Jon Moffitt: Hi, this is Jon. Today on Theocast, Justin and I are going to discuss an article entitled Four Ways Bad Biblical Theology Warps Sermons. We hold to biblical theology, a redemptive-historical understanding of Scripture, so we’re going to walk through each of his four criticisms and maybe offer some explanation or a different perspective on it. Then in the members’ podcast, we’re going to explain where this type of an article may have come from and how it tends to be pietistic in its nature. We hope you enjoy. Stay tuned.
Justin and I love talking about the gospel, about the Bible, Christ, resting in Christ—obviously. We have centered our entire podcast around the theology of Christ, resting in Christ, and Christ-centered preaching.
Throughout our different segments, we break them up. We’ve done past episodes called Dazed and Confused where we clarify parts of the Bible that often are misinterpreted or people have had traditional understandings that we think counteract what the Bible is actually teaching. You can go to our website and listen to some of those. Once in a while, we’ll hop on here and do a Hot Topic when it’s around some kind of a theological issue or a cultural issue. Politics was one of them—that was related to theology because people were being told that if they voted one way, then they were not a Christian. You can go back and listen to that.
So we like to categorize certain things. When someone will ask me about a particular theologian—one real popular right now is John Piper—we get a lot of people asking us what we think about John Piper or David Platt or some of these guys. We have categories that we like to discuss things and we have what’s called heretical teaching: it’s been denied by the church, the councils have said it is wrong. There is what we call unbiblical: it probably isn’t a heresy, but we would say the Bible, we think, has greater clarity on this issue. So that person, or this article, or this book is taking what we would say is an unbiblical perspective. Then the third is what we would say is not helpful. Those are the three ways I’ve categorized them in the past, and how we do it here at Theocast.
Today we’re going to pick up one of these articles that seem to be circulating quite a bit. It happened about a year and a half or two years ago where there was an explosion of criticism towards biblical theology, Christ-centered preaching, and redemptive-historical preaching. What we mean by that is the Bible, of course, is God’s Word, but God has structured it in such a way that is communicating something. We believe, along with the Reformers and the Reformed tradition, that the Bible is the story of God redeeming sinners. It’s a redemption and it unfolds throughout history, obviously because the Bible is telling us a historical story. So it is God redeeming sinners starting in Genesis 3, moving all the way to the end of the book, and it is telling us how God is doing this. We understand this even from looking at Ephesians 1-2 that God had a plan to redeem sinners before the world was created.
So we believe this, we teach this, we believe that all the Scripture as Christ says is about him, including the Old Testament—that the prophets and the Law were writing about the coming and the fulfilling of Christ using Israel as its means to accomplish bringing the Messiah for the whole world. This is the perspective that we hold, and it became for whatever reason in the crosshairs of some theological institutes and certain people who I think misunderstood some of the things that we were saying. There has been some confusion. What we wanted to do is walk through an article that seems to be recirculating, walk through his criticisms and points, and maybe try and bring some clarity where there has been some confusion.
Justin, that’s where we’re at. Maybe you can bring us up to date on the article and your thoughts on it.
Justin Perdue: The particular article that we’re going to look at, and it appeared on The Gospel Coalition’s website amongst a number of other places, it also appeared on 9Marks’ website as well, written by a brother in Christ named Samuel Emadi. There are some things in this article that Jon and I think, as we make some clarifying comments, there are certain things that are written that we agree with. Yet the four major headings of the article itself—the article is entitled Four Ways Bad Biblical Theology Warps Sermons—and I think our concern today is that the headings in particular demonstrate, at least from our perspective, some misunderstanding of what redemptive-historical, Christ-centered preaching is. Again, to be redundantly clear, when we put all those descriptors together, the kind of preaching that we are advocating for is preaching that would go to every text of Scripture and understand it in light of the main point of the whole Bible, which is God’s plan of redemption accomplished through Christ. So we approach every text and we ask where this text stands in relation to Christ, in relation to that grand point. As we investigate the text itself and allow the text to drive the message that we preach on any given week, we’re just trying to be responsible scholars and students of the word. So that’s what we mean when we talk about being preachers who would preach from the redemptive-historical perspective, from a Christ-centered perspective.
Of course, nobody is going to disagree with those principles. The concern is we don’t want to fall off the other side of the horse and make errors in the opposite direction. That was the motivation for this particular article that is trying to push back against redemptive-historical, Christ-centered preaching that may be unhelpful. Again, our aim today on Theocast is to try to advocate for that sort of preaching—redemptive-historical, Christ-centered preaching—that is expositional. We want to be clear about what it is, and we want to try to have a conversation in interacting with this particular article that we hope is helpful to people.
What we don’t want is for people who are encountering Reformed theology for the first time, or who are encountering legitimate Christ-centered preaching for the first time, to then be scared away from it because of a piece like this. We hope that this serves people well.
Before we even get to the article itself, I’m going to read a quote from John Calvin to illustrate. This is a great quote from Calvin from his commentary on 1 John as to what the duty of a godly minister, a godly teacher is in particular in preaching. Let me just read this from Calvin and then we’ll look to the article itself. Calvin writes, “As there ought to be a daily progress in faith, so the apostle,” referencing John, “says that he wrote to those who had already believed, so that they might believe more firmly and with greater certainty, and thus enjoy a fuller confidence as to eternal life. Then the use of doctrine is, not only to initiate the ignorant in the knowledge of Christ, but also to confirm those more and more who have already been taught. For there are still in us many remnants of unbelief, and so weak is our faith that we need a fuller confirmation. But we ought to observe the way in which faith is confirmed, even by having the office and power of Christ explained to us. . . It is therefore the duty of a godly teacher, in order to confirm disciples in the space, to extol as much as possible the grace of Christ, so that being satisfied with that, we may seek nothing else.” And we would say to that a hearty amen. That it is the duty of any godly teacher to extol as much as possible, all the time, the grace of Christ, so that the saints being satisfied in Christ might look to nothing or no one else for their hope, for their righteousness, and for their redemption. So that’s the motivator for us, as we think about redemptive-historical, Christ-centered preaching.
Now, Jon, let’s turn specifically to the article itself, and we’re just going to take this point by point and aim to make clarifying comments on it. The first way that bad biblical theology, according to the author, warps sermons is that it can produce, number one, sermons that are Christ-centered, but never make moral demands. I have thoughts on this, Jon, but I’ve been talking for like several minutes. You get us started.
Jon Moffitt: In the beginning of the article, he talks about how he got really excited in seminary about biblical theology preaching, which is great. Then says that he made some mistakes along the way, and this is one of the mistakes: he felt he fell into what was called bad biblical theology. First of all, I would say if this is something he found himself falling into, I don’t know if this is a criticism. For instance, I’ve heard people say, “Well, when I became a Calvinist, I stopped evangelizing.” That’s not the fault of Calvinism, that’s your misunderstanding. I would say if you got to a point where you didn’t feel the need to preach and uphold God’s moral Law, that’s a confusion on your part, not a confusion on what’s being taught by biblical theology. I would say that a true biblical theology theologian understands the value and importance of a Law-gospel preaching, and a Law-gospel distinction that the gospel and Christ are useless without the Law.
Now, I don’t know if that’s necessarily what he’s getting at. I think what he’s getting at in this point is that when you’re preaching, let’s say, a text from the Old Testament that is a narrative—we hadn’t mentioned something recently about Nehemiah—and what we tend to do is then take the passage and make moral application for us today. In other words, don’t be like Nehemiah or be like Nehemiah, or don’t be like Daniel. What he’s getting at is that if you’re only preaching his perspective of what he thinks biblical theology is, if you’re only preaching Christ, grace, and the perspective of redemption, and you never get to a place where you’re calling the listener in the pew to some moral improvement, then you are actually not preaching all of the texts.
Here’s my response to that. If we are going to be faithfully preaching the text, and I mean you actually are teaching context and the authorial intent—what the author intended its readers to hear and do with that text—I would argue, think about how many of what we call imperative instructions like “do this” or “obey” kind of passage there are in the Bible. If you were to put a percentage on it, I would say very confidently that you’re looking at 5% of the Bible from what you have in the Old Testament, like in Proverbs, and then what you have in the epistles, which is most of the time only about 30% of your epistles, because Paul does a lot of introductory, then he does a lot of theology, he does a lot Christology, and then he does a lot of ecclesiology or church theology. Then he gets into the instructions towards the end. It’s only around 30% of that epistle. If Justin and I are going to start in Genesis and work our way through the Old Testament all the way through the New Testament and do what the text says, 5% of those sermons, other than faith in Christ, believe in Christ, trust in Christ, all of those imperatives for morality are going to come up, but just not as much as you think they’re going to come up.
Justin Perdue: A couple of thoughts here. The first is a more high-level observation that is just historically Reformed. The 1689 Confession speaks to this, as do the other Reformed confessions. We uphold what is known historically as the third use of the Law, which means that we understand God’s moral Law—though we are not under it as a covenant of works, we’re not condemned or threatened by it, we don’t keep it for our justification—though that is true and Christ has fulfilled the Law for us, the Law of God, in particular moral Law, still guides our living in Christ Jesus. Jon and I both believe that, we both preach in that way, and a whole host of other guys who would be doing this kind of preaching would do the same. So in upholding the third use of the Law, we absolutely are going to be speaking in terms of morality and in terms of our lives with respect to things that we should be doing and giving attention to, and with respect to things that we should not be doing and we should be fleeing from. I know I do that in my preaching; Jon, I trust you do it in yours as well. That’s one thing that we would say. A Reformed understanding that is redemptive-historical or a reformed understanding that is Christ-centered with respect to the Scriptures does not, in any way, mean that we would not make moral demands because as we uphold the third use of the Law, we certainly do.
The other thing that I would say is something that I think Sam is raising in the article is that we need to be preaching effectively. Jesus has done all of these things, he agrees with us, but then we need to help people understand where we fit in that story and what it means for us—to which I would say, yeah, I agree. For example, this coming Sunday, I’m going to be preaching from Ephesians 2:19-22, which is where Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that they are citizens of the household of God. He’s already been talking about how they were far off and they’d been brought near and all these kinds of things, but they are now citizens of the household of God. He then talks about how Christ is the cornerstone of the church, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and we’re all being built up now into this temple that is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I’m going to preach that and try to explain what all that means from a redemptive-historical perspective with Christ at the center, Christ is the cornerstone, but then I absolutely plan—and I haven’t done any of my sermon prep yet, but in my own mind and heart, I’m already thinking about it—but I absolutely plan to help our people understand what this means for them as they are a part of it. We are a part of the church, and then what that means for how we think about the congregation and how we think about life with the saints and what God means to do through the church. I guess for me, one of the questions that I have reading this article—and I’m just going to not bury the lead—when reading the article wholesale, I’m really asking the question of who is it exactly that is in the crosshairs? What exactly are we speaking to? Because I think that what is being written to, and with all due respect, is a caricature and a reductionistic generalization of Christ-centered, redemptive-historical preaching that neither you, Jon, nor I, would advocate for. The kind of redemptive-historical, Christ-centered preaching we’re advocating for would not be characterized by these things that are written in this article. That’s really why we’re doing this podcast today. So even with point one, that preaching makes no moral demands, I’m not quite sure what he’s talking about.
Now, what we are not going to do is turn every sermon into one where half of our time is spent morally applying the text and telling our people the things that they need to be doing, because I think that’s actually irresponsible in the other direction. You’ve got a text that has no imperatives in it whatsoever, it’s all about it’s the indicative truth of what God has done in Christ, and then you turn half the sermon into pure moral issues that the Christian needs to concern himself with. I actually think that’s irresponsible. It’s legal preaching, it’s moralistic preaching, and again, I know Sam would disagree with that as well.
Jon Moffitt: Again, if we are going to be preaching the text, I feel like if you’re going to preach morality from every text of Scripture, you would then have to say you think the purpose of the Bible is to curb morality—and I wouldn’t say that’s the purpose of the Bible. I just have a hard time thinking about that. I think it’s the result of our faith in Christ and it’s an outflow. John literally says in his gospel towards the end, he says he writes these things that you might believe. He didn’t say it so that you will obey; obeying is a part of our faith. James and 1 John make this very clear that if you believe, you will obey. It’s almost like we are emphasizing morality over faith. Christ-centered preaching and biblical theology are an emphasis on faith in Christ with the outflow of obedience.
Amen. So you don’t want to make the outflow the focus. You want to make the aim of Scripture the focus, which is that we might believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thereby be saved.
Justin Perdue: I’m with you completely. There is one exhortation that ought to be in every sermon, and that is to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ; hope in him, rest in him. Then there may be a number of other exhortations that are made depending on your passage. But to make the charge that redemptive-historical, Christ-centered preaching necessarily… well, it can lead to sermons that don’t make exhortations if it’s done badly, that’s true, but just because something can be done badly doesn’t mean that the thing itself is harmful or dangerous, like you already spoke to earlier.
Jon Moffitt: Every Sunday is a call to repent and believe. Every Sunday, repent of trusting in yourselves, repent from idols, repent from sin, and trust in Christ.
Justin Perdue: Cast yourself upon the mercy of God and Christ.
Jon Moffitt: Right. If you’re preaching Christ properly, according to the text, the only response to Christ is to turn away from self and towards Christ. So I don’t understand how the criticism says you have to preach morality because morality does nothing—and I understand what he means.
Justin Perdue: Me, too. I’m even thinking about services in your church, my church, the entire liturgy of our services is structured in such a way that we are aiming, through the entire service, including the sermon, that people would be convicted of sin, that people would see their absolute, desperate need for what Christ has accomplished in their place, and that we would be turning from sin, turning from our own notions of our own righteousness and goodness, and absolutely casting ourselves upon Christ and his sufficient work in our place. What that does is, as our hearts are stirred, we are also alongside that giving people handles in terms of what life looks like in the Lord Jesus as I live in the congregation of the saints. I know, Jon, that you’re preaching that way, and I’m aiming to preach that way. That’s where for us, as we read this article, we’re not quite sure what it is that’s being pressed back against.
The second heading is that bad biblical theology would warp sermons in that it would, number two, produce sermons that don’t present biblical characters as positive and negative moral examples. Sermons would not present biblical characters as positive and negative moral examples.
Jon Moffitt: I think some of the examples given here from other articles I may mention, but even here, where Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:6 took place as examples for us that we might not desire evil as they did. That would be the negative. He uses Hebrews 12. He says Jesus and the apostles routinely call Christians to be like or not to be like Old Testament figures. Then he references James here where James encourages believers to be like the prophets Job and Elijah. We’ve done a Dazed and Confused episode on Hebrews 11 and 12 before, so we can do another one. But in all of these passages, one, Paul is using this as in a negative sense. He’s saying these people hardened their hearts. They didn’t listen to the Law of God and the demands of the Law of God, and understood that basically they needed to repent and turn towards faith in God’s promises and God’s hope. Paul’s application to that is they don’t do that. I’m on that all day. Everyday, I will say, “See, this does not do you well. Disobeying God’s Law and trusting in your own righteousness does not do you well.” I think any biblical theologian, and to the defense of the guys who trained us and trained most biblical teachers today—Vos, and even modern day guys like Sinclair Ferguson and Horton—they will wholeheartedly agree with the application of these verses saying yes, the Old Testament is written as the example. It’s the history of the example of how you can’t save yourself, and not trusting in Christ will condemn and damn you, and so I wholeheartedly agree with that. I don’t think that’s a fair criticism. Where I think he’s really getting at are the positives.
Justin Perdue: Let me speak to the negative piece really quick, before we transition. I’m with you completely. The negative examples that exist throughout the Old Testament are absolutely in my sights all the time, as you just alluded to, because on the one hand we are the guys that want to get up and say the history of God’s people is one of abject failure and sin. Then God, in spite of that, is utterly faithful, He keeps His promises and saves them, saves us, in spite of our failure. That is the story of God’s people from all time, whether we’re talking about before Christ came, or sin. We have failed. God is faithful. He redeemed us because He’s gracious and merciful and kind and loving—and He does it because He delights to save, it honors Him, it brings Him glory in saving sinners like us. Of course, the negative example is something that I think we talk about all the time.
Let’s pivot to the positive example piece, because I think that’s where the real rub comes. Just to be very clear, we have spoken a number of times on this podcast about the “improvements” of using Old Testament characters as moral examples. I want to be very clear in what I mean by that. It’s not that there is no room to ever talk about these things. Of course, there is room to talk about it. In this example with Abraham, we see that he’s commended for faith—praise God. But then, let’s talk about Abraham’s faith. Honestly, let’s talk about how it has faltered at points and how God did tremendous work in his life over decades. But Abraham’s commended for his faith. Okay, cool. Let’s talk about Job and how he’s commended for being patient and longsuffering and bearing up under suffering. But let’s look at Job in his honest wrestlings before the Lord. Let’s talk about this interchange that he had with his friends and let’s assess it from an objective perspective. I’m absolutely delighted to point to something in the text and say, “That’s good. That’s a really good thing, by God’s grace, that was happening right there.” Then at the same time, to also point out that this thing over here is not awesome—let’s see ourselves in that. Then at the end of the day, let’s talk about that.
The point of the message, though, is why are these people in the biblical record? They’re there ultimately to point us to Christ, and they would be the first to say that they are in need of Jesus just like us.
What I would push back against is not using Old Testament characters as moral examples in a positive way at all. I would push back against using them as moral examples as the primary point of your message, which is what often happens. It’s like 90% of the sermon is about Hezekiah and then 10% is about the plan of God through the Davidic line, the King who would come named Christ, who would save his people, and we need to trust him. I would just invert that: I would spend less time talking about Hezekiah; I would make the point of the message Christ and what God is doing through Jesus, and then we can look at Hezekiah underneath that banner and think about how pride is harmful and humility is good.
Jon Moffitt: I would say, if God intended us to read the Old Testament and use these men as moral examples of what we should do—and I’m going to say this and try not to be irreverent with what I’m about to say—then God didn’t really do a great job of providing a book that gives us a lot of good examples. You have very few examples of men who lived a life that was morally sound and commendable outside of their faith in God. I’ve got men in my church who have lived their lives way more faithful than David, way more faithful than Abraham, way more faith than Isaac, even Daniel—Daniel we only know a little.
Justin Perdue: And of course what you mean by that, Jon, and meaning more faithful than Abraham, what you’re pointing to is the fact that Abraham sold his wife into prostitution effectively twice. David is a man after God’s own heart, which praise the Lord for that, and we see many good things in David’s life, but next to those good things that we see are very heinous and grievous sins: abuses of power, having a man murdered so that he could have his wife, lust, adultery, and the like—and that’s not to slam David to throw him under the bus, but it’s just to circle back and ask why is David in the Scriptures? What is the point of David’s life? What is it that David needs? What is it we can learn from David? Primarily, we are learning about our need of Christ and the Messiah to come who is the greater David. Secondarily, we can look at David’s life and take some things away.
Jon Moffitt: That’s right. When you have an understanding of biblical theology, the life of David makes sense. It’s beautiful, it demonstrates God’s grace, and God’s mercy that even through David’s absolute faceplant in the asphalt. God brings the Messiah. How is that not a better application?
Justin Perdue: That’s phenomenal. And I’m mindful of David’s last words in 2 Samuel 23, where he’s dying. He has some of those beautiful language in all the Bible about a good use of authority. Here’s this man who has abused his authority, most notably in having Uriah killed, and now is speaking very eloquently to his family about the good use of authority in 2 Samuel 23. What is that? God has worked in him and has taught him things. We can honestly assess his life and say things that are much more helpful. We don’t have to turn it into the whole flannel board situation where we uphold these individuals as these great models for us to follow. I know that Sam is not advocating for that in this article.
One observation that I want to make—and this is kind of a hit-the-pause-button-make-a-public-service-announcement and then we’ll move forward. This is important, not only in this conversation, but in any conversation about theology or in real life, but theology is what we’re talking about right now. Generally speaking, to turn things into this either-or proposition is just unhelpful. To create this false dichotomy where it’s either this or that is generally bad. What we are often needing to do is hold things in appropriate tension and make the right emphasis—and that’s what we’re asking for when it comes to Old Testament characters: make the right emphasis, do not spend a lot of your time upholding these folks as moral examples, and spend a lot of your time preaching Christ as we look at the Old Testament witnesses. That’s what we’re saying.
The fourth point, I’ll probably speak a little bit more to the false dichotomy piece that I think is introduced in this conversation a little bit, but that’s here in a minute. Point three, bad biblical theology would warp sermons in that it would produce sermons that sound the same every week. In particular, what Sam is pointing out in the article is that each sermon always tends to be the same. He says, “Look how Jesus fulfilled acts from the Old Testament.” It’s all preached from the perspective of Jesus fulfilling everything in the Old Testament, and it makes your sermons predictable.
Jon, response to that? Thoughts to that?
Jon Moffitt: I’ve heard this raised as an objection, and my question typically to this person is how, how much of a true biblical theologian have you heard preach? Obviously, Calvin’s sermons, if you’ve read them, they don’t sound redundant, they do not sound as if he only has one tune, that he doesn’t have variety. There might be some backwoods preachers out there that no one knows who they are…
Justin Perdue: Or lesser known guys that are doing this.
Jon Moffitt: Exactly. Maybe there’s a movement. I feel like Justin and I are got our finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the Reformed world. We read and listen to almost everything that’s out there, or we’re aware of it, and I just don’t see this. I don’t see men getting up and basically saying the same thing over and over again. Anybody who is a biblical theology of theologian loves the text, is driven by the text, the beauty and the glory of the text just brings Christ alive. Every angle of Christ that we can see, as Paul says, when we look into the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Face means the character and person of, and Jesus himself tells us that that is developed, the character and the person of God are greater and bring a deeper development, through the Old Testament.
When I was in seminary, there’s an article that came out by Dr. Richard Mayhue. I was just reading and refreshing my memory on it again, and he was basically saying that the New Testament is where, if you’re going to preach about Christ, then preach him from the new Testament because that’s where Christ is, and that he’s just a shadow in the Old Testament. John MacArthur will flat out tell you the reason he preaches 99% of his sermons from the New Testament is because that’s where Jesus is, and my argument is that Paul told Timothy to preach all of Scripture and that all of it has beneficial—and he didn’t mean the New Testament at the moment because the New Testament hasn’t been fully written.
Justin Perdue: Amen. Then Jesus obviously understands that the point of the Old Testament—the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms—is him, that they bear witness about him.
Jon Moffitt: I would say the application primarily is going to be mostly the same. If I were to change his title, or his point, and his argument would be sermons that sound the same every week, I would say sermons that have the same application every week. That would be a fair assessment. The main substance is to trust Christ this week, and this is what this may look like according to this text: an application of loving your brother, submitting to one another, etc.
Justin Perdue: I would say guilty as charged if the emphasis is the main thing that we’re going to say from any Old Testament passage is that Jesus has fulfilled everything. That’s true. It’s the main thing, but it’s not the only thing. That’s where I would press back and say that if your sermons sound the same every week, that’s more of a critique on that particular preacher, that he has not rightly understood biblical theology, or has not rightly understood preaching as a discipline, and how to go about doing exegesis, and going about doing homiletics to prepare a message. That’s an indictment on that guy, that his sermon sounds the same every week.
For me, Jon, and this is related to the fourth point of Sam’s article which we’re going to get to in a minute, my sermons are driven each week by several factors: the genre of Scripture in which I’m preaching and I’m finding myself, the text itself and what it says, what the main points are, and what the words on the page say. So what we’re trying to do is explain those things. We’re trying to explain this passage of Scripture in light of the main point of the Bible. The main point might always come out in terms of it being ultimately about Jesus—that may always be there. But I trust it’s going to be communicated differently, we’re going to arrive at that place in different ways, depending on the passage, depending on the emphasis, and the words on the page there, and there are going to be different kind of outworkings of it, different implications, different reflections, different meditations that are contained in our sermons. That to me is just part and parcel of what it is to be a decent preacher. Like you, I’m asking who’s in the crosshairs here? What kind of sermons are we listening to if they literally sound the same as the week?
Jon Moffitt: The argument is you are not being driven by the text, like you said. We’re historical grammatical preachers. Is that point four?
Justin Perdue: Yeah. We’re getting there in point four; three and four are very related. The fourth way that bad biblical theology would warp sermons in the article is that it would produce sermons that are so focused on the big picture that they avoid the details of the text. Bad biblical theology would produce sermons that so focused on the big picture that they avoid the details of the text.
Jon Moffitt: He says, “Rather than letting exegesis,” that means the explanation of the text, “drive the sermon, I’ve heard preachers simply identify the big biblical-theological theme (temple, priest, king, law, sabbath, and so on) and then walk through Scripture’s metanarrative focusing on that theme. Unfortunately, this approach ignores the most basic preaching question: ‘What does the text say?’ Ultimately, or biblical-theological route to Jesus must emerge from exegesis of the text.”
Justin Perdue: My initial takeaway is, yeah, that is bad preaching. I don’t know guys that are doing that. We know dudes that hold to the 1689 Confession, the Westminster Standards, The Three Forms of Unity, our Lutheran friends who would hold to the Augsburg Confession, etc. None of them, that we know, are preaching in these ways where it’s so reductionistic and we’re not dealing with the text, or we’re saying the same thing literally Sunday after Sunday.
Jon Moffitt: My response to that is that when any expositor is preaching the Bible, and I would say any Reformed expositor… Are there disagreements on particular texts in Scripture? Yes. Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists are all going to see certain texts differently. It is a little bit driven by their overarching confession and understanding of certain theology, but in the tradition of all three of these, they all understand that Christ being the point—Reformed Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Lutherans—they all understand Christ being the point of the Old Testament. And what we would say is every expositor has to place something on the text. If you don’t, when someone says, we want to know the authorial intent—what did the author mean, and we get that from the history and the grammar—true, but then you are imposing upon the author and his intent. If you apply “be like Daniel”, you’re imposing that on the text because nowhere in the text are you ever told to be like Daniel. You just cannot see that. So you have to draw that from something else. We draw it as well, but we’re drawing it, in our defense, from the New Testament. Because the New Testament authors use the Old Testament this exact way. Christ and Paul both looked at the Old Testament and said the flow of what was happening in the Old Testament is bringing us to the application of the New Testament, which is Christ.
Justin Perdue: What you’re saying is that if to some degree, everybody comes to the text with a theological framework and a theological system. As much as you are trying to look at a text on its own, and look at it in its immediate context, the paragraph it’s in, the book that it’s a part of, you’re still understanding in light of the entire Canon—which Sam and his articles are advocating for—your understanding of the whole Bible and the main point. What you’re doing, whenever you’re talking about biblical theology and the main point of the Bible, you’re inevitably talking about a framework and a theological system, whether that’s covenant theology, progressive covenantalism, dispensationalism, or whatever it may be. You’ve got those frameworks that are helping you orient yourself in any given passage and that’s not wrong to do. That’s what you’re saying there.
An observation for me on this is, again, I’m not quite sure who is in the crosshairs, because I know for myself, for you, Jon, and for all the other brothers I know of various Reformed and even Lutheran traditions and confessions, people are aiming to deal with the words on the page. We’re looking at the words in front of us, the paragraphs in front of us, and we’re aiming to help people understand those words in light of its immediate context, and in light of the context of the whole Scripture, or the entire Bible. That’s the work of a preacher every Lord’s Day as we open God’s Word for our people.
I just think it’s an interesting charge. I’ve heard other guys say this. John Piper even, earlier this year in a message that he gave, said that there are a lot of guys who hover over the texts but are not actually in it. I’m not quite sure who those guys are because I know for myself, in my sermon preparation and even in preaching, I’m regularly looking at the words and the phrases and sentences on the page—and I’m pointing people to do the same as we understand God’s word together.
My last thought on that point four is, again, let’s not introduce a false dichotomy. Let’s not create a tension that doesn’t exist. We need not pit what might be understood as a grammatical-historical approach to understanding the Bible over and against what might be called a redemptive-historical approach to understand Scripture. Those things are not mutually exclusive. They actually go together. Any responsible redemptive-historical preacher is also preaching from a grammatical-historical perspective. We’re looking at the grammar and the history and the words on the page. Again, if people are not doing that, I agree with the critique. But I think for me, as I see this article at multiple points over the last year and a half, I just struggled to know exactly who’s being talked about.
My thought process is this: I think that the danger that exists in the evangelical church by miles is on the side of moralizing Scripture, and it is by miles on the side of not preaching the Bible from a redemptive-historical perspective and not preaching legitimate Christ-centered sermons. Rather, we’re just going to say a lot of good things from the text and 45 out of 50 minutes of our message honestly could be said in a synagogue, and then we’re going to stick Jesus in the plane of salvation or whatever. I think that’s a much bigger problem, even amongst people who are aiming to take the Bible seriously. The other problem is, I think, a much smaller error. That’s where I’m a little confused as to the aim of the article: who are we speaking to and what are we trying to correct here? Because as I’ve observed preaching, even amongst Calvinistic evangelicals, I think the other error of moralism and making it in pietism, frankly, where it’s more about you and your Christian life than it is about Jesus, I think that’s a much bigger issue. It’s a much bigger concern. That’s part of the reason that Theocast even exists.
Jon Moffitt: In the members’ podcast, we’ll discuss this. But I think behind the article, what he’s concerned with and what he’s getting at is, “You are not going to preach sin. You are going to lead people into antinomianism, where they don’t obey, and apathy. “So pietism is basically the concern.
Justin Perdue: Which, again, we would want to say that lawlessness and apathy are legitimate things to be concerned for. But the question is how do we speak to those things and what is the antidote?
Jon Moffitt: Paul tells those who are lawless and apathetic in 1 Corinthians what his goal is, and he comes in on the gospel hard.
Anyway, we’ll move into the members’ podcast. For those of you that don’t know what this is, it’s a great way to support Theocast. We have a great support system and a support team that’s ever-growing, and it is so encouraging. We’re excited. This may be one of the last episodes going out of 2020. We’re very thankful for 2021 coming up. We are receiving enough donations to kind of really get us going into the next year. What we’re doing costs a lot of money.
Justin Perdue: Please keep giving those donations.
Jon Moffitt: We transcribe all of our podcasts, we do videos, and we have a lot of people that work on the team of Theocast. A lot of that is required of time and we need to pay them and they take massive discounts to give us, and we were thankful for that. This is the way that Theocast has continued to grow and produce books. We have several books in the hopper. Biggest issue we have right now is finances. I know that Justin has one that’s ready to go. We have two primers that we want to see go, but again, it’s all a financial thing. So we just want to be honest with you that this is where we’re at. This is what we’re trying to do. Justin and I don’t do this to make a living off of, we do this because it benefits our churches, and we know it benefits churches around the world. If you want to continue to see churches and pastors encouraged and benefit, then join the members’ podcast. You can do that by going to theocast.org and just look right at the top. There’s a membership section there. It gives you the opportunity to support us.
We’ll see you in the members’ podcast.