Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Christian Preaching of the OT #10

[This is the tenth and final post of a serialisation and slight revision of an old essay of mine, in the hope of getting some interaction from others and also making it more accessible. (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.)]


At the start of this series I anticipated that evangelical approaches to OT preaching would reflect a tension between the desire to see Christ in the OT (as Christians have done since the beginning) and the desire to conform to the Principlizing Bridge Paradigm as our only defence against liberal theology and post-modernism.  What I actually found was that the four authors surveyed had already resolved this tension in favour of one or the other.  Goldsworthy and Mathewson represent the extremes of their respective positions.  Greidanus and Kaiser adopt somewhat more mediating positions but still clearly remain in their respective camps.  Greidanus admits the possibility legitimacy of a Christian preaching OT sermons without reference to Jesus, but rightly questions why you should want to?  Indeed if you have the option of preaching on the un-searchable riches of Christ or any other topic, there seems no good reason for choosing another theme.  Kaiser allows that typology, a form of retrospective analogical interpretation reliant on a progressive salvation history, is occasionally legitimate but seemingly only in regard to ceremonial or symbolic events.[1]  With the notable exception of Goldsworthy, none of the authors provide adequate sermonic examples to thoroughly demonstrate their method.  Additionally both Kaiser and Mathewson refer to Greidanus’ work but don’t really engage satisfactorily with his thesis.  The weakness mentioned in this series of Kaiser and Mathewson’s treatments makes it difficult to adequately compare their methodologies with the more rigorously argued Salvation-History approach found in Goldsworthy and Greidanus.

What conclusions can thus be drawn?  Without engaging in a wider body of literature it is not possible to make decicive statements but I would argue that these books represent the tension present in contemporary  evangelical preaching of the OT between Christocentrism and the Bridge Paradigm.  That each author has resolved the tension one way or the other suggests that the demands of the two are not reconcilable, one must be subjugated to the other.  In my view those who have chosen to make the Christocentric aproach paramount have produced the most useful and appropriate method for Christian preaching of the Old Testament.  

[1] Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, 38


  1. Thanks for this series, Jonathan. I'd like to point you to Tim Keller's teaching, where he gives example sermons too.
    Keller on itunes

  2. Yes - thanks for the series. In the Bible study I have attended over the past few years, I am the only person with experience in Hebrew and in close readings of the OT. There are other ordained people in it but none offer methods of reading the text. Last year all of them agreed they wanted to see Christ in the OT. So we began with selected psalms and did a full study of Job and I don't think they saw what they thought they might be looking for. I cannot tell you whether I use typology or a bridge paradigm, but what I do is to encourage actually seeing what is in the text. What seems to happen is that people are really surprised at how lovely the text is - how beautifully shaped, how carefully crafted, and in both Psalms and Job, how the prayer emerges with such confidence even in the midst of trouble. I don't preach, we just look together. I don't say I am translating accurately, we just observe some of the decisions of translation. They do see Christ in the OT. They see the Spirit of the Anointed - even if the anointing seems to be of the king, or the son, or the servant, or the people, or some individual like Cyrus, or the poet, or whatever comes out of the text. Then I think they see Jesus as one who has this Spirit without measure. But this wasn't quite what they expected. When they said 'Christ' they meant 'Jesus' and they saw more than they thought they might see, thus magnifying the Jesus who bore this anointing with such grace on our behalf. The feedback has been generally good, sometimes excellent, and sometimes critical. I am too intellectual, some say, or I ask questions that don't need raising. Or there are new concepts like the arbiter/referee in Job that they don't understand since the word is not used in the NT, or I shouldn't criticise the KJV or the NLT etc. Well, it's hard not to be critical sometimes when structure is obscured and interpretations are imposed. But there's my note and my questions again in a nutshell. Thanks for pointing out what others have done. I really appreciate that you have shared it.

  3. thanks gents, it's been good to share, thanks for your interactions.