Must Every Sermon Focus on Jesus?
- Friday, June 10, 2011
My friend Bryan Chapell, in his fine book Christ-Centered Preaching,1 has argued that [all?] preaching is really about getting Jesus across to an audience as a worldview. If Christ is not preached, Chapell writes, it may be seriously questioned whether what we have heard is a Christian sermon or lesson. Chapell's thesis agrees with a similar thought in the writings of another friend, Sidney Greidanus.2 Both Chapell and Greidanus allow that this does not mean that every verse or passage directly reveals Jesus Christ, but they do argue that every passage in the Bible has as its larger context the person, work and necessity of Christ. In like manner, Calvin Miller wants to know this about ever sermon: "Is the sermon about Christ?"3
So how shall we respond if the following 10 messages focus in their entirety on God the Father and not specifically on God the Son? Bryan Chapell does admit that there are thousands of passages that contain no direct reference to Christ. If that is so, then how is the teacher or preacher to remain Christ-centered in these texts that are silent on His person and work?
Chapell replies that when neither the scriptural text nor scriptural typology presents us with the Savior, the teacher or pastor must rely on the greater context of the Bible in order to bring out the redemption focus of that message.4 Usually this is done by appealing to the progressive nature of biblical revelation as it comes to full flower in the New Testament. But this is neither the theocentric method of teaching and preaching advocated by John Calvin nor the Christological method used by Luther. Instead, it is a redemptive-historical-christocentric method of preaching that views the "whole counsel of God" in light of Jesus Christ.5 Greidanus correctly noted that it is improper to read Christ back into the Old Testament, for that would be eisegesis, or reading meanings from the New Testament into the Old Testament text. That, of course, is the real issue that presents itself here, and that calls for great caution. So how does Greidanus propose to remedy this situation? He would have us "look for legitimate ways of preaching Christ from the Old Testament in the context of the New."6 But what has happened to expository preaching in that case? It appears to begin with the text of the Old Testament, but it appears to rely on the New Testament for the real solid stuff, that is, the theology and principles we can apply directly to our lives. Even if this is not what is intended, this is what often results in the hands of many Christian teachers and preachers.
But how can we do such jumping from the Old Testament text to the New Testament without committing the methodological faux pas of eisegesis? Greidanus' solution is that we must never take "an Old Testament text in isolation, but [we] must always understand [read: exegete?] the text in the contexts of the whole Bible and redemptive history."7 Simply to take an Old Testament text and preach on it is to preach an Old Testament sermon, Greidanus warns. Of course, that aphorism is noting more than a tautology: Old Testament texts yield Old Testament sermons! But who said that was bad or undesirable—as if someone other than God were the source and author of the Old Testament or that these texts had such temporality written over them that almost all of them were now passé and useful only as primers or sermon starters? And if that is true, then what of those audiences to whom these Old Testament messages were first preached who did not have a New Testament in the back of their Bibles?
What exactly is meant when we use the phrase "Old Testament sermon"? Do we simply mean a sermon that is derived entirely from the Old Testament? Or do we mean a sermon that was formerly valid but is no longer kosher for believers in the post-Old Testament era? How could those who lived in the Old Testament era have done any less, or any more, than to limit their teaching and preaching to what revelation was available up to that time? It is not as if the revelation did not come from God or that it was of some inferior quality, was it? Or did those Old Testament saints get it wrong?
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