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What Do They Hear?: Bridging the Gap Between Pulpit and Pew by [Powell, Mark]
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This remarkably fascinating book reveals how significant social location - such as age, gender, nationality, race, and education - is when interpreting the Bible. Illustrated with two studies, Mark Allan Powell demonstrates how this plays out most dramatically in the gulf, often quite wide, between the preacher and the congregation.

About the Author

Mark Allan Powell is a Professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary and an internationally recognized theologian and Bible scholar. The author of more than 25 books and 100 articles, Dr Powell has served as a Visiting Professor at universities such as the University of California, Berkeley, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Chicago, as well as at schools in Estonia, Tanzania, and Russia. He is best known for his work in literary criticism, Matthean studies, and historical Jesus studies.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 578 KB
  • Print Length: 124 pages
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press (1 Oct. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0055U6O2I
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #727,399 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x90497c54) out of 5 stars 10 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x904ca858) out of 5 stars Invaluable resource 7 Dec. 2007
By Brad D. Strawn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is an invaluable resource for preachers who may not understand that their approach to scripture is very different from their congregations. The goal of preaching is not to make the congregants into the image of the preacher but to bridge the gap and this is what Powell does. His "studies" are very provocative and althougth they are not solid "science" they point in directions that preachers should pay attention to. His use of literary criticism is refreshing and ideas such as the social location of the hearers is important. Good preachers may intuitively know what Powell talks about but even there it is useful to see it spelled out. Finally, Powell provides some useful and practical helps to think about sermon preparation. The really important issue here is that a well crafted bibilically sound "message" may not reach the listening audience. The task of preaching is art and science and Powell finds both.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x904ca8ac) out of 5 stars How to Bridge the Gap Between Pulpit and Pew 24 Oct. 2008
By Trevin Wax - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mark Allan Powell's What Do They Hear? Briding the Gap Between Pulpit and Pew is a terrific resource for pastors and preachers wondering just how their people hear and respond to their sermons and to the Bible itself. A short book, What Do They Hear barely exceeds 100 pages and can be read in one sitting, but its brevity in no way damages its impact. Powell includes the results of fascinating surveys that show how clergy and laity respond differently to biblical texts, especially when it comes to empathizing with certain biblical characters over others.

Take the Parable of the Prodigal Son for instance. Powell shows how Western readers typically see the story in terms of individual wastefulness and sinful living. Eastern readers see the "famine" as central to the storyline. The boy is a fool, not because of his wasteful living so much as because of his rejection of family and friends. Both readings are taken from within the text itself and are legitimate. Yet the reader's experience definitely what he/she sees within the text.

Powell also includes helpful research for preachers who want to better connect with their audience. In stories about Jesus, preachers tend to empathize or cast themselves in the role of Jesus. Church members see themselves in the disciples.

Perhaps the most tantalizing piece of information comes at the very end of this short book. When asked "What does this passage mean to you?" and then "What does this passage mean?," the laity did not indicate any difference in their answers. What the passage meant to them is what the passage means. The clergy, however, pointed to authorial intent when asked what the passage meant. Whether we advocate or teach "reader-response" criticism or postmodernism, our churchmembers are already there.

What does this mean for the pastor? Well, Powell doesn't take us through all the implications of his research. He leaves that for us to figure out. Be warned. If you read this book, you will be thinking about its concepts for a long time!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x904cab88) out of 5 stars Crisp, Clean Points. Illuminating Research. Read it now. 3 Jan. 2010
By B. Marold - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mark Allan Powell, What do they hear?: Bridging the gap between the pulpit and the Pew (Nashville, The Abingdon Press, 2007)

Let me begin by suggesting, contra another review, that this book gave me more, not less, than what I was expecting. Unlike many other books on clerical practice, this book gave solid facts on how people hear things differently.

In writing about this book, I feel I'm telling tales out of class. The first sentence in the preface is `This book is for preachers.' I am certainly not a preacher, but then Powell, one of the foremost Lutheran writers on Biblical exegesis claims to be primarily a literary critic. In a sense, the book is a look behind the curtain in the throne room of the Wizard of Oz. It presents experiments in literary criticism, and how preaching about the word of God is received in diverse circumstances. This is a popular presentation of material the author has presented in more scholarly venues. The most tantalizing description of Powell's studies is to be research in how things are misheard, as in the famous J. D. Salinger novel, Catcher in the Rye, which is a mistaken hearing of Robert Burns' `Comin Through the Rye'. Except that Powell's interest in misunderstanding is not in faulty hearing, but in faulty interpretation. The irony is that mis-interpretation is not always bad. It is a truism of literary criticism that people often imbue their words with meanings of which they were not conscious, and readers pick these up and make good use of them. The point of literary criticism, whether it be of or of Catcher in the Rye or Romans, is to examine the different elements in texts which allow for "polyvalence within parameters".

There is a chasm between the intellectual backgrounds of Lutheran pastors and most of their congregants, based on the many years of seminary training. The congregants want that knowledge to be there, but they don't want to see it. The successful preacher knows how to bridge that chasm and be understood. But, as we shall see, that chasm is small compared to differences between seminarians in the United States, St Petersburg, Russia, and Tanzania.

The author conducted an experiment asking 100 American seminarians to briefly outline the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) after reading it. Powell was surprised when only 6% mentioned the famine in 14b. Later, he had the opportunity to work with 50 Russian seminarians in St. Petersburg. He asked them to do the same exercise. In this case, 84% mentioned the famine, while 34% mentioned squandering, compared to 100% of the Americans. This is understandable in the sense that while Americans have virtually no experience with famine, St Petersburg suffered from a 900 day famine due to the Nazi siege of the city (Leningrad) during WW II, when 1.1 to 1.3 million Russian civilians died, mostly from starvation. A second big difference between the American and Russian students was in their interpretation of the son's error. Based on a difference in the translation of a key word in verse 13 the Americans considered the son wicked, while the Russians considered the son foolish. The Greek word asôtôs literally means wasteful, but it may also figuratively mean dissolute, and it is the latter interpretation given by virtually all English translations. On the other hand, virtually all Syriac and Arabic versions translate the word to something meaning `wasteful'. Another contribution to the difference in interpretation is the heavy emphasis in Russian beliefs in the foolishness of going out into the world on your own. The Russians put a far higher value on community and family.

When the author posed the question to about 50 Tanzanian seminarians, `Why did the son end up starving?', about 80% of the student came up with a third answer. "Because no one gave him anything to eat." They believed letting the boy starve was callous. People in a foreign country often lose their money, because they don't know how things work, and they don't anticipate famines. And, `the Bible commands us to care for the stranger and alien in our midst.'

Chapter 3 discusses the nature of empathy, that quality which draws us into the story and lets us associate with 19th century orphans (Oliver Twist) or 22nd century Na'vi on a distant moon (Avatar). The author cites the cinematic westerns of the `30s and `40s, where almost all viewers, at the time, identified with the white settlers and not the American Indians. They would not have imagined an interpretation which sympathized with the Indians. This whole point of view was reversed by some important movies such as John Ford's Cheyenne Autumn, Little Big Man, and Dances With Wolves. The focus of this discussion is `The Good Samaritan' (Luke 10:30--37). The common interpretation of this parable in embedded in our language and popular culture. There are even Good Samaritan laws, famously broken in the last episode of Seinfeld. Jesus' listeners would have had far better empathy with the priest and the Levite, but the force of the story leads them to accept the ideal empathy with the foreign (and despised Samaritan).

In Tanzania, the author encountered an entirely different interpretation of the parable. Their moral `is that people who have been beaten, robbed, and left for dead cannot afford the luxury of prejudice. (I suspect the Tanzanians were far better informed about the Judeans had for the Samaritans.) The Tanzanians thought our interpretation was bland and obvious. The Tanzanians have a Good Samaritan law too, but it says they will accept assistance from anyone, whether it is a Capitalist, a Socialist, or a Communist country. In our own setting, this means, for example, that they would have no problems whatsoever accepting money from an organization which acquired the funds from gambling. The Tanzanians don't believe their response is purely economic. They believe Jesus' objective in the parable was to empathize with the powerless (and not with the healthy travelers on the road).

A second kind of empathy is `realistic', where one empathizes with the character most similar to one's own circumstance. The author did an experiment by soliciting responses to the story at Mark 7:1--8 (The hand washing story) from 50 clergy and 50 lay people. A tally of the responses showed:
Empathy Choice Clergy Laity
Jesus 40 0
Disciples 0 24
Pharisees 4 18
Other 6 8
Oddly, six of the laity saw their clergy as Pharisees, while only 4 clergy saw things that way. The clergy results seemed more idealistic and the laity results seemed more realistic. This observation headlines a number of generalities one may make about the differences in the way the clergy and the laity interpret Biblical stories.

Chapter 4 deals with the question of `meaning', emphasizing two different senses of the term. The first is the `message', that informative content which can be summarized or restated in words, without any loss of `meaning'. This puts the focus on what the speaker said. The second sense if the effect on the listener. This meaning cannot be restated in different words, as it would have a different effect. This `meaning' is less precise, which is why, in the Gospels, we often get two or more parables which have the same `message', but deliver it with different effect, such as Luke 11:5--8 (the request for bread at midnight) and Luke 18:2--5 (the widow and the judge). The two stories have the same moral, but it is delivered with different types of characters in each case. If you are not inclined to empathize with a widow, you may be more inclined to empathize with a person who needs some bread, but all the stores are closed.

The author presents the material with a light touch for the non-professional, but I sense no `dumbing down'. Powell does give references on where to find the original research, but some of those sources are relatively pricy, so consider yourself blessed that you can get these conclusions in an inexpensive form.
HASH(0x904caa80) out of 5 stars Powell is a good theologian and can convey ideas and new thoughts that ... 5 Sept. 2015
By Robert Ramage - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dr. Powell is a good theologian and can convey ideas and new thoughts that lay folks can understand. Really good reading and very thought provoking!
HASH(0x904cac6c) out of 5 stars Get this book. 16 Oct. 2014
By Nancy G - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Down to earth & useful suggestions.
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