Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Owl the Hawk and the Cuckow – Spiritualizing Run a Fowl

The title of this post comes from an allegorical sermon Spurgeon once heard on the text of Lev 11:16, which reads in the KJV, “and the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind.”  The venerable sermonizer related this text to three types of people: (1) night hawks were cheaters/stealers, (2) owls were drunkards, and (3) cuckoos were preachers who always said the same thing whenever they entered the pulpit!  These birds were all unclean and thus represented these three groups of unclean sinners.  Even Spurgeon, who relates this story in his Lectures to My Students (“On Spiritualizing”) in a somewhat positive manner, had to admit, “Was not this rather too much of a good thing?”   


Spurgeon is well known for sometimes spiritualizing the text but he does offer several warnings about the practice:
  1. Do not violently strain a text by illegitimate spiritualizing
  2. Never spiritualize upon indelicate subjects
  3. Never spiritualize for the sake of showing what an uncommonly clever fellow you are
  4. Never pervert Scripture to give it a novel and so-called spiritual meaning
  5. In no case allow your audience to forget that the narratives which you spiritualize are facts
Ironically, spiritualizing actually undermines each of these very legitimate concerns. Whenever a man does this, the sacred text becomes secondary and what we get is the mind of the preacher rather than the mind of God.  
Now to be fair, and I think Spurgeon hints at this in his defense, the truths that are preached are often biblical truths and presented in a way that is compelling and memorable.  The very fact that Spurgeon could remember a sermon preached from the Levetical minutia of clean and unclean animals shows how effective such preaching can be!  Those truths would be better preached from texts that actually teach those truths, however.

If you want to teach your listeners the mind of God and how he reasons and thinks, then you need to explain the flow the passage and how each part contributes to the overall idea that God wants us to get from a particular text.  You can’t do that if you are preaching on things that the text doesn’t say anything about.  If you want to make the text big and important in the mind of your listeners, then you need the text to be big and important in the preparation and delivery of your sermon. When they have finished listening to what you have said, their response should NOT be – “Wow, I never would have seen that myself!”  Instead, it should be, “Wow, how did I ever miss seeing that – it’s so clear!”*

*Modified and expanded from a section in Iain Duguid’s introduction to his commentary on Ezekiel (which is a book often given over to allegorical interpretation). 

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