B.C. Askins

The Man With the Golden Gun

Archive for the tag “hermeneutics”

Union with Christ in the New Testament: A Provocative Exegesis of Matthew 25:31-46

[Caveat lector: Necessarily, this post will be an overly brief and superficial treatment of the immense subjects under discussion. As always, questions and comments are not only welcome, but strongly encouraged.]

The Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide) has been a matter for drawing swords and shedding ink (at least) ever since the days of the Reformation. Witness a Baptist preacher and an Anglican bishop crossing quills over the matter just a few years ago (helpful summary here). My two cents: Piper had the loudest volume and Wright the largest volume – pick which volume you prefer.

The unfortunate fallout from these centuries of justification debates is that sola fide has become the functional center of certain streams of thought within the broadly Reformed tradition, leading some to see it as the central point of Pauline theology as well. It is not. Union with Christ is. Fortunately, this error of emphasis is being corrected in many recent volumes and conferences. Justification is grounded in union with Christ.

In contrast, the Kingdom of God is central to the theology of Christ in the Gospels. So Paul’s theology centers on Union with Christ and Christ’s theology centers on the Kingdom of God. I would like to suggest that these two theological centers converge in Matthew 25:31-46, “The Final Judgment.” Jesus’ doctrine of the Kingdom culminates most clearly in this passage, while Paul’s doctrine of Union with Christ is clearly present in seed form, as we shall see.

If I am correct in my interpretation, then there will be relevant implications from my exegesis for discussions regarding the relationship between Pauline and Jacobean doctrines of justification, the relationship between justification and sanctification, and the role of love in the judgment of God (among many others).

Here is the text in Greek and English:

31Οταν δὲ ἔλθῃ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι μετ’ αὐτοῦ, τότε καθίσειἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ: 32καὶ συναχθήσονται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ ἀφορίσει αὐτοὺςἀπ’ ἀλλήλων, ὥσπερ ποιμὴν ἀφορίζει τὰ πρόβατα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων, 33καὶ στήσει τὰ μὲν πρόβατα ἐκδεξιῶν αὐτοῦ τὰ δὲ ἐρίφια ἐξ εὐωνύμων. 34τότε ἐρεῖ βασιλεὺς τοῖς ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ, Δεῦτε, οἱεὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆςκόσμου: 35ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ ἐποτίσατέ με, ξένος ἤμην καὶσυνηγάγετέ με, 36γυμνὸς καὶ περιεβάλετέ με, ἠσθένησα καὶ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με, ἐν φυλακῇ ἤμην καὶἤλθατε πρός με. 37τότε ἀποκριθήσονται αὐτῷ οἱ δίκαιοι λέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντακαὶ ἐθρέψαμεν, διψῶντα καὶ ἐποτίσαμεν; 38πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ξένον καὶ συνηγάγομεν, γυμνὸν καὶπεριεβάλομεν; 39πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ἀσθενοῦντα ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν πρός σε; 40καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς βασιλεὺς ἐρεῖ αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶνἐλαχίστων, ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε. 41Τότε ἐρεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἐξ εὐωνύμων, Πορεύεσθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ [οἱ] κατηραμένοιεἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳ καὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ: 42ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ οὐκἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ οὐκ ἐποτίσατέ με, 43ξένος ἤμην καὶ οὐ συνηγάγετέ με, γυμνὸς καὶοὐ περιεβάλετέ με, ἀσθενὴς καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐκ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με. 44τότε ἀποκριθήσονται καὶ αὐτοὶλέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα διψῶντα ξένον γυμνὸν ἀσθενῆ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐδιηκονήσαμέν σοι; 45τότε ἀποκριθήσεται αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον οὐκ ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶτούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων, οὐδὲ ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε. 46καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲδίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Now, I am far from an expert in the history of the interpretation of this passage; however, it might be useful to think of modern commentators as tending to fall into one of two broad categories when interpreting the passage: liberal and conservative. Oversimplifying the matter somewhat for brevity’s sake, we can say that liberal theologians have tended to emphasize the social justice matters which Christ emphasizes in the passage: good works of love are what will matter at the final judgment. Care for the poor is at the heart of the gospel (cf. liberation theology). This has some similarities with some Roman Catholic interpretations of the passage as implying that meritorious works can earn salvation, (cf. Robert Bellarmine). Further, many would point out that there is nothing at all mentioned about justification by faith.

Oversimplifying again, conservatives have responded to this passage by limiting its scope to those within the church, because Jesus refers to “the least” as his “brothers” in vs. 40 – meaning that good works performed for those in the household of faith will be what matters at the final judgment, not broader social justice issues. Protestants have responded that these good works are the product of faith and not the basis for salvation. Love is the fruit of faith, so while the final judgment will be according to works, those works must be grounded in faith in Christ or they are just self-righteousness (cf. John Calvin in response to Bellarmine).

I tend to agree with both sides when they disagree with each other and disagree with both when they agree with themselves. In other words, I think they’re both wrong.

Exegetical Notes

These are the final words of the final pericope in the final discourse of Matthew’s Gospel. It is fitting that its subject should be the final judgment. This passage is the poetic and dramatic climax of the teachings of Christ in the first Gospel.

The setting and events depicted in the passage are conventional of judgment scenes in Jewish literature, strongly echoing Daniel 7 (among others). The King sits upon a judgment throne; angels are present; people are gathered, separated into two groups and the righteous are rewarded while the wicked are punished. There are twin conversations which correspond with the two groups and their respective judgments.

The structural significance of the sentence conjunctions in this passage have been entirely overlooked by commentators. (For more on this matter generally, see Stephanie Black, Sentence Conjunctions in the Gospel of Matthew.) There is an introductory Οταν (“When”) followed by the twin conversations, which use three τότε (“then”) and a concluding καὶ (“and”) sentence. The paragraph structure is (1) introductory paragraph, (2) dialogue with the righteous, (3) dialogue with the wicked, and (4) conclusion. It looks like this:

(1) Οταν (“when”)…
(2) τότε (“then”)…
τότε (“then”)…

καὶ (“and”)…

(3) τότε (“then”)…
τότε (“then”)…
τότε (“then”)…

(4) καὶ (“and”)…

The conjunctions above first serve the obvious grammatical purpose of conjoining two clauses. There is also an obvious parallelism in the structuring of the two dialogues. However, once we consider the structure of the discourse from above the sentence level (in a discourse analysis) we can see beyond the twin mistakes made in the stereotypical liberal/conservative, Catholic/Protestant interpretations mentioned above.

Filling in the text further:

(1) When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him…
(2) Then  the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

(3) Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

(4) And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Structurally and poetically, the climactic central point of the text is found in the shocking identification of the King with “the least” in vs. 40: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” It is the identification of the King with “the least” which is central to this passage, not the good works or lack of good works among those being judged. Both the liberal/conservative and Catholic/Protestant readings hang on two different sides of the same error by reading the text as though the distinguishing characteristics are in those being judged, rather than in the Judge’s shocking self-identification with “the least.”

As mentioned above, these are the final words of Christ in the final discourse of Matthew’s Gospel and shortly after proclaiming them, the King will be hungry and no one will feed him, thirsty and he will have only vinegar to drink, a stranger unwelcome among his own people, stripped naked to be beaten, sickened by blood loss and infection, and he will be alone in prison until his crucifixion, at which time he will even be forsaken by the Father so that “the least” would never be forsaken by Him. The shadow of the cross looms large upon this final discourse before the crucifixion, just as the love displayed there will be magnified at the final judgment.

Paul’s doctrine of Union with Christ simply makes explicit the subtle doctrinal realities already woven into the the narrative-discourse fabric of the Gospels. The final judgment will be based upon the love we show to the King, who identifies himself with us, becoming “the least” in order to save “the least.” For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5)

(For a sermon I preached recently on this text, click here.)

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Book Review: Putting the Truth to Work by Daniel M. Doriani

Doriani, Daniel M. Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application. Phillipsburg, P & R Publishing, 2001.

Introduction

Putting the Truth to Work is a helpful book which presents practical approaches and theoretical methods for developing faithful biblical applications in sermon preparation and delivery. The author provides an introduction to hermeneutics with an eye toward developing sermon applications. Once the groundwork has been laid, he then develops distinct plans for applying unique genres of Scripture in a Christocentric fashion.

Dr. Daniel M. Doriani was a professor of New Testament, Dean of the Faculty, and Vice President of Academics at Covenant Theological Seminary in Missouri from 1991 to 2003. He transitioned into the senior pastor role at Central Presbyterian Church (PCA), a 1700-member church in Clayton, Missouri. Last year, he returned to Covenant Theological Seminary as Vice President of Strategic Academic Projects and professor of theology. He has authored many books on a variety of subjects, including hermeneutics, homiletics, and some New Testament commentaries.

Summary

“If a teacher’s ultimate crime is to propound heresy, the penultimate crime is to make biblical truth sound boring” (121). This book is strong medicine for an epidemic of boring preaching. Putting the Truth to Work is written in two sections, divided by a brief interlude. The first section of the book focuses on the nature, sources, and methods of discerning biblical applications. The second section gives plans for applying narrative, doctrinal, and ethical texts, considers issues with applying these texts Christocentrically, and concludes with a method for selecting a sermon text.

The initial chapter dialectically considers three proposed theories for interpretation and application. The thesis is the traditional view that exegesis precedes application in a two-step process, so that application rests upon exegesis. The antithesis theory proposes to erase the distinction between meaning and application, since “Scripture itself links interpretation with relevance” (20). On this view, exegesis is inextricably linked to application, such that meaning is application. Finally, the author proposes a synthesis of these two theories as “a permeable barrier between exegesis and application” (22). This “fuzzy boundary” maintains the primacy of exegesis in the applicative task, but also acknowledges the interdependent relationship between meaning and application. The author then argues that a theory of application is both necessary and desirable, and that a consideration of the communicative context is also essential to the nature of sermon application.

The second chapter develops a God-centered theology of application, using Scripture’s own use of Scripture, particularly Jesus’ use of Scripture in the Gospels, as an exemplar. Jesus’ example gives us insight into the proper use and the misuse of the Bible in application. Christ demonstrates what Paul later asserts in 2 Tim 3:16-17, that all Scripture is profitable.

The following chapter is dedicated to a discussion of the role of the interpreter in the interpretive and applicative tasks. The author outlines a general model for application which displays the various interrelations between the text, the interpreter, and the audience. Doriani then examines the different perspectives on reading a text, the relationship between knowledge and action, and the hermeneutical spiral—all within a discussion of the courage, character, and credibility necessary to faithful biblical application. This chapter is simply brilliant.

The fourth chapter discusses the seven biblical sources of application: rules, ideals, doctrine, redemptive acts in narrative, exemplary acts in narrative, biblical images or symbols, and, finally, songs and prayers. The author highlights that this list is not co-extensive with the genres of literature found in Scripture, though there is significant overlap. A rubric is also provided for discerning twenty-eight options for the relevance of a text.

Then the next chapter gives four aspects of application for consideration. These are four categories of questions which should be highlighted for the audience in the development of applications. The preacher should consider questions about duty, character, goals, and discernment for the audience. These four categories of questions combined with the seven sources from the previous chapter form the rubric of twenty-eight relevant applications for a given text. The tendency of many evangelical preachers is to ask duty-related questions, to the detriment or disuse of character, goal, and discernment-related questions. The author suggests “going beyond law” (98) is crucial to faithful biblical application.

The final chapter of the first section further considers the use of the four categories from the preceding chapter. The author considers the misuse and the proper use of each of the categories of questions, and also provides a two-page critique of utilitarianism in preaching.

After an interlude which briefly reminds the reader about the importance of proper interpretation and understanding contexts (biblical and homiletical), the second section of the book begins with a plan for applying narrative texts. The types of narrative (drama, reports, speech stories) are surveyed and the components of dramatic analysis are rehearsed. The remainder of the chapter gives specific examples of narrative analysis from the Old Testament, the Gospels, and Acts. The following chapter gives six theses to correct certain misbegotten theories on interpreting and applying narrative texts.

Chapter nine gives a plan for the application of doctrinal passages by proposing “a check list for preachers” (225-6) and surveying several case studies in doctrinal sermon application.

The next chapter presents a plan for applying ethical texts. Biblical law can be applied identically, analogously, and typologically (241). Seven questions for “harder cases” are considered and then applied to two test cases from the Mosaic law. The subsequent chapter considers issues faced in applying ethical texts. The author suggests that the three uses of the law and the tripartite view of OT law are useful pedagogical and interpretive tools for the preacher, with some noteworthy caveats.
The twelfth chapter provides a review of the preceding chapters inasmuch as they were pertinent to a consideration of Christocentric preaching. The author presents Christocentric application as a way of bridging redemptive-historical and needs-sensitive preaching. The final chapter of the book concludes with general principles for sermon text selection.

Critical Evaluation

In evaluating Putting the Truth to Work two strengths and one weakness will be surveyed and discussed, respectively. This evaluation will be followed by some concluding remarks which discuss the usefulness of this book.

Strengths

This book will provide many readers with valuable insights for developing biblically-faithful sermon applications. Two strengths of this book are: the “how-to” chapters in the book (7, 9, 10, 12) give useful questions, case studies, and action steps for improving sermon application, and the third chapter weaves together the intellect and character of the interpreter in a brilliant, biblically holistic fashion.

The “how-to” chapters in the book give useful questions, case studies, and action steps for improving sermon application. In the preface, the author highlights the “how-to” chapters as the “capstone” of the book, because they review the theoretical chapters while exemplifying how to compellingly present Christ to the audience (9). These chapters are the result of over two decades of academic ministry and nearly a decade-and-a-half of pastoral preaching ministry. It is difficult to overstate the significance of these chapters for a young, inexperienced preacher like this reviewer.

For example, Chapters Ten and Eleven function together as a strong corrective for moralistic/legalistic preaching, for merely redemptive-historical application, as well as the often oversimplified relationship between law and grace. One on side are preachers who struggle to find applications which are anything more than an injunction to “do better,” and on the other side are preachers who struggle to present applications which are anything more than an encouragement to “believe more.”

Doriani tells the former, “Not all Christians who want to obey know how to do it,” and the latter, “…however, sophisticated we are, there is a time to tell people what to do.” He continues, “If a theologian thinks people need metaphors and not mandates, he ought to get out more often” (263-4). These two chapters contain principles which can help set pastors free to preach the gospel as spiritually transformative in specific ways.

The third chapter weaves together the intellect and character of the interpreter in a brilliant, biblically holistic fashion. The third chapter of the book highlights several major theoretical issues in hermeneutics by considering the character and virtue needed to rightly resolve these issues and faithfully apply those resolutions. Many readers will find the practical chapters of the second section of the book to be worth their weight in gold; however, this theoretical chapter would be worth the price of the book, even if its cost was its weight in gold!

Theoretical texts on hermeneutics will often discuss the distinctions between a critical, dialogical, and submissive view of reading Scripture or present a particular perspective on the nature of the hermeneutical spiral. Homiletical texts will often discuss the importance of the biblical qualifications of eldership or the role of a preacher’s character in ministry. Doriani manages to weave theory and virtue together in a holistic manner that demonstrates how fluidly he is able to move between the ivory tower of academics and the concrete jungle of pastoral ministry. Readers will benefit greatly from his insights.

Weakness

Despite providing a host of insights on the nature and task of biblical application, this book also had some weaknesses. One weakness in this book was the inclusion of a critical analysis of Christopher Wright’s view of biblical law.

The inclusion of a critical analysis of Christopher Wright’s view of biblical law. As the author is concluding his evaluation of the relative merits and demerits of the classical tripartite view of the OT law as moral, civil, and ceremonial, he takes an aside to briefly discuss Christopher J. H. Wright’s five-part view of the OT law (273-5).

Wright seeks to situate his taxonomy of OT law (civil, family, cultic, criminal, and charitable) within its redemptive-historical epoch (creation, fall, redemption, new creation) in order to emphasize the unity of divine revelation while putting a finer point on the distinctions between various biblical laws. While this gives an interesting scholarly brief on a way of potentially improving upon the classical tripartite division of the OT law, there is very little payoff for the reader with regard to the thesis of the book and chapter—namely, the application of ethical texts.
The point of the analysis is that “all laws retain some form of authority,” (275) but this point is almost lost in the tangential discussion of Wright’s view after the lengthy pedagogical and apologetic discussion of the tripartite view. In the opinion of this reviewer, the point could be made more clearly and directly by foregoing the analysis of Wright’s view. Admittedly, this is a relatively minor editorial criticism.

Conclusion

Putting the Truth to Work is a book which this reviewer will return to in the future as a resource for developing biblical applications in a variety of creative but faithful ways. This book stands as a testimony to the reality that all Scripture is profitable and applicable. It also functions as a guide for how to discern those applications in practice. Faithful application of this book will result in faithful application of Scripture, to the glory of God.

Book Review: Him We Proclaim by Dennis E. Johnson

Johnson, Dennis E. Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007.

Introduction

Him We Proclaim is a paradigm-shifting book which presents an extended case for Christocentric preaching as an entailment of an apostolic hermeneutic. The author seeks to build his homiletical practice upon a distinctive hermeneutical theory which challenges various other perspectives. This project is accomplished by appeal to the discernible hermeneutical practices of the NT authors.

Dr. Dennis E. Johnson is a professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. He is an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The concentration of his research, study, and teaching has been in the area of New Testament exegesis (particularly the interrelation of the two testaments of Scripture) for nearly two decades, but he has spent the latter portion of his career writing and teaching on the application of biblical studies to the practice of ministry within the local church and the larger culture.

Summary

Him We Proclaim is a two-part book with two valuable appendices included in the text. The first part seeks to build a hermeneutical case for what the author calls “apostolic, Christocentric preaching.” (Kindle Location 488) The case is built upon a consideration of the NT authors’ manner of reading, quoting, and applying the OT in their apostolic preaching and teaching—what emerges is a starkly Christocentric way of reading the OT canon. The second part of the book draws out and exemplifies homiletical practices from the hermeneutical principles detailed in the first section.

The first chapter highlights three ways in which a wedge has been driven between the Old and New Testaments in contemporary evangelical hermeneutics—one wedge from Enlightenment-influenced biblical criticism, the second from the literalistic hermeneutic of dispensationalism, and the third stems from religious pluralism. The author also introduces his thesis that while the theology of the apostles has been maintained their interpretive methods have been abandoned by contemporary evangelical scholarship. Finally, he discusses the breach between the academy and the church, addressing the divide between biblical scholarship and gospel proclamation. Having introduced these issues, the author seeks to reunite these estranged brothers by appeal to the hermeneutical and homiletical model of the apostles.

The second chapter seeks to set hermeneutical boundaries for the combinational approach suggested in the first chapter by considering certain priorities and polarities in preaching. This chapter lays the biblical foundation for the author’s walk through the hermeneutical spiral, from text-to-hermeneutics-to-homiletics and back again. It also “provides a sympathetic but critical hearing to rival homiletic approaches… noting both the strengths and potential weaknesses of each.” (530) The author surveys and evaluates a broad swath of evangelical homiletical practices using a taxonomy of three categories: preaching to convert, to edify, and to instruct. Everything from seeker-sensitive “felt needs” models to the homiletics of nouthetic counselors and redemptive-historical preaching models receives critical but fair analysis in this chapter. The author presents and promotes a combinational approach, using Tim Keller’s preaching as an example.

The next chapter considers the purpose of preaching by examining Paul’s theology of preaching. The purpose of Paul’s preaching (taken from Col 1) was to “present everyone mature [or ‘perfect’] in Christ,” (1108) which implies something about the identity and needs of his audience as well as the content of his gospel message. Paul also mentions the price of suffering paid by the preachers of the gospel, as well as the divine power operant within them. Drawing on Paul’s teaching in Col 1 while incorporating examples from apostolic preaching throughout the first century, Johnson presents the “four motifs—purpose, listeners, content, communication tasks—[which] are the heart of this book.” These four motifs, combined with the price, power, and responsibility of preaching, “are essential to a full-orbed understanding of apostolic preaching.” (1530)

The following chapter gives a historical survey of how this apostolic model of preaching has fared throughout the history of the church’s practice. Johnson outlines how apostolic preaching passed through stages of complication, chastening, rejection, and recovery. According to the author, this homiletical method was first “complicated” by the patristic and medieval penchant for an imaginative expansion upon the allegorical reading of the biblical text. The Reformation perspective is brought in to appropriately chasten the excesses which had already developed out of ancient exegesis, as well as to contradict the rising extremes of individualism which characterized the Radical Reformation. This individualistic reading opened the doors in many ways to the rejection of apostolic preaching by the influence of the Enlightenment upon various forms of biblical criticism. Apostolic preaching was eventually recovered in the twentieth century by Princeton theologian Geerhardus Vos and has been preserved and developed since then within certain Reformed evangelical circles.

The final chapter of the first section is apologetic in nature and considers the various challenges which this preaching paradigm commonly faces. Most of these objections reflect contemporary iterations of the various schools of thought surveyed in the prior historical chapter, such as the influence of historical criticism or misgivings about the unity of Scripture. He directly responds to the various positions of Beale, Dodd, Longenecker, Gadamer, Enns, Kaiser, and McCartney, respectively, and concludes that even the grammatical-historical method needs to be corrected by apostolic interpretive methods.

The first chapter on the practice of apostolic, Christocentric preaching marks the Epistle to the Hebrews as an epistolary sermon, evaluating it as a paradigm case for preaching while the theological foundations of apostolic preaching are discussed in the succeeding chapter. The last three chapters of the book walk through the centrality of Christ in all of Scripture, giving specific aid in how to prepare and present sermons from each testament—preaching the promises of the OT and the Promise Keeper of the NT. These chapters demonstrate that the book’s theory is solid, its apologetic is reasonable, and the theory can be practically implemented by pastors within their own congregations. This section of the book strongly resembles a homiletical how-to manual, with many valuable principles and practices explained. Seeing the application of the author’s interpretive framework applied to the diverse literary genres of specific texts of Scripture is most helpful and persuasive.

Finally, two appendices are given. The first appendix walks through the author’s model “from text to sermon,” and the second provides several exemplary sample sermons which apply the methods outlined in the book.

Critical Evaluation

In evaluating Him We Proclaim two strengths and one weakness will be surveyed and discussed, respectively. This evaluation will be followed by some brief concluding remarks which discuss the overall value of this book.

Strengths

This book will provide many readers with a paradigm shift in hermeneutics, homiletics, and the relationship between the two. Two strengths of this book are: the inclusion of condensed but significantly detailed conclusions at the end of each chapter, and the author’s concise but thorough reading of the history of biblical interpretation.

The inclusion of condensed yet significantly detailed conclusions at the end of each chapter. Each chapter in this book contained significant engagement with the biblical text, history, hermeneutics, theology, and the practice of biblical proclamation. The author is strongly suited for in-depth textual analysis as well as addressing the broad-reaching implications from the text for the theory and practice of preaching. His apostolic, Christocentric, redemptive-historical, missiologically-focused, grace-driven paradigm for interpreting and preaching the text of Scripture leads readers deeper into the text and more broadly across the theological landscape of contemporary preaching.

At the close of each of these significant and insightful chapters, the author manages to present a densely compressed outline of the chapter which still provides significant detail regarding the matters discussed in the chapters. The author has a gift for expounding upon biblical truths at length and with great benefit to the reader, then providing a brief conclusion which perfectly summarizes all of the complex issues already addressed.

The outlines in each conclusion are particularly helpful for students. This reviewer often creates similar outlines while reading books for reviews or studying for examinations, but soon discovered my own outlines to be superfluous given the author’s condensed, detailed concluding summaries.

Concise but thorough reading of the history of biblical interpretation. The fourth chapter of the book, “The Complication, Chastening, Rejection, and Recovery of Apostolic Preaching in the History of the Church,” is virtually worth the price of the book alone. In contemporary evangelical circles it is common to ignore or criticize the patristic and medieval readings of Scripture based upon caricatures and myths associated with the hyper-allegorization of those periods in the history of exegesis. Johnson does not present these reductionistic oversimplifications, but gives a sympathetic-yet-critical analysis of the history of biblical interpretation. In the use of a brilliant metaphor, he applies the term “complication” in a double entendre as a descriptor for the developments in exegesis in the church during its first millennium—complicated “in the sense of an increase in complexity of method and of meanings and, metaphorically, in the medical sense of an adverse development that threatened the health of the ‘patient.’” (1787)

Johnson recognizes the common convictions held by patristic, medieval, and Reformation exegetes regarding the divine inspiration of Scripture and the value of the entire canon as an interpretive horizon. He also notes appropriately that both “allegory and typology are subcategories of metaphor and points on a continuum.” (1854) He brings a fresh perspective to an analysis of the differences between the Alexandrian and Antiochene schools of interpretation while incorporating the Reformation perspective as a helpful chastening on the excesses which developed in medieval exegesis.

It is odd for some contemporary conservative scholars to focus so heavily upon the typological aspect of the OT while denying that the difference between allegory and typology is a matter of degree rather than kind. The author’s perspective on this subject is refreshing and a helpful corrective to certain imbalances in the larger Protestant tradition of biblical interpretation, remaining faithful to the teaching and example of the Apostles despite certain contemporary trends toward a merely literary reading of the text.

Weaknesses

Despite providing a depth of insight on the twin subjects of hermeneutics and homiletics, this book still contained certain weaknesses. One weakness of this book was its omission of any discussion of the role of ethics as derived from Scripture for the purpose of preaching.

The omission of any discussion of ethics as derived from Scripture for the purpose of preaching. Johnson presents a well-rounded, well-reasoned case for an apostolic reading and preaching of both testaments of Scripture, emphasizing Christ, redemptive history, missions, and the grace of God. The emphases appropriately reflect the canonical perspective of Scripture, but leave one glaring omission: ethics.

Many controversies have roiled in the history of the church down through to this very day regarding the relationship between law and gospel, the role of the OT law, the doctrine and various models of progressive sanctification, as well as the ethics of the NT, such as the role of the Sermon on the Mount in relation to the Pauline epistles.

Johnson advocates a redemptive-historical reading of Scripture and distinguishes it from the errors in certain dispensational approaches, but never refutes the Theonomic Reconstructionism still present within his own Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He condemns moralistic preaching, but provides little by way of an alternative method for grounding the imperatives of Scripture. He gives a brief discussion on “Preaching Christ to Effect New Creation Transformation” which contains the twin principles that “apostolic application builds exhortations on grace” and “displays the texture of renewal in the image of God,” (4727-4895) but such a brief treatment barely scratches the surface of the ethical questions mentioned above. Such a weighty and controversial subject deserves further treatment in an otherwise nearly comprehensive work.

Apostolic preaching must not only extol the grace of the gospel, but also must clearly explicate the nature of the ethical freedom found in Christ. While the author has given an excellent treatment of the subjects addressed, leaving the question of ethics largely untouched is a significant lacuna in a text on preaching the whole counsel of God.

Conclusion

Him We Proclaim is a well-argued, thorough analysis, apologetic, and exposition of a fully biblical school of interpretation which provides greater insight and clarity to the nature and the task of biblical exposition. The book is historically informed, exegetically-grounded, reasonable, and any interlocutor (from whatever perspective) will have a weighty task in seeking to refute Johnson’s strong case for apostolic hermeneutics and homiletics. God willing, this book will be widely read among the preachers of God’s Word to the benefit of His people.

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