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.