Him We Proclaim, 2

April 22, 2008

Chapter 2 of Him We Proclaim strives to explain the Priorities and Polarities in Preaching. The chapter begins with a powerful quote from Episcopal Bishop Philips Brooks, who in 1877 at a lecture at Yale summarized preaching in this manner: “And what is preaching for? The answer comes without hesitation. It is for men’s salvation” (25).

Not many evangelicals would disagree with this broad definition, but Johnson points out that the purpose and intent of the preacher must go deeper. Therefore, he spends the remainder of the second chapter investigating three different purposes in preaching, and then concludes by giving what he thinks is the best model for preaching.

The three cases that are made for preaching are (1) to convert (2) to edify, and (3) to instruct. The following is a brief summary of each.

Preaching to Convert is probably the most criticized method of today, particuarly in the wake of the seeker sensitive, church growth movement and churches such as Saddleback (Rick Warren) and Willow Creek (Bill Hybels). Johnson mentions that this comes from a desire to “follow the apostolic model visible in Acs and take their gospel preaching out of the church’s ‘territory,’ and into venues of public discourse, rather than waiting for non-Christians to venture through church doors” (29). Much of this preaching will center on “felt needs” and attempt to meet the practical issues of the congregation’s lives. The method avoids church jargon as much as possible and assumes little to no theological understanding of the audience. Some problems that have risen from this method are sermons that are “fundamentally man centered rather than God centered”  making the “non-Christians’ perception of their need primary and the Word of God secondary” (33), risking the failure to preach the “whole counsel of God” (33), replace the need for sovereign grace with moralistic advice, and the distortion of the message when attempting to translate it for non-Christians.

Preaching to Edify assumes more of a congregation that consists of professing believers and attempts to “engage Christians in the intentional pursuit of transformation in both behavior and relationships” (37).  This is often trying to show how to effect biblical change by pointing to the biblical text itself. It is more than just transferring information (40), and is dependent on Christ’s grace, but the emphasis is put on more Christ-like lives (better lifestyles). Possible dangers with this is giving the impression that grace is being obscured, the assumption that few unbelievers are present, and the possible failure to understand the diversity of biblical genres that do not simply teach the need for moral lives.

Preaching to Instruct, emphasized by denominations such as the Christian Reformed Church and United Reformed Churches, focuses on “the pastor’s responsibility to preaching doctrine- that is the “whole counsel of God” (44). Topical and expository sermons are used to address a single theme in order to educate the congregation on doctrinal matters. Potential dangers are encouraging imbalance in spirtitual growth and losing sight of the need to preach to those who are not saved.

After summarizing these three divisions, Johnson then explains Evangelistic, Edificatory Redemptive-Historical Preaching. This desires to be

“Christ centered, must interpret biblical texts in their redemptive-historical contexts, must aim for change, must proclaim the doctrinal center of the Reformation […] with passion and personal application, and must speak in a language that connects with the unchurched in our culture, shattering their stereotypes of Christianity and bringing them face to face with Christ, who meets sinners’ real needs-felt and unfelt” (54).

The remainder of the chapter investigates this definition in more detail and also lets  Tim Keller defend and explain his homiletical methods. Clearly this final definition strives to be a best of all worlds from the three preaching methods explained earlier.

I leave this chapter asking if this is really possible. Clearly preaching should attempt to do all the things that are stressed in Evangelistic, Edificatory Redemptive-Historical Preaching, but is is realistic that the preacher can do all these things well in the time given? Sermons will definitely have to be longer in order to educate, edify, provide the redemptive-historical context, and also define terms and give explanation to those who are listening that are not Christians or have little theological knowlege. Can the preacher really do this on a weekly basis or is this taking on too much? Johnson’s first two chapters have been great and I am looking forward to his explanation of how to put such a method into action.

Him We Proclaim, 1

April 14, 2008

1) Introduction: Preaching the Bible Like Peter and Paul

Dennis E. Johnson explains that the intent of his book is largely recovery. He poses the question as to how we can expositionally proclaim Christ from every biblical text and theme. He writes:

This book tries to answer that question, first by arguing in favor of reuniting insights and disciplines the apostles displayed in harmonious unity but that sadly have become disconnected since then. Then is suggests perspectives and strategies to help ordinary Christians discover their Savior throughout Scripture and to equip ordinary preachers to proclaim this Savior convincingly and powerfully from the diverse panorama of Scripture’s genres and eras (2).

In order to refocus biblical interpretation on Christ, Johnson wants to reunite bonds that over time have become wrongly separated. Herein rests the heart of this book’s purpose, “we need to reunite Old Testament and New Testament, apostolic doctrine and apostolic hermeneutics, biblical interpretation and biblical proclamation” (4). In the reunion of Old Testament and New Testament, Johnson gives a short historical overview of the wedge that has been put between the two. He discusses the Enlightenment and the historical-critical method along with dispensational theology which sought to “establish objectivity of its reading of Scripture by treating symbolism with suspicion and preoccupying itself with establishing the text’s ‘literal’ sense” (5). The following quote captures his point:

Thus over the last three centuries, the theological substructure of apostolic hermenuetics and homiletics has been assaulted both by the “hostile fire” of Enlightenment criticism and by the “friendly fire” of Bible-believing students who sought to develop an objective hermenuetic sufficient to withstand the acidic rigors of Enlightenment doubt (5).

In reuniting apostolic doctrine and apostolic hermeneutics, a key issue arises. This is especially a key issue in my personal understanding on the subject. There are a couple of main reasons why some people do not emulate apostolic hermeneutics, one of which is discomfort with the “unbridled embellishment exemplified in the allegorical excesses of the patristic School of Alexandria and the medieval church” (11). According to Johnson, this subject will be discussed in more detail in chapter 6. He does include an outline of what is to follow by mentioning three additional features of an apostolic approach to Christ-centered hermeneutics. He writes, “Apostolic preaching of Christ is redemptive-historically structured, missiologically communicated, and grace-driven” (16).

Finally, Johnson introduces the reunion of biblical interpretation with biblical proclamation. He is reacting here to the disconnect between biblical scholarship and ecclesiastical ministry. He gives a brief historical overview of how the Academy developed and the ensuing result that divided biblical research from its practical and personal applications. He writes:

Exegesis itself is impoverished when specialization and professional pressures in the academy inculcate into faculty and students a mold of biblical interpretation that aborts the process short of application, depriving it of its sweetest fruit (13).

The plan for the book traces two parts. Part 1 (chapters 2-5) makes the case for apostolic hermeneutics and homiletics. Part 2 (chapters 6-10) provides the framework and strategy of apostolic hermeneutics and homiletics in action by referring to the epistle to the Hebrews.

This introduction has me thrilled! I am excited to open this book and read slowly in hopes of learning how to better open the Book and proclaim rightly Christ-centered exegesis and application!

Upcoming Posts…

April 9, 2008

As we hope to see other posts concerning biblical theology, Bryan and I are going to begin reading and reviewing Dennis Johnson’s Him We Proclaim. The plan is to read a chapter and reflect on it each week via posting a short review. We have scheduled to alternate posting each week through this ten-chapter book.

Tanner is on board to teach from the Psalter. 

I was fortunate to preach this past Saturday at my cousin’s wedding in Winston-Salem. My cousin and his fiancé asked me to use Eph. 5:22-33 as my text, the Bible’s longest and most detailed description of Biblical marriage. My attempt here is not to provide an exposition of this passage or a defense. Rather, my objective is to briefly reflect that not only does Paul give a detailed description of Biblical marriage in Eph. 5, but more importantly he gives responsibilities to husbands and wives by using intertextual references to the gospel of Jesus Christ to establish Him as our foundation, model, and first priority for marriage.

Please allow me a moment of brief application of what I hope to unpack: I believe that the poor state of marriage in the United States is just as much the church’s fault as it is secular culture’s. We as the church too often just tack on God to the world’s definition of love as an emotion. For many, God’s greatest function is to grant a well-behaved spouse that will provide happiness and cure loneliness. This stems partially from the prevalence of person-centered pre-marital and marital resources that are by Christians and for Christians. The notion is that if we can just love more and understand the needs of our partner more then we can be happier because we have better marriages. This misunderstands Paul’s thrust in Eph. 5, as reflected in his intertextual references that point to Christ as our model.

I will focus here on the address to husbands in 5:25-32. Husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25) in order that he might present her holy and without blemish (5:27), love her as himself (5:28), and not allow any possibility of their division (5:31). In 5:31 Paul quotes a verse that first surfaced in Gen. 2:24 with Adam and Eve, and was also quoted by Jesus in Matt. 19:5 and Mark 10:7 in response to the Pharisees question about the legitimacy of divorce. Also included in here is a possible reference to the two greatest commandments (Matt. 22:37-40).

The most important intertextual reference here is that this is the Gospel. Paul gives a systematic progression of the work of Christ—that He would die for the church that submits to Him (5:25) in order to sanctify [the church] (5:26), so that He might “present the church to himself in splendor…that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:27). This is justification, sanctification, and glorification in a command to husbands! This is how husbands should love their wives (as a side note, can we really love in such a way in our own power? This passage not only gives us a model but shows us how helpless we are to love in such a way without Someone greater working within us.)  If God chose to use such a powerful reference then the greatest objective in loving our wives cannot be to simply find her love language or to just make her happy. Rather, it is to love and honor her in such a way that honors Christ by modeling His love—all signs of affection are the natural overflow of this sacrificial, intense, guiding, committed love that receives its cues from the life and death of Christ. If only we as the church could begin defining real love in this way (also see Phil. 2:1-11, 1 John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-11, 1 John 4:19).

Joy and happiness are clearly central to the Christian marriage, but those come from this passage’s main focus, which is honoring God by loving like God which then leads to a good marriage. As John Piper would preach several years ago, “God means for marriage to say something to the world about His Son.” May we develop Great Commission marriages that honor God and our wives in such a way.

Graeme Goldsworthy is emphatic that we not confuse the gospel. In order to have a gospel-centered hermeneutic, we must understand what is the gospel. The gospel is what God has done through Jesus Christ for us— His life, death, and resurrection. It is not to be confused with the fruit of the gospel, which is what God does through the Spirit in us. Faith is a fruit of the gospel that passionately embraces its object. Goldsworthy writes:

 Faith is never a vaguely defined thing for Paul. It is always defined by its object: Jesus Christ. Faith means implicit trust in the Christ of the gospel to save and sustain us. To live by faith means to live by the gospel. Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit is given to us to guarantee the final participation of the believer in the kingdom where he will no longer be away from the Lord. How does the Holy Spirit act as this guarantee? He does so by enabling us to live by faith. The Spirit establishes our faith and trust in the living and dying of Jesus for us. The Spirit’s work is to energize our faith; not faith itself, nor in the Spirit himself, but in Christ alone.

(Goldsworthy, The Gospel in Revelation, 177)