Preaching Cont’d (Aug 9 study)

For the last few weeks (see previous posts) we have been looking at the subject of preaching as we work through the book of Titus, and particularly in light of Titus 1.9.  According to the Reformed tradition, one of the marks of a true church is the faithful preaching of God’s Word.  So far, we have looked at some basic characteristics of what faithful preaching is.  Preaching must be sensitive to the location of each text of Scripture in the unfolding of God’s revelation from Genesis to Revelation.  If Christ is the climax and fullness of God’s revelation, then every sermon must be Christocentric or gospel-centered (see Luke 24.27, 44-47); Hebrews 1).  If our justification is by faith alone and not by works of the law, then preaching must get the order of law and gospel correct.  The gospel is God’s declaration that we are justified freely by God’s grace apart from the works of the law.  Only once we understand our justification in Christ apart from the law (the indicative), are we then free to pursue obedience to God’s law out of gratitude (the imperative).  The logic or ethic of Scripture is first, LAW – to expose the guilt of sin – second, GOSPEL – to take away the guilt of our law-breaking through grace – and third, GRATITUDE – the pursuit of obedience to law out of thankfulness for God’s grace in Christ.  For examples of this all-important law-gospel relationship, which must inform preaching and the Christian life, consider books like Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Hebrews: only after first grounding the reader in the finished work of Christ (as our law-keeper) does the God-inspired author then call Christians to obey the law.

Another principle that has been emphasized – which flows from these basic characteristics – is that application in preaching is found in the text of Scripture.  Good preaching makes us relevant to the world of the text, and not vice versa.  The following are some examples that I have gleaned from others who I believe approach preaching in a biblical and Reformed manner.

The following comes from an essay (I encourage you to read it in its entirety) from Lee Irons:

Let’s apply what we have said by looking at the specific example of the command to “not forsake the assembling of yourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). The application bridge method might argue something along these lines: In the ancient world of the Old Covenant people of God, believers would go to an ornate temple of gold and precious stones to worship God. But now, in our modern world, we no longer have temples. Therefore, the modern application of Old Testament temple worship is to go to church. Now you people tend to be late to church. So make sure you set your alarm clock and give yourself plenty of time to get ready! What is missing in the above? The awesome statement in vv. 19-22 that “we have boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he consecrated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh . . . .” The author of Hebrews does not tell his hearers that they are unlike the Old Testament saints in that they do not have a temple. No, he tells them that they are just like them, since they are entering the inner sanctuary itself by the blood of Jesus (point 1 above same redemptive historical position).

But he goes a step further, for in fact, they are in a better position than the Old Testament saints: they have a heavenly (not an earthly) temple, to which they (not just the high priest once a year) may enter with boldness (not with fear). The application is not horizontal but vertical (point 2). And thus, the call to go to church is really a call not to do something that they really don’t want to do (getting up early on Sunday morning), but to lay hold of their heavenly position in Christ, thus doing by faith what they already are. The application then is to faith to believe that they have a new and living way, and a great High Priest in heaven; to believe that their hearts have been sprinkled from an evil conscience and their bodies have been washed with pure water and thus to enjoy this heavenly position by not forsaking the assembling of themselves together (point 3).

The following examples come from an essay by William Dennison:

As the preacher proclaims the message of Christ’s temptation [Mark 4], he must grasp its redemptive-historical significance. The event of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness is a reenactment of the event of Israel’s temptation in their wilderness journey [note the parallels: the event takes place in a wilderness; forty days and nights (Christ) corresponds with forty years (Israel); Christ is tempted as “Son of God” corresponds with Israel’s temptation as the “son of God” (Ex. 4:22-23; Deut. 8:5); every quote from Scripture recited by Christ to Satan is taken from the context of Israel’s wilderness journey (Deut. 8:3; 6:16,13)]. Where Israel failed as “son of God” in their wilderness journey against Satan, Jesus Christ, the true Israelite, is victorious as the final and perfect “Son of God” in His wilderness journey against Satan. The point of Christ’s temptation in the history of redemption is not to provide an example of one who meets the moral ideal, and thus, we are to do and conquer as Christ did in our temptations by Satan. After all, as we participate in the event, we are transposed into the event of Israel’s journey; as fallen creatures, we see ourselves in union with Israel, i.e., sinners who cannot in our strength withstand the temptations of Satan. For this reason, God sent His Son to confront the enemy that Israel as well as we cannot conquer. God places His Son in the exact same conditions in history that Israel faced. But this time, since Christ is the perfect and eschatological Son of God, He defeats Satan.31 The message now becomes clear: only in union with the active obedience of Christ is there victory over Satan. The congregation is encouraged (it is imperative) to flee from relying upon their own strength against Satan, and to place their faith alone in the victorious work of Jesus Christ, who alone conquers the Evil One.

In light of the redemptive-historical understanding of Christ’s temptation, he is pictured as our example for conquering Satan. There is, however, only one way for us to experience and follow his example. By grace, through faith we are brought into union (participation) with Christ’s efficacious obedience in this event as he moves towards the final episode of victory at the cross. So powerful is Christ’s victory that the believer is drawn into the humiliation and exaltation of Christ’s confrontation and conquest (his life-pattern). The life of the believer is captured and transformed into the example of Christ as he assimilates Christ’s life-pattern of humiliation and exaltation. As the Spirit of God makes the application of his own interpretation (Holy Scripture) of the event to the heart of the believer, the believer now experiences the life-pattern of Christ as his life-pattern; indeed, in the sole power of God’s Spirit, the believer is following Christ’s example.32 Our victory, salvation, and obedience are found only in our union with what Christ has accomplished for us in history…

Hopefully it has now become apparent that Reformed Biblical theologians have no problem following the directive of Scripture in Hebrews 11 and I Corinthians 10: 6-13. Of course, the author of Hebrews presents the men and women of faith in chapter eleven as examples to us. But what kind of examples are they? First, one must not fail to presuppose the event of God coming into a fallen creation and implementing His covenant of grace or promise. The faith described in the list of Old Testament saints is nonsense without presupposing the event of God’s covenant because one of the main points of the examples are that they embraced the promises of the covenant without receiving its final blessings. Second and more specifically, they are examples of men and women who lived by faith—the faith described in verse one: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” This understanding of faith is driven home by the fact that “these [Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah] all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on earth” (vs. 13; cf. I Peter 2:11-12). They were living under the assurance and conviction of an eschatological inheritance that they hoped for and did not see. Third, if we comprehend the context of Hebrews eleven, then we realize that the conditions for these men and women of faith in the Old Testament is similar to the conditions for the believer living between the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the promises of his eschatological inheritance in Christ (Hebrews 10:19-39; cf. Eph 1: 3, 2:6; I Peter 1: 3-12). Indeed, the Old Testament saints are models and examples for the New Testament to follow. We are to follow the same life-pattern (a life of faith) as children who live in union with God’s covenant oath as he promises our eschatological inheritance. The examples of faith are not examples of aspiration (works), but assimilation (grace). Our living and eschatological faith takes on the exact same pattern; we are called as pilgrims and strangers on earth in which we await the final promises of a blessed inheritance in Christ in the heavenly places.

In I Corinthians 10:6-13, Paul provides an example of warning to the church. In this case, the warning is clear; if we aspire to assimilate the same life-pattern as Israel, i.e., lusting after evil things, idolatry, eating and drinking, fornication, then we will perish as they perished (cf. Heb. 3:1-4:11). Again, one needs to understand the way Paul is using example; he is placing it in the context of event (I Cor.10:7 refers to the incident of the golden calf in Ex. 32:6). In the event of their idolatry, they rejected life in union with the redeeming event of God’s exodus (Ex. 32:1, 4b, 8b, 23). As they trade one life of assimilation for another, they will transform their allegiance of assimilation (union with Satan and his kingdom) into a world of aspiration; they aspire to be just like the Egyptians. Paul is very clear to the Corinthians; if they direct their steps in the exact same life style as those Israelites, then they will come under the same eschatological judgment of God.34 Likewise, in the same urgency that the Spirit compels Paul, the present pastor must issue the same warning to his congregation!

Preaching (August 2 study)

In our last study, we continued to look at some biblical-theological truths that hopefully helped make us more discerning of what that central event of corporate worship – preaching – is.  There are both good and not so good approaches to preaching out there.  The merits of every sermon must be judged on the basis of God’s Word.  Below are some extracts from an essay setting forth one model of preaching – called redemptive-historical preaching – embraced by the contemporary Reformed tradition: one that I believe is most faithful to the biblical witness.

According to the Biblical view of reality there are two ages: this present evil age, and the age to come (Matt. 12:32; Gal. 1:4, Eph. 1:21). These two ages provide an overarching framework for understanding our identity as Christians…

This two-age view of reality takes on an additional twist in the New Testament. According to the teaching of Jesus in the gospels, the age to come (or the Kingdom of God) has arrived earlier than expected (Mark 1:15; Luke 17:20-21)…

As real and life-changing as the arrival of the eschatological Kingdom is, however, we who are believers in Christ have not yet arrived to its fullness. For those who have been transferred into the age to come by the Spirit still dwell on earth in the flesh…

Redemptive-historical preaching begins with this two-age understanding of the Christian life. It strives to bring the hearers into a fuller awareness of their position in Christ: already raised with Christ, yet groaning in this present age and longing for the second coming of Christ. The implications of the believer’s eschatological and Christ-centered identity are comprehensive and practical. It is the redemptive historical preacher’s goal to bring out those implications (“applications”) from every text of Scripture.

This approach differs dramatically from the contemporary preaching method I call “the application bridge.” This is the misguided attempt to make Scripture relevant by crossing the chasm between the ancient text and the modern world by building man-made application bridges. Redemptive-historical preaching denies the existence of the chasm in the first place, thus eliminating the need to “make” Scripture relevant or applicable. The text does not contain certain abstract principles or ideas that can be extracted, processed, and then applied to our situation. Rather, the text itself is an extension of the incarnation. In the history of redemption in the Old Covenant, God has ordained a typological anticipation of the coming of Christ in the flesh. And the text of the New Covenant is the apostolic proclamation of the fulfillment of the Old Covenant history and the inauguration of a new creation by Christ. United to Christ by means of the text, we live and move and have our being, not in this present evil age which is passing away, but in Christ himself.

If we take the application bridge approach, we are in effect denying that our lives are hidden with Christ in God. We would be saying that our lives are ultimately tied to this passing evil age, rather than to the eschatological Kingdom to which we are bound by our union with the crucified-but-now-exalted Christ. The application bridge denies union with Christ with the Christ in whose death we were severed/crucified from this corrupt, present evil age (Gal. 6:14) and in whose resurrection we have ascended into the incorruptibility and glory of the age to come…

What, then, is redemptive historical preaching? It is preaching which strives to imitate the preaching of the New Testament itself by making applications that are determined by the redemptive historical, eschatological, and Christocentric nature of the text. Applications which merely build a bridge from the ancient text to the modern world leave the people of God still in the hopelessness of the present age. Applications which show them who they are in Christ (indicative), and which exhort them to live in light of the implications of that union with Christ (imperative), bring the people of God into the heavenly arena of the glory of the age to come. (Lee Irons)