From the Scriptures to the Sermon II. The problem of paradigms -- By: J. I. Packer

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 22:0 (NA 1990)
Article: From the Scriptures to the Sermon II. The problem of paradigms
Author: J. I. Packer


From the Scriptures to the Sermon
II. The problem of paradigms

J. I. Packer

Dr. Packer is professor of historical and systematic theology at Regent College, Vancouver. This article and the preceding one were delivered at ATS’s fall lecture series in 1989.

The word paradigm has become something of a technical term in modern academic discussion.1 It is used to mean what we would once have called an overall frame of reference, or a controlling point of view. A paradigm is a large-scale hypothesis about reality that is presupposed and taken for granted as a basis for interpreting data and determining values, goals and procedures. One’s paradigm determines one’s mind-set, shaping one’s thinking by giving it direction and establishing boundaries and limits beyond which belief may not go. Paradigms thus exert control, and usually without our realising what is happening; who, under ordinary circumstances, reflects on how much he or she is taking for granted? So our paradigms of reality determine how we process informational data — what we make of it, to speak in everyday terms — for processing data is essentially a matter of fitting the bits into our overall frame of reference. Thus paradigms become the pathway to understanding, if the paradigm is a good one, or to misunderstanding if it is not.

Paradigms are always present with us, even if they go unnoticed. The human mind abhors incoherence and demands to fit everything into a single frame of reference, so that it can see how things relate. You, I and everyone else do in fact fit incoming data into categories of thought and judgment provided by our paradigms, which are regularly those of thought and judgment provided by our paradigms, with which we identify — our family, school, club, gang, firm, church or whatever. The paradigms thus operate in our minds like colored spectacles, or sunglasses, which filter out glare and cause us to see objects as having a color that the glasses themselves have imparted. There is, for instance, a marxist paradigm for viewing reality, also a secular humanist paradigm, also a New Age paradigm, also a Jewish paradigm, also a Muslim paradigm, and alongside these and others stands the Christian paradigm. Each paradigm yields a distinctive mind-set and colors perceptions in a distinctive way, and communication between the adherents of different paradigms is stultified if the reality and potency of the paradigms themselves is overlooked and ignored.

Our present concern is with preaching — preaching viewed as Christian communication, that is, the communication of Christianity. The point I want to develop is that in a post-Christian culture like ours the preacher of the gospel needs to be aware that the p...

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