Him We Proclaim, 8

August 2, 2008

Chapter 8 of Him We Proclaim discusses Christ as Head and Mediator of our preaching, as evidenced in Scripture. The chapter once again emphasizes preaching Christ at all times, as we should recognize that, “at the most general level we are therefore justified in concluding that no event of history is adequately interpreted apart from its relation to this cosmic agenda of God, centered in teh eschatalogical Lordship of Christ” (243).

The preacher is to faithfully put the text in the context of the “Grand Drama” of Scripture – that is, where is our text in the story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, & Consummation (245)? As we understand that this is the grand story of all history, we recognize that within this story is one Hero, one Champion, one Protagonist – Jesus Christ. Therefore, we understand that “Lord and Servant Who is Prophet, Priest, & King” (as seen in both the OT and NT) is always relevant to what is being preached. 

This really helped me to understand logically why Christ is the focus of our preaching. It’s not that I didn’t believe it, but I enjoy seeing the logical explanation of why we should always preach Christ. If I can return to my Logic 101 class from college, I would present the case in this way:

Claim 1: All of Scripture (and history, by the way) takes place within the Grand Drama of the Creation, Fall, Redemption, or Consummation.

Claim 2: Christ is the focus of this Grand Drama from Creation to Consummation.

Conclusion: Since (1) Scripture is the story of the Grand Drama of Creation to Consummation and (2) Christ is the focus of this Grand Drama then Christ is to be proclaimed from all the Scriptures.

That’s simple enough for me!


Him We Proclaim, 7

June 30, 2008

Dennis Johnson gets to it in this chapter titled, “Theological Foundations of Apostolic Preaching.” The question and concerns that he has raised prior in the book finally come to surface as he deals healthily with them here. The issue has to do with the typological correspondence of the Old Testament with the New. He highlights five categories:

1) The typos texts of OT persons, events, and institutions to which the Greek word typos is used in the New Testament (200). An example would be Romans 5:14 or 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 (202).

2) Here Johnson refers to the OT quotations that are applied to Christ in the NT. He means here the OT passages “that are explicitly cited in the New Testament as reaching their fulfillment in Jesus and his saving work, often introducing the Old Testament citation with a formula such as ‘this was to fulfill,’ or ‘this is fulfilled’ (207)”. He mentions Matthew’s usage of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son,” in Matthew 2:15. I love what Dr. Dennis says here about “a more foundational conviction to which Matthew is leading his readers…”

Jesus is the true Israel, delivered from infant death, brought out of Egypt, tested in the wilderness, and finally exalted as Son of Man, invested with all authority as representative head of the eschatological “saints of the Most High” (Dan. 7:13-14 is echoed in the Great Commission, Matt. 28:18-20) (208).

3) Next there are the “unmistakable allusions to Old Testament events, applied to Christ” (209). The difference here with the previous is the absence of direct NT citation. Much of the book of Hebrews falls into this category, also John 1:17-18 and 6:31-51 where Christ is portrayed as the superior mediator.

4) The next category is one of greater ambiguity and controversy. He has in mind here such examples as when NT authors employ words or constructions that are unusual in biblical Greek. Such usage could signal the text’s OT dependance. He includes in this category such texts as Matthew 17:5 and the mountain of transfiguration. The verb “overshadow” resembles Exodus 40:35 and the Lord’s initial dwelling of the tabernacle (213). Again he speaks to my heart:

To be responsible to the Bible’s divine Author and credible to our hearers, our identification of typological similarities (as well as contrasts between type and antitype) must be warranted by evidence in the text of Scripture, not merely the product of our own hyperactive imaginations (214).

5) The final category are the general OT patterns that are fulfilled in Christ and his work. He means here such as examples as the narrative of Joseph.

This is a great chapter and much anticipated. I recommend some readers to just skip to this one to get a good quick dose of the issues at hand.



Him We Proclaim, 6

June 4, 2008

The sixth chapter of Him We Proclaim  discusses “The Epistle to the Hebrews as an Apostolic Preaching Paradigm.” As Johnson notes, the Bible offers few glimpses into how the apostles preached to a Christian body. While some would point to the book of Acts as a good guide for how to preach, the reality is that “all but one of the sermons in Acts is addressed not to Christian congregations but to Jewish or pagan listeners whose response to Jesus hangs in the balance” (170). Acts, therefore, “is most instructive for the pastor’s responsibility to preach evangelistically to those not yet committed to the faith” (170).

Johnson concludes that Hebrews is the best picture of apostolic preaching in the New Testament. He believes that Hebrews is a sermon for a number of reasons, one of which being the author of Hebrews use of the expression “word of exhortation” to describe his work (13:22). This was a commonly used phrase to describe a sermon according to both biblical and extra-biblical references. While Hebrews may be considered an apostolic sermon, Johnson is careful to point out that it had both “a unique context and audience […] so it would be unwise to treat even Hebrews as a rigid structural template, as though all of its formal features were indispensable to ‘apostolic preaching’ in our contemporary venues” (171).

There is not time to give all the details that Johnson draws from Hebrews that are beneficial in understanding apostolic preaching. The following are what I found to be the three most important and applicable points:

1. Jesus should be the hero and foundation for the sermon – “The pervasive thesis of Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus to revelatory and redemptive institutions ordained by God for Israel in the Law of Moses” (175).

2. Preaching’s first priority is not trying to produce better, happier, more inspired people – “Truly apostolic preaching is not ethical imperative ungrounded in theological indicative. It is not psychological manipulation, moralistic harangue based on guilt, or pragmatic life coaching, untethered to the truth of Christ’s redemptive accomplishment on behalf of believers” (177).

3. At the same time, we have not effectively preached the Word if we give an academic lecture about the complexities of Scripture. The author of Hebrews not only knew his audience and used images from the surrounding Hellenistic culture (such as the image of a runner), but also made specific points of application to the lives of those listening – “Apostolic preaching is not merely literary analysis or theological contemplation that stops short of changing the values, affections, allegiance, and behavior of its hearers” (177).

There is so much more to the way that the author of Hebrews makes his argument for the supremacy of Christ while at the same time understanding and helping the spiritual needs of the audience. This shows that apostolic preaching is not so heavenly minded that it is of no earthly good. Instead, it both boldly preaches Christ as the hero of Scripture, acknowledging His Lordship as the only means of transformation, while at the same time providing help with the real, practical struggles that exist in the congregation.

Him We Proclaim, 5

May 26, 2008

Johnson brings Part I of this work to a close in chapter 5 as he describes the main challenges to apostolic preaching. As a conclusion and segue to Part II he presents a movement towards “accountable, credible Christ-centered hermeneutics” (151). This chapter was too long and complex to give a detailed review. There are too many huge, foundational questions that Johnson asks. This chapter alone could have been elaborated into several independent books.

In order to provide a general outline, I will just include the subheading and major points that are made. Johnson first explains some of the modern misgivings about apostolic preaching, biblical unity, interpretative accountability, and interpretative credibility. The historical movements that gave way to different approaches to Scripture are briefly discussed. He calls the question of context to be the central issue. Are the interpretations of passages in the Hebrew Bible that are loyal to authorial intent at odds with the apostle’s interpretation found in the New Testament? I say no. Johnson makes his case clear: 

I am arguing that if the New Testament itself affirms a symbolic-typological interpretation of an Old Testament feature (for example, that the multiethnic church “is” the Israel with whom God makes his covenant), we are on safer ground to follow the New Testament’s lead rather than clinging to a different, “literal” reading that might seem, in the abstract, to be more objectively verifiable (140).

I appreciate Johnson categorizing the different approaches to the question of context and including names such as Beale, Dodd, Kaiser, Longnecker, and Enns. In setting forth his approach, Johnson titles three questions to answer:

1) “if the text’s original context is no longer regarded as the single determinant of the text’s valid meaning, have all hermeneutic criteria external to the interpreter, to which our exegesis can he held accountable, been jettinsoned?”

2) “does the inclusion of later New Testament revelation and the whole completed canon of Scripture as interpretative contexts of equal or even greater relevance that text’s immediate literary context and life situation tend to ‘flatten out’ the landscape of biblical revelation and obscure its progressive character?”

3) “how should we evaluate those instances in which the text’s meaning in its original context seems incompatible with the meaning attributed to it by later apostolic usage in the broader canonical context?”

 I do not think that the Old Testament authors nor the New Testament apostles have a problem with a literary approach to the Hebrew Bible that is true to authorial intent and is thus Christotelic. I think that is exactly what the OT writers meant, and exactly what the NT interpreters understood. Doesn’t 1 Peter 1:10-12 confirm this? The text is sufficient to lead us to Jesus Christ and it is harmonious to apostolic preaching. I look forward to Johnson developing a hermeneutical paradigm from the apostles’ example.

Him We Proclaim, 4

May 13, 2008

After a break, I write again…

Chapter 4 of Him We Proclaim deals with the history of apostolic preaching in the church. Johnson explicitly states his thesis on pg. 98:

“Our hypothesis is that much of the debate throughout the history of the church over the question of whether and how the Old Testament, in particular, bears witness to Christ turns on disagreement over the weight to be accorded to various concentric circles of context in which a biblical text can be read.”

One of the major debates throughout the history of the church, and which will explode in the “Enlightenment,” is how biblical interpretation should be understood considering the manner in which the apostles interpreted the Old Testament. While historically the church would say that “Scripture is its own interpreter,” Enlightenment philosophers would look at the New Testament’s use of Old Testament Scripture as being uneducated, illogical, and incorrect.

Johnson breaks the history of biblical interpretation into three phases, and I’ll just give what I thought was particularly interesting from each summary:

Complication: From the Church Fathers through the Middle Ages

It’s important to understand that while the early Church Fathers are often criticized, particularly on the dawn of the “Middle Ages” which would witness the increasing corruption of the Catholic church, early biblical interpretation was generally text-driven and Christ-centered. Much of the interpretation often went too far to stress the allegorization of scripture and the three or even four-fold meaning of each text. However, early interpretation should not be written off as being without any benefit.

Chastening: The Reformation

Reformation hermeneutics focused on scripture’s ability to interpret itself, particularly with a personal, “private, invincible access to the mind of the Spirit” that would help with interpretation. This is not the extreme of private revelation as the final authority. I thought it was interesting that reformation hermeneutics reject that a large number of theologians adopting an interpretation of a text, or antiquity of an interpretation is a legitimate reason to accept a particular meaning of a text. Scripture is its own interpreter, and neither popularity nor antiquity take precedence over this (114).

Rejection: The Enlightenment and Historical-Critical Biblical Theology

This has already been mentioned, so I will just give a few more words to the matter. With the rise of “historical criticism” the Bible no longer was viewed as one book written by many authors who were inspired by the Divine Author, but instead Scripture was viewed as being written by a number of intellectually-inferior, conflicting, superstitious authors. Therefore, Scripture was rendered as more of a collection of folktales that the Word of God. Johnson puts it,

Once they had set aside the concept of a divine Author of Scripture, nothing stood in the way of their critiquing the biblical authors’ statements with regard to Ancient Near Eastern history, human origins, or a whole host of other issues (117).

This is just a snapshot of the history of Biblical interpretation in the church, but it reflects greatly that the modern Christian should 1) be respectful of the more ancient methods of understanding the text 2) understand that an evolutionary hermeneutic (that we are superior to our predecessors) is both arrogant and dangerous and 3) the incredible danger of setting aside God’s inspiration of Scripture for the sake of “academic pursuits.”

Him We Proclaim, 3

May 2, 2008

Johnson picks up from the three approaches he discussed in the previous chapter and writes, “…in principle these insights can be reconciled and incorporated into a more complex and richer homiletic…” (62). He turns to Paul’s theology of preaching encapsulated best in Colossians 1:24-27 to define preaching in all its dimensions. It turned out to be one of the most fascinating chapters that I have ever read in any book.

There are seven themes in this passage that Dr. Johnson pulls out to summarize Paul’s theology of apostolic preaching… 

     1) The purpose of his proclamation is to “present everyone mature in Christ.”

     2) He therefore is aware of the “identity and need” of his listeners.

     3) “His message has content to be communicated authoritatively and persuasively, and Paul encapsulates the entire content of his message in a single word–or, more precisely, a single person” ‘Him we proclaim’–the Christ who no indwells Gentiles” (64).

     4) The communication tasks of his preaching includes “teaching and admonishing.”

     5) Sufferings, afflictions, toil, and struggle are part of the price to paid by ministers of the gospel.

     6) There is a divine power that is at work through the preacher’s weakness.

     7) “This text introduces the motif of the preacher’s office, entailing authority and accountability, through the imagery or stewardship” (65).

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.