Must Every Sermon Focus on Jesus?
- Friday, June 10, 2011
What makes a sermon a Christian sermon or lesson? Must all sermons and lessons based on the Old Testament move inexorably on to the New Testament if they wish to earn a "Christian sermon rating" (CSR)?
But the discussion grows even more complicated. Greidanus boldly claims that redemptive-historical preaching does not ask, "What was the author's intended meaning for his original hearers? But, how does the redemptive-historical context from creation to new creation inform the contemporary significance of this text?"8 In that same context, Greidanus favorably quotes Christopher Wright: "We may legitimately see in the event, or in the record of it, additional levels of significance in the light of the end of the story—i.e., in the light of Christ."9 But notice that Wright carefully uses the word "significance." Greidanus, however, goes on to affirm dangerously "that a passage understood in the contexts of the whole Bible and redemptive history may reveal more meaning than its author intended originally."10 Such a view of the plurality of meaning that exceeds the truth-intentions or assertions of the original authors who stood in the counsel of God ultimately runs the risk of forfeiting the divine authority that is to be found in the passage; this view could be taken to imply that the human author wrote his text in a purely automatic and mechanical way, as if it were dictated or whispered word for word in his ear without the human author having a proper idea of its messianic or future redemptive meaning. But if the meaning God intended exceeds the meaning the human authors recorded, where shall we locate this additional surplus meaning? If it is not in the grammar and syntax, it must be somewhere between the lines! But if it is between the lines, whatever else it is, it is not written. And if it is not written, is it inspired? The apostle Paul makes it clear that only the graphe, what is written, is inspired (2 Tim. 3:15-17). Now we are really in a jam!
All too often the depth that many search for as contemporary believers, and the depth that God intended His human writers of Scripture to get—and which they did get, for they recorded it in the text—is missed in our day. As a result, too frequently we feel we must run to the New Testament as quickly as possible to enhance what some wrongly regard as the minimalistic Old Testament meaning with a super-spiritual meaning infused from the New Testament, thus adding Christian values to an otherwise "Judaistic sermon" to help the church or those in our modern world. But how wrong such judgments and procedures would be!
This is not to say that, after the meaning and message of the Old Testament has been established on its own terms, we must act as if the New Testament were not available at all. The New Testament really does exist, and we can (and must) often use it in our summaries to our major points and/or to the whole message, pointing out how the beginning, middle and end of the unified plan and message of God in the total Bible fits so nicely with what also is taught in the Old Testament text. I have argued elsewhere for the unity of the "promise-plan" of God that encompasses the whole Bible and therefore shows one divine mind, one plan and one story of salvation in all 66 books.11 It is against this backdrop of viewing the grand plan and story of the Bible that I find agreement with my friends Chapell, Greidanus and Miller. But I must not prematurely infuse New Testament values and meanings back into the Old Testament in order to sanctify it before I independently establish, on purely Old Testament grounds, the legitimate meaning of the Old Testament text. If I perform such an infusion, I only pretend that I am accurately giving the Word of God exactly as He wanted it taught and preached from the Old Testament passage. So let us first do our work of true exegesis on the Old Testament text. Then, having gotten the meaning God revealed at that point in time, let us see how our Lord developed that same word, if there is further development on into the rest of the Bible.
1. Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005).
2. Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).
3. Calvin Miller, Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 62-65.
4. Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, 281-88.
5. Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, 227-29.
6. Ibid., 228.
7. Ibid., 230.
8. Ibid., 232.
9. Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament: Rediscovering the Roots of Our Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 28.
10. Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, 233.
11.Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), and Kaiser, The Christian and the "Old" Testament (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1998).
From The Majesty of God in the Old Testament, by Walter C. Kaiser Jr. Copyright © 2007, Walter C. Kaiser Jr. Published by Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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