The Old Story

Paul Tripp blogs on the Bible as a theologically annotated story, which helps make sense of the story of our lives:

Your Bible is not a collection of religious stories. No, it is one story, the grand story of redemption. The Bible has one central character; God himself, specifically in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. From cover to cover the Bible is a narrative of the wondrous works of a God. Perhaps the four most important words in all of Scripture are the first four words; "In the beginning God..." You simply cannot understand yourself, your world, and the meaning and purpose of life unless you view them from the vantage point of the existence, character, and plan of God.

Tripp then explains five things that this story gives us. Read the whole post.

Fogging God's Glory

An article by Lee Eclov:

A third way we fog God's glory is by not showing how he stands behind texts that are not explicitly about him. When I see a play I like, I'm invariably curious about the playwright. What of her is written into this story? What prompted him to give such a powerful speech to that character? Many Bible passages don't have explicit statements about the attributes of God, but there is no text that doesn't reveal something wondrous of God. We don't do the text justice if we don't help people see God standing in the wings.


Not about moralism

This is written about Christian fiction, but it applies to preaching as well. L.B. Graham writes:

Christianity is not about moralism, and Christian fiction shouldn’t be either. Christianity revolves, not around good behavior, but around God’s mercy shown to man in the death and resurrection of Christ. However, even though we know this to be theologically true, I think we struggle to remember this as we go about our daily lives...

more (via)

Common hermeneutical mistakes

John H. Walton, who teaches Old Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School, describes five common hermeneutical mistakes of children's curriculum. They are equally applicable to preaching, including this common mistake:

Focus on people rather than God: The Bible is God’s revelation of himself and its message and teaching is largely based on what it tells us about God. This is particularly true of narrative (stories). While we are drawn to observe the people in the stories, we cannot forget that the stories are intended to teach us about God more than about people. If in the end, the final point is “We should/shouldn’t be like X (= some biblical character)” there is probably a problem unless the “X” is Jesus or God. Better is “we can learn through X’s story that God . . .”


Not biblical enough

The sad fact is that many of us are simply not biblical in the way we use the Bible! Being biblical does not mean merely quoting words from within its pages. Being truly biblical means that my counsel reflects what the entire Bible is about. The Bible is a narrative, a story of redemption, and its chief character is Jesus Christ. (Paul David Tripp, Instruments In The Redeemer's Hands, p. 27)

Exegesis that produces God-centered sermons

The two presuppositions we looked at last week lead to two practices.

The first practice is exegetical. Exegesis involves studying the text: examining the context and structure, and examining the passage using literary, grammatical, and historic-cultural interpretation. In exegesis, we try to understand the meaning of the text, and the author's intent in writing it.

As we prepare God-centered sermons, our exegesis must ask two questions of the text. First, "What is the vision of God in this passage?" What does it reveal about God's character, acts, grace, and will? God is present in every text, even if the text does not explicitly mention him.

Second, what "aspect of our fallen condition [in the text]...requires and displays God's provision?" Haddon Robinson writes:

This human factor is the condition that men and women have in common with the characters in the Bible. The human factor may show up in sins such as rebellion, unbelief, adultery, greed, laziness, selfishness, or gossip. It may also show up in people puzzling about the human condition as a result of sickness, grief, anxiety, doubt, trials, or the sense that God has misplaced their names and addresses. It is this human factor that usually prompted the prophets and apostles to speak or write what they did.

If we are to preach a biblical message that is both God-centered and relevant, then we must answer these two questions at the exegesis stage of preparation. The preacher must discover the God-centered message and its application during exegesis.

Tomorrow: a second practice

Cruciformity: Entering God's Story

The Meeting House, a large church outside of Toronto that calls themselves "a church for people who aren't into church," is going through a series on how to enter Scripture as God's story.The first week outlines the story of God in six acts (MP3 audio | PDF sermon notes).The second week is on basic hermeneutics (MP3 audio | PDF sermon notes). It includes a section on three exegetical mistakes that lead to anthropocentric interpretation: over moralizing (turning narrative into moral example without regard for context), over symbolizing (turning history into allegory), and over personalizing (making everything about ME first, Jesus second).Next week's sermon is on Christocentric interpretation.This series is a good example of teaching basic Biblical interpretation to an entire congregation.

Him We Proclaim

How do we preach Christ from all of Scripture? Dennis E. Johnson, author of Him We Proclaim, suggests that we follow the example of the apostles:
One major theme, to which this book will return the unity of the Old Testament and the New in the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ and consequently, also, in the community composed of believing Jews and Gentiles that his Spirit is now assembling. This unity, I am persuaded, unlocks the whole of the Scriptures to the twenty-first century preacher and his hearers...The title, Him We Proclaim, is drawn from Colossians 1:28, in which the apostle Paul sums up the message he preaches as, simply, Christ. Between the resurrection and his ascension to God's right hand, the Lord Jesus taught the original apostles that the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms all predicted the Messiah's suffering, rejection, death, resurrection, outpouring of the Spirit, and worldwide reign through the servants of his Word. The fruit of this intensive forty-day hermeneutics course is heard in the apostolic sermons preserved in the book of Acts, as well as in the Gospels themselves and the other New Testament books.
We'll return to this book again in exploring how to preach Christ from all of Scripture.

How Timothy Keller preaches Christ from all of Scripture

Last week I promised to return to the theme of preaching Christ from all of Scripture. I've learned a lot from the ministry of Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. His preaching lectures from Gordon-Conwell are extremely helpful. Here's how Keller preaches Christ from all of Scripture:
The following may actually be four points in a presentation, or they may be treated very quickly as the last point of a sermon. But more generally, this is a foundational outline for the basic moral reasoning and argument that lies at the heart of the application.The Plot winds up: WHAT YOU MUST DO."This is what you have to do! Here is what the text/narrative tells us that we must do or what we must be." The Plot thickens: WHY YOU CAN'T DO IT."But you can't do it! Here are all the reasons that you will never become like this just by trying very hard." The Plot resolves: HOW HE DID IT."But there's One who did. Perfectly. Wholly. Jesus the---. He has done this for us, in our place." The Plot winds down: HOW, THROUGH HIM, YOU CAN DO IT."Our failure to do it is due to our functional rejection of what he did. Remembering him frees our heart so we can change like this..."
This isn't the only way to preach Christ, but the beauty of this approach is that it steps around some of the hermeneutical traps. For more information, you can order Keller's lectures from Gordon-Conwell.Update: Resurgence has reposted the entire article that is the source of the above quote.

The challenge of preaching Christ from all of Scripture

A few years ago, I commented to a mentor that preaching Christ from all of Scripture is a challenging task. I was relieved when he agreed. It is something that many of us realize we need to be doing, but it's also important to recognize that there are challenges in learning how to do this.If I could choose to listen to anyone exposit Scripture, I would choose Jesus' exposition on the road to Emmaus, in which it's aid of Jesus: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). That would have been something to hear.Just to highlight the challenges of preaching Christ from all of Scripture, I'm going to list seven ways that a Christocentric interpretation may take shape. These are from Sidney Greidanus in his book Preaching Christ from the Old Testament:
  • To see the passage in the historical progression of God's redemptive plan through history;
  • To focus on promise fulfillment, in which Christ fulfills Old Testament prophecies;
  • Typology, moving from a type in the Old Testament to the anti-type in Christ;
  • Analogy, showing the relationship between God's message for Israel and Christ's message to the church;
  • Longitudinal interpretation, tracing a theme of the Old Testament to Christ in the New Testament;
  • Using a New Testament quote that cites or alludes to an Old Testament passage, and linking these passages to Christ; and
  • Showing the contrast Jesus brings to an Old Testament passage.
Each of these requires some explanation, but for now I want to highlight that preaching Christ from all of Scripture does take some effort. It is challenging - but it's crucial.More to come next week.

The Old Testament and Christ

In Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, Walter C. Kaiser Jr. argues that preaching the Old Testament helps us see that "the life, ministry, death, and resurrection were clearly anticipated long before the events occurred." The Messiah, he writes, "is at the heart of that neglected portion of the Bible."We do not need to "resort to settling for a double set of meanings in order to squeeze out of the Old Testament some messianic possibilities." The Old Testament writers were aware the nexus between their temporal and historic events, and their "climatic fulfillment in the Messiah...The Old Testament cannot have a more obvious meaning along with a hidden Christian meaning." The texts speak to God's unchanging plan from all of history.Jesus himself said of Old Testament texts: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me" (John 5:39).So how can we preach Christ from the Old Testament? Tomorrow we'll look at seven ways. Early next week, we'll talk about how one preacher approaches this task.

Preaching Christ from all of Scripture

One issue that is often discussed in preaching these days is how to preach Christ from the Hebrew Scriptures. You see this debate not only in discussing the redemptive-historical approach, but also in books like Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Preaching, Ed Clowney's Preaching Christ from All of Scripture, and Dennis E. Johnson's Him We Proclaim.

I was reminded of the importance of this issue yesterday as I read the account of Jesus' call to Philip to follow him: "Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph'" (John 1:45).

As I read this yesterday, I was amazed that Philip was able to see Jesus so clearly in the Law and prophets. It was a good reminder to me to take this issue seriously.

In coming posts, I'll try to highlight some of the dangers we face as we preach Christ from all of Scripture, as well as some ways we can do this well.

Preaching Old Testament Narrative

On Thursday, I'm traveling to Heritage Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario to hear Steve Mathewson speak on "Preaching Old Testament Stories to a Story-Driven Culture." Mathewson is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell and author of The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative.

In a post at Preaching Today, he gives a hint of what he's going to talk about this Thursday. Preachers often use the Old Testament narrative in one of two ways. They preach moralistic sermons, using the characters as good or bad examples. Or, they focus on how the stories prefigure or portray Jesus Christ.

Mathewson suggests a better way:

Preachers who delve into Old Testament stories must look for the ‘vision of God’ – that is, the attribute(s) of God which dominates the story. Then they must look at how the story advances or connects with the storyline of the Bible. The death and resurrection of Jesus is, of course, foundational to this storyline. Preachers must also view the theology of the story through the lens of Jesus’ teaching and apostolic teaching.

Looks like he will continue to explore this, both at this week's seminar and on his blog. I'm looking forward to it.

Preaching the Old Testament in light of Christ

Bob Hyatt on a story that's frequently misused in sermons:

For instance, the story of David and Goliath? So not about how you can defeat the giants in your life (how many times have you heard that sermon???) It's about how you can't - but God can. And it's specifically about how He does so through the weakness of the substitute - the unlikely one who stood in Saul's place, who came in the name of the Lord and the power of the Spirit and defeated the enemy of the people of God. If you read that story and see yourself in David, you are reading it wrongly. You're not David - you are the cowering Israelites who face an undefeatable foe...

But God is on the scene, sending One who can defeat whatever we face - and that's who David points us to - Jesus. The point of the story is not 'Be like David.' You can't... it's trust Jesus, the real and true David who wins the victory over death and sin.

The more I read of Scripture, the more I see that this is the way it's meant to be read - it all points to Jesus and in such amazingly literate ways as to boggle the mind. As Art said, the writers of Scripture were better writers than even they knew...

The entire post is worth reading, including this paragraph:

The Old Testament is a record of failure and the New a record of Jesus and His success where others had failed - His success and the success of the Gospel in bringing the life that the Law could not bring through obedience and the Prophets couldn't bring through their preaching.

Just Preach the Gospel

Selected quotes from an excellent article by Marianne Meye Thompson:

To preach the gospel is to proclaim the accounts of the Scriptures in light of the fact that their central character is God, and that the gospel is from God and about the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit.

It is so easy to make the most powerful of Gospel stories center on human action and not on God, to think that somehow our actions, our decisions, are the heart and center of the gospel story. To make that move is to sell out the gospel.

To be guided by the gospel is to remember that the gospel is first and foremost about what God does, and not about what we do.

Preaching should help people locate themselves in the context of the biblical story of God's creation of the world, call of Israel, sending of Jesus Christ, and promised consummation, because it is there that we find our identity and purpose. Preaching helps people to identify their stories with and submit them to God's grand story as found in the Bible; to find their identity, meaning, and hope in the purposes of God. Preaching narrates our individual, particular lives into the grand narrative of God's purposes and work in the world. Often, however, our stories get the banner headlines, whereas God's story is delegated to small print on the fifth page. It ought to be the other way around: God's story deserves the banner headline; our little stories deserve far less space.

Presbyterian theologian John Leith once wrote a book subtitled What the Church Has to Say That No One Else Can Say. This subtitle is an obvious pun: the church has as its gift something to say; but the church has that something as its responsibility or obligation as well. Advice columns can advise people about their problems; therapists can help us in our relationships; but the church can help people to situate their stories in the biblical narrative in a way that illumines their meaning. The church can and must speak the gospel. That is to say, the church articulates what it means that we live in a world created by God, tainted and marred in every way by sin, and straining for redemption.

Preaching helps people to understand this story, this "gospel of God," and to see their own stories as part of the larger story that begins with God's action and longs for the time when "God will be all in all."


Exemplars and signposts

Tim Keller outlines two approaches to preaching about biblical characters as he preaches on Esther:

An example - even a great example - can only crush you. It's crushing because it's an inaccessible standard...But there's another way. Let me tell you how you can change. What if you didn't just see Esther as an example, but as a signpost, as a pointer?

...If you see Esther as an example and say, "Be like Esther!" it will crush you. You will never live up to it. But if you see Jesus as your Savior - not as an example of doing something for others but as a Savior doing it for you, and you know that you're that valuable to him and you know that your future is secure - that changes your identity.

The message of the Bible and moral exemplars

Tim Keller on the problem with using biblical characters as moral exemplars:

When both liberal and conservative people read the book of Esther - in fact, they read the Bible - so many of them get so upset, because they say, "Look at these people! Look at what they're doing! These are supposed to be moral exemplars, aren't they? What kind of people are these? I don't want to read about this!"

If you ever feel that way about reading the Bible, it shows that you don't understand the message of the Bible. You're imposing your understanding of the message on the Bible. You're assuming that the message of the Bible is "God blesses and saves those who live morally exemplary lives." That's not the message of the Bible. The message of the Bible is that God persistently and continuously gives his grace to people who don't ask for it, don't deserve it, and don't even fully appreciate it after they get it.

Redemptive-historical preaching

Just discovered a helpful article on Wikipedia summarizing the redemptive-historical approach to preaching:
The proponents of this kind of preaching argued that Old Testament narratives are not given – primarily - to us by God to be moral examples, but as revelations of the coming Messiah...Opponents of redemptive historical preaching often fault this type of preaching as being weak when it comes to practical application of the Bible. Because the moral examples given in Scripture are undermined or diminished, redemptive historical preaching often fails to challenge the listener to conduct consistent with Scriptural direction given in places such as Matthew 5-7, Romans, and the Pauline Epistles.
I look forward to exploring this issue more. Not sure I've resolved this one in my mind quite yet.

Two ways to read the Bible

Tim Keller writes:
Ed Clowney points out that if we ever tell a particular Bible story without putting it into the overall main Bible story (about Christ), we actually change the meaning of the particular event for us. It becomes a moralistic exhortation to 'try harder' rather than a call to live by faith in the work of Christ. There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? Example: If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). The Bible is not a collection of "Aesop's Fables", it is not a book of virtues. It is a story about how God saves us. Any exposition of a text that does not 'get to Christ' but just 'explains Biblical principles' will be a 'synagogue sermon' that merely exhorts people to exert their wills to live according to a particular pattern. Instead of the life-giving gospel, the sermon offers just one more ethical paradigm to crush the listeners.