Preaching Biblical-Theological Sermons

A Facebook Q&A

This is my response to a Facebook post that asked the following question: “Why would I ever preach from the Old Testament until after I have preached everything in the New Testament?” With some editing, here’s how I responded on Facebook:

  • Because you would immediately and permanently remove the largest part of Scripture from your preaching rota. How long would you have to preach before you “preached everything in the New Testament”?
  • Because you would be living in practical denial of Paul’s declaration that all Scripture is useful for preaching, teaching, and Christian discipleship (2 Tim 3:16). And of course the only Scripture Paul would have been speaking of is what we now call the Old Testament.
  • Because you would be ignoring the core path to preaching a proper understanding of Christ, which Jesus himself taught during the Emmaus encounters (Luke 24:25–27, 44–47). It was Christological interpretation of the Old Testament that opened their minds to understand Scripture; so excluding the Old Testament from the pulpit would be closing your mind and the minds of your congregation to the understanding of Scripture.
  • Because you would be violating core apostolic commands about preaching: (1) Preach Christ, and (2) preach the Word—which would have been the Old Testament at that time.
  • Because you would be modeling Marcionite practice, effectively rejecting the Old Testament. In doing so, two things would very likely happen: (1) Your congregation would infer that the Old Testament wasn’t really Scripture, but maybe second-level stuff like the Apocrypha. I suppose it wouldn’t be long till your congregation saw “Daniel” and “Tobit” on about the same level. (2) You would move toward idolatrous worship in the following sense: You would create “Jesus” in a fashion that fulfillment of the Old Testament would never countenance—even if you figured you had successfully managed it in the New—and then worship that “Jesus.”

This question sounds like the flip side of another question about how we might be able to preach: “Is it possible to preach a biblical sermon without mentioning Jesus Christ?” To this question and the one in the OP, my answer is this: “Why would you ever want to?!”

I think the real issue isn’t about preaching the Old Testament, but how to go about preaching Christ from the Scriptures—all of it, Old and New Testaments. I think I’ll use one of the very next blogs to recommend some preaching resources that help on this:

  • How to avoid moralizing sermons and preach the genuine biblical-theological substance of a text. For example, you don’t preach the David and Goliath story and encourage your congregation to believe that if they really trust God, they can kill bad people. Hint: David isn’t a type of you, he’s a type of Jesus, who triumphs over all his enemies.
  • How to avoid allegorizing and preach the genuine biblical-theological substance of the text. For example, you don’t preach the David and Goliath story and encourage people to believe that if they really trust God they can slay the “giants” in their lives—like depression, alcoholism, wife beating, and pornography. Hint: David’s life isn’t an allegory of your walk with God; he’s a type of Christ, who has already triumphed.

In that Facebook response, I promised to write this blog and recommend some useful resources, so here goes:

Resources for Preaching Biblical-Theological Sermons

I think preaching expository sermons is the most robust way of preaching in general; however, I think a biblical-theological frame of reference can rescue and recommend the topical sermon. An example of that would be a sermon on “The ‘Immanuel’ Principle,” which I believe I’ll use for the blog that follows this one.1

Annotated Bibliography

Here are the two key textbooks I use when I teach preaching at Bible college or seminary level. You could use either for an self-guided study to freshen up your expository preaching skills.

  • Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2005. This is an outstanding textbook on preaching, and he’s exceptionally strong on moving from solid exegesis to genuine application that’s rooted in preaching Christ from all the Scriptures.
  • Carter, Terry G., J. Scott Duvall, and J. Daniel Hays. Preaching God’s Word: A Hands-on Approach to Preparing, Developing, and Delivering the Sermon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005. This is more broadly homiletical than Chapell; however, Carter et al. are excellent on how to move from exegesis to application and on identifying the Christological point anywhere in Scripture.

Besides textbooks on homiletics, I’ve found anything by Edmund Clowney, Sidney Greidanus, or Graeme Goldsworthy to be really helpful. So here’s some of their works that focus especially on preaching.

  • Clowney, Edmund P. Preaching and Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1961. This short book by one of my former professors is a foundational work on the subject. It may be hard to find a copy nowadays, but it’s worth hunting.
  • _____. “The Singing Savior.” Moody Monthly 79 (1980): 40–43. This is a magazine article that’s a wonderful example of what biblical theology looks like in a devotional work. If you would like a copy, I can email it. And once I figure out this blog site well enough, I’ll probably be uploading and linking it on my site.
  • _____. Preaching Christ in All of Scripture. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2003. I think you’ll love this work, even for devotional reading. And if you’re a preacher, you’ll  probably be telling yourself, “I’m going to preach that one,… and that one,…” and so on.
  • Greidanus, Sidney. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999. As you can tell from the title, this focuses on methodology. It warns against some erroneous ways of preaching from the Old Testament, and it sets out a solid methodology that “will preach.”
  • _____. Preaching Christ from Genesis: Foundations for Expository Sermons. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2007. This is Greidanus himself applying that method to the book of Genesis.
  • _____. Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Preaching. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010.
  • _____. Preaching Christ from Psalms: Foundations for Expository Preaching. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016.
  • Goldsworthy, Graeme. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000. Goldsworthy is the gold standard on this matter, as far as I’m concerned.

Finally, R. Kent Hughes, a great preaching pastor, is producing a fine series called Preaching the Word. So far, I know of the following works in that series. These volumes are not the thin gruel you often find in homiletical or expository commentaries; they’re robust application of the biblical-theological method to the Bible book each one treats:

  • Hughes, R. Kent. Genesis: Beginning and Blessing. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004.
  • _____. Luke: That You May Know the Truth. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1998.
  • _____. Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior. Preaching the Word. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1989.
  • _____. Acts: The Church Afire. Preaching the Word. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1996.
  • _____. James: Faith That Works. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1991.
  • _____. Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1990.
  • _____. Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. Preaching the Word. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1989.
  • _____. 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2006.
  • _____. Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1993.
  • Mathews, Kenneth A. Leviticus: Holy God, Holy People. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2009.
  • Ortlund, Raymond C. Proverbs: Wisdom That Works. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012.
  • Ryken, Philip Graham. Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2005.

Biblical-Theological Method

I won’t spell out the method in this post; rather, I’ll refer you to the stream of this blog. It’s all about the biblical-theological method. Because this question about preaching and biblical theology has come up, I think I’ll try to focus more on preaching and biblical theology than on just academic biblical theology as we go forward.


Footnotes

  1. The title comes from Isa 7:14//Matt 1:23; but the substance comes from biblical-theological reflection on a host of texts that promise God’s presence (e.g., Lev 26:11–12; Exod 25:8–9; 29:45–46; Deut 31:6; Ezek 37:26–28; John 1:1–14; 1 Cor 3:16–17; 6:18–19; Eph 2:19–22; Rev 21:3, 22).

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