Friday, February 18, 2011

Preaching the Gospel from the OT

There are a few blogs kicking around the idea of preaching Christ and the gospel from the OT. The Gospel Coalition will focus on this topic this year. Just this week, The Gospel Coalition announced a website devoted to this topic.

One blogger commented that he had preached five messages from the OT and mentioned Christ only once. Another blogger responded that such was appalling. But why was that appalling? I don’t know what the texts were, and until I do, how I can pass judgment on the content of the message? Can we automatically say that the absence of something in a sermon is “appalling” if we don’t know what the text was?

In my view, if one is committed to preaching the text, the question of what we preach is derived from the Scriptures, not from a precommitment to preach Jesus.

Just yesterday I saw a blogger talk about finding help in determining the Christological interpretation of an OT text.

Yet absent is any reason why one should look for a Christological interpretation.

If such interpretation exists, it should arise naturally from the exegetical process. It is found in the words of the text. Only when we study the text can we determine whether or not it is appalling to not mention Jesus.

I know this sounds like rank heresy to some, but I would simply ask, what warrant do we have to use a text to preach something that is not in the text. Everyone who reads this blog would say that there is no warrant to preach something that is not in the text.

Many critics of fundamentalism have lamented (and rightly so) the tendency of some preaching to “take a text and depart therefrom,”—ito use the text as a springboard for their personal topic.

If I were to stand up and preach that the story of Genesis 6-9 means that every “man of God” should have a boat, everyone would object that I am not preaching the text because that text says nothing about the watercraft ownership obligations of preachers.

Yet I would suggest that all some are doing is sanctifying that tendency by inserting “Jesus” or “our greater David” in the place of having a boat or “hairstyles” or “britches on women.”

Is it really okay to use a text to declare something the text doesn’t say? I don’t think so. And I don’t think that changes just because we have good intentions.

I think it greatly prejudices the study process when the outcome is decided. I fear that for some, the main study question is, “How do I get to Calvary from here?”

Spurgeon’s old quote about finding roads and jumping hedges is a great and powerful quote. It’s also bad exegetical method and worse preaching method.

You see, when you use the text to say something the text does not say, you ultimately undermine the authority of the preacher and often, the authority of the Scriptures.

When we study a text, we need to study it on its own terms.

Jesus never declared that everything in the OT was about him. What he said was that everything in the OT that was about him was actually about him. In other words, it wasn’t that the every OT passage spoke of a Messiah. It was that everything in the OT that spoke about the Messiah was speaking of Jesus of Nazareth.

The men on the road to Emmaus were not confused because they didn’t know the OT spoke of the Messiah. They were confused because they did not know that the OT message about the Messiah was about Jesus of Nazareth.

So in my view, we do not need a greater commitment to preaching Jesus and the gospel. We need a greater commitment to preach the text. Often, Jesus and the gospel will arise out of that. And often, Jesus and the gospel will be the answer to the problem presented in the text.

But we must not start there. We cannot start with “How do I find the Christological interpretation of this text?” We start with “What does the text say and what does it mean by what it says?”


Stephen said...

"Can we automatically say that the absence of something in a sermon is “appalling” if we don’t know what the text was?"

Sure we can say it even if it isn't. I did :-) But we do know the texts. They were listed. But it was more than that. It was the blogger's reference to leaving the "Gospel Carnival behind" and his two months of refreshing OT study. It came across as reactionary and if the blogger teaches OT then it's worthy of debate.

Steve Davis

Larry said...

Thanks Steve,

I don't recall seeing the texts listed, and I think it's worthy of debate to be sure. I am actually taking a class next month on this general topic, for which I am reading Johnson's "Him We Proclaim."

I intentionally didn't link to yours or Mark's post because I didn't want to "call you out." I actually sympathize with both of you (or both sides of the discussion), and am at the same time uncomfortable with where both sides can end up.

I am not sure I would use the "gospel carnival" line though. That was probably a bit much.

I am going to lay out in a later post (hopefully) what I think the issue is which is the confusion of interpretation and application. Christ may well be part of the application or the solution to the problem presented (as I say at the end). But I think that is different than interpretation, or the meaning or truth intention of the text.

I also think there are some texts that simply talk about other stuff. There are, after all, nine other generally recognized doctrines of systematic theology, and it is possible that a text may in fact talk about one of those rather than about Jesus.

Thanks for reading and commenting.