Recently The Gospel Coalition hosted a national conference with the simple, clear theme of preaching Christ from all of Scripture. I went and was greatly impacted by the proclamation of the greatness of Christ in all of the Scriptures. This passionate priority has begun to really take hold of many (especially younger) preachers. I rejoice in this because I think it reflects Jesus’ own view and model of biblical preaching (Luke 24).
With this however, there is a practice that is not best.
Let me get at it this way. Guys want to preach Christ-centered sermons. They don’t want to moralize the Bible. What’s more, it’s “cool” (hate to use that word) to preach from the Old Testament. So what happens? Preachers get amped up on biblical theology and redemptive preaching, and they crack open their Old Testaments for a sermon series. Then they roll up their homiletical sleeves and get to work.
But there is a problem. It’s in the approach.
Our temptation is to jump into the passage with our Christological veins bulging and neglect the original context. We parachute into the passage, take a quick look around, and then search for the quickest vine out of town into the New Testament. And who could criticize this? After all, you are preaching Christ. Right?
Here’s my issue: those passages have a context. They have a context within the overall context of God’s big story. You have real people in real history. You have got to work in and up from the original context faithfully and find the biblical trajectory, as D. A. Carson would say, that points to Jesus. You have got to faithfully fight your way out of the cocoon in order to fly into the garden of the New Testament. Preachers cannot neglect this crucial step.
1. You end up teaching your people to read the Bible inconsistently. You have one hermenuetical approach for the NT and another for the OT. This is a problem.
2. The lack of consistent, straightforward approach to the Bible starts to look a lot like a secret knowledge that only the pastor has. In other words, if the people don’t see how you got there (NT, Christ, gospel) they are not going to really “get” how the story unfolds.
3. Without working in and up from the context, some people will begin to think that God has two meanings for these passages. God may shed additional light, providing supplemental information through progressive revelation. But a passage will never mean less than what it originally meant to the prophet and his audience. Preachers should make this point clear.
4. You want to teach your people the big story. This is key. In this teaching of the big story you want to teach how this one story has imprints on every single story. This shows the consistency of God’s character throughout history as he saves a people for himself by means of his Son.
5. You look like a liberal. I’ll probably take a punch or two for this one, but I think it’s worth it. Liberals like to read a passage and then launch into their own systematic theologies. We don’t like this because their theology is jacked up. However, some Reformed guys do the same thing. The big difference is their theology is good and biblical. Therefore, we give them a pass. My issue is that you are beginning to help people walk that dark trail to liberalism with this hermeneutical approach. What keeps you orthodox in your preaching? It is the biblical text. If you are not preaching the text (even if you are trumpeting the “story”) you are setting a dangerous precedent.
I am all for preaching Christ in all of the Scriptures. We named our church plant Emmaus Bible Church for obvious reasons. But I am also jealous for the process of working in and out of the passage. This is what helps lights turn on for people as they see Christ in all of the Scriptures.