Thanks to Angie Cheatham of Crossway Publishers for graciously allowing me to review these two books, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture (2003) and Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (2009). The latter was designed to be a follow up companion reflecting the tradition and pattern of teaching in the former. I was first introduced to Edmund Clowney by my preaching professor in seminary who is a graduate of Westminster. Not sure if he took any classes under Clowney but he used his book Preaching and Biblical Theology in his classes and also had his book The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament as a recommended book. I failed to pick up the Biblical Theology and Preaching book but have the Unfolding Mystery one.
The notion of preaching Christ in all of Scripture (also known as Redemptive Historical Preaching) is an intriguing one to me because I know that many people have differing opinions about if Jesus Christ the Messiah should be preached from the Old Testament or not. Some say yes in every case and others say only if the reference to Christ is explicit since we need to let the Old Testament speak for itself. The strongest case for redemptive historical preaching lies in primarily one passage of the Bible:
Luke 24:25-27 where it reads,
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
It in this passage the primary basis for redemptive historical preaching lies – that throughout the Scriptures we see, through progressive revelation, redemptive history unfolding the knowledge of Christ, and that not just in the New Testament but throughout the Old Testament as well. Sure wish we could have been there to hear how Jesus himself expounded the Scriptures to those two men.
It is on this basis too that Clowney writes his book Preaching Christ in All of Scripture. He begins Chapter One:
Preaching Christ from the Old Testament means we preach, not synagogue sermons, but sermons that take account of the full drama of redemption, and its realization in Christ. To see the text in relation of Christ is to see it in it’s larger context, the context of God’s purpose in revelation. We do not ignore the specific message of the text, nor will it do to write and all purpose Christocentric sermon finale and tag it for weekly use. You must preach Christ as the text presents him. If you are tempted to think that most Old Testament texts do not present Christ, reflect on both the unity of Scripture and the fullness of Jesus Christ….” (11).
I think Clowney would agree that you may not have to bring out the Savior in every preachable passage in the Bible but if you can, you should, and must, for it is Christ whom the Scriptures proclaim. In the book Heralds of the King, the contributors, some who were his students, reflect that Clowney was so immersed in the Scriptures he could hardly not see Christ in them and if a student preached and OT passage and did not proclaim Christ he would ask “Where was my Savior?”
After finishing a sermon in class Joseph Novenson recalls Dr. Clowney asking him “Where was my Savior?”:
My memory has likely edited the experience significantly. But what followed seemed to be an interminable silence on my part and on the part of the rest of the students in the room. The reality of my having opened the Word of the Savior, designed to disclose the Savior, and having not spoken of the Savior settled on us all. (27).
Another contributor to the book Heralds of the King, Charles Drew writes in regard to his preparing a sermon on 2 Samuel 9:
But as I sought to do this, I heard the ghost of Ed Clowney whispering in my ear, “If a rabbi could preach your sermon, you will not have taught it as you should.” To teach my people to love one another without giving to them the Lord of love is to miss the heart of Scripture’s purpose, since Scripture is designed to “make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” 2 Tim. 3:15). To call for love without celebrating the Lover is to turn the Bible into a book of moral advice. And to do that is to strip it of its power by urging people to look to themselves rather than the Messiah for the resources they need. So, as I exegeted 2 Samuel 9, I kept asking, “Lord Jesus, where are you here? How does this text help make my dear self-isolating flock-and me-wise for salvation through faith in you? (104).
I think it is pretty clear from the perspective of redemptive historical preaching that the primary motive of the sermon should be to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen and nothing else. One strong point I find about this approach to preaching is that the focus is Christ and also the text – it is not a self help approach to preaching or one that focuses on felt needs and so on though I think there are times for that – our primary help should be Christ since he is the answer to all our needs, felt or unfelt – so preach and proclaim the message of the person and work of Christ.
So how do we do this then? Well, seeing Christ in the Scriptures has to do with a way of interpreting the passages and interpreting the genre or literature. Christ can be seen through symbolism and typology, memorials and through various speech-acts and words of the Lord. One example of some symbolism might be with the passage in Ezekiel where we see the vision of the valley of dry bones.
The meaning of the vision is that the Lord has the power to deliver his people from exile and fill them with new spiritual life. We know that this is exactly what Jesus did too in and through the cross – he brought us spiritual deliverance and new spiritual life – because his is the Word of the Lord. Perhaps you may not agree with that but it is an example to consider. We know most of the patriarchs are all “types” Christ in one fashion or another, that their work was merely a shadow of the work to come in and through Christ. Jesus is the greater Moses, the greater Joshua, the greater David and so on. By doing this, we preach Christ in all of Scripture.
So the heart of both books then are the sermons that model a redemptive historical approach to preaching the Word. I do have to admit I had to read the first two chapters of Clowney’s book three or four times to really get the feel for what he is saying. This probably isn’t a good thing as it could have been a bit more practical in figuring how to actually go about structuring a Christ centered sermon in the Clowney tradition. His approach was more theoretical and theological. This isn’t bad but might serve as a good companion to one such as Bryan Chapell’s Christ Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon which is significantly more practical in its approach.
The primary critique I might have about Christ centered preaching is one that seems to come more by implication and that is that as Trinitarian Christians, we know Christ isn’t the only member of the Triune Godhead – there is also the Father and the Spirit and we know they all work together as one. But I think if one preached a sermon on the person of the Father that wasn’t expressly Christ centered, I am not sure that would in any way be dishonoring to Christ.
The same would be in preaching on the Holy Spirit – Christ isn’t going to be dishonored if we preach on the person and work of the Spirit in a way that is not expressly Christ centered. At least, that is how I see it. There is a strong case for Trinitarian preaching too – so the only danger I see in redemptive historical preaching is the tendency to elevate it over other forms of preaching as though other forms some how dishonor Christ when they don’t.
That said, I definitely encourage pastors and teachers to consider doing some reading and studying up on learning to do Christ centered preaching – it will only expand you preaching repertoire and bring theological depth to your preaching (and to your congregation, class, small group, etc).
In my opinion, if the text allows for it you should obligate yourself to preach Christ from the passage in the redemptive historical approach – how could you not?
If you would like there is a Edmund P. Clowney Legacy board that has put up some 100 or more of Clowney’s sermons and lectures that relate to redemptive historical preaching. Try checking out a few of his sermons and see what you think about this approach to preaching. Feel free too to let me know what you think.