinks that just mentioning Jesus is Christ-centered application. The book would have been much better if the author was more clear and emphatic on grace/gospel centered application.
Who should get this book?
I'd say pastors who want a very detailed textbook of application should get this book. Even if they don't agree with it all, it'll stimulate thought. At the same time, if you've had several good homiletics and interpretation courses in seminary, the book might be superfluous. In summary, although I don't think it is the best book on application, and I have some reservations, I do think it is worth reading.
Most recent customer reviews
Would help so much especially for those of us who are constantly on the move.