J.N.D. Kelly’s Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom – Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop

1433119J.N.D. Kelly’s Gold Mouth is, simply put, one of the better biographies you will ever read.  Learned, engaging, illuminating, and well-paced, you will learn a great deal not only about this amazing Bishop of Constantinople, but also about the complexion and intrigues of 3rd/4th century Christianity.  I personally found many of the side details to be as compelling as the primary focus of the study.

Chrysostom was a fascinating, focused, and intense follower of Christ.  There was an edge to him, we might say.  This edge could lead him to be unbelievably stubborn, incendiary, and difficult.  He was a man with big faults…as men of big virtues sometimes tend to be.  He was a polarizing figure, but I daresay his excesses were born more out of genuine convictions about who he was and what the right course of action should be than out of any kind of arbitrary cruelty.  There can be no doubt that Chrysostom loved the Lord and loved the church.  He could be an austere and extreme person, but he was a pastor above all.

Kelly does a masterful job of showing us Chrysostom’s mind and heart, the good and the bad.  He demonstrates effectively the amazing devotion that large portions of the populace held for John even after his death.  It is interesting how the loyalty of the people and their reactions to this or that move surrounding the whole drama of Chrysostom affected the course of events.  Kelly does a great job explaining the ecclesiological climate of the day:  the ongoing chess game between bishops and church leaders, the uneasy relationship between the Church and the state, the turbulent clash between orthodox believers and schismatics, the political maneuvers, the ambitious, the ideologues, and the peacemakers.  What a fascinating period of history this was!

In all, one gets the feeling that Kelly has been honest and fair with Chrysostom.  Those wanting romantic hagiography will be disappointed by this book as will those who want a hatchet job.  But if you would like a clear, honest depiction of one of the more compelling and enthralling figures in Christian history, you will not want to miss this biography.

Very, very good!

Fred Craddock’s Reflections on My Call to Preach

Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the Dots is Fred Craddock’s autobiographical consideration of his calling to be a preacher.  The book bears all the marks of a classic Craddock sermon:  accessibility, winsomness, insightfulness, honesty, and encouragement. I have come to love Christian biography and autobiography more and more, and Craddock’s ranks up there with the best of them.

Craddock is a preacher’s preacher, a masterful homiletician and teacher whose insights never fail to challenge and edify the reader. He is also an amazing story-teller. So when I saw that he had published this memoir (in 2009) I knew that, eventually, I’d spend some profitable time with it.

The story is precisely what it purports to be: a preacher’s reflections on the various peoples, places, scenes, and occurrences used by God to call him into the ministry. It is dominated largely by Craddock’s life as a boy. Having been called myself at the age of fifteen, I am always intrigued to hear others’ stories of their own callings.

A call is as unique as the person being called. This is vividly portrayed in ways moving and touching by Craddock. I was particularly touched by the dynamic of his parents: the tragedy of his father’s struggle with both fatherhood and alcoholism and the solid, persistent anchor of his mother’s nurturing faith. Unlike some sons’ takes on their less-than-perfect fathers (see Frank Schaeffer), Craddock’s depiction is charitable but honest without spilling into thinly-veiled vitriol. In fact, the story of his father pulling one of his own molars with pliers in order to pry out the gold filling to sell for Christmas presents for his children will remain in my mind as a powerful example of fatherly love (even as the stories of his alcoholism has reminded me again that the decisions we fathers make will affect our children all their lives.) I was also struck by Craddock’s revelation of his own perilous infancy and his mother’s offer of him to God should he survive (not least of all because I haved a similar story in my own calling).

Craddock tells his story with sympathy, introspection, humility, and a sense of reserve, but also transparency. I can tell it was difficult for him to write. I was moved by his account of the awkwardness of sitting with his elderly brothers trying to approach issues that haunted them into later life. I also appreciated his self-awareness in admitting that memories are tricky things and notoriously difficult to offer with exact certainty.

This book offers a moving account of one young man’s growth in a world of racial strife, social complexity, and poverty. The stories of the Craddock’s relationships with black friends and some of the tragic dynamics that living in a racially divided South introduced into their lives were painful reminders of our own scandalous, recent past as a nation.

Above all else, it is a story of divine calling. It is told without pretension or romantic mysticism. It is, instead, the cautious but sincere retelling of one man’s self-understanding of his own pilgrimage.

This is really a fantastic book.

Highly recommended.

Sidney Greidanus’ The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text

Chapter 1 of The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text sets the stage for the rest of the book by discussing the basic issues of the nature and authority or preaching, the importance of the Bible in the task of preaching, and the importance of expository preaching.  Greidanus traces modern preaching back to apostolic preaching and, before this, to prophetic pronouncements of God.  Yet he does this cautiously and with a recognition of the important distinctions between modern preachers and the biblical prophets and apostles.  Nonetheless, all of these are similar in that they proclaim God’s word.  Furthermore, in all three instances there is an appreciation of the word of God as an event and not just as words.  This is even true of the prophets, even though their message came through visions and dreams and was not dependent on a textual starting point.  Furthermore, all three of these instances may be seen as a part of redemptive history (1-3).  Thus, while modern preachers may not, of course, claim a direct word from God as the prophets did or the authority of the New Testament apostles, they may nonetheless have the certainty of being part of an “indispensable link” of proclaimers of God’s truth and of speaking God’s word insofar as they are faithful to that word in its written form (7,9).  Greidanus points, as Ridderbos did, to the juridical nature of apostleship, as well as the juridical nature of the preaching task as it is revealed in the New Testament application of the monikers “herald” and “ambassador” to the apostles, in an effort to establish that the proclamation of God’s word through the medium of preaching is authoritative (4).

Greidanus argues for preachers to ground their sermons in the text of Scripture.  He appeals to both Old and New Testament examples of this as evidence for this necessity.  By proclaiming the word of God as it stands in written form, modern preachers are standing with the prophets and apostles in the flow of redemptive history.  Preaching is itself an aspect of redemptive history and is used by God as a divinely sanction medium to reach the world.

The importance of preaching scripture is further expounded upon in Greidanus’s preference of expository preaching.  Expository preaching is preaching that preaches the Bible as the word of God to men and women today.  It proclaims biblical passages and does so with the assurance that this is God’s word.  Furthermore, Greidanus argues that expository preaching is inherently authoritative as it stands in faithful proclamation of the revealed and authoritative word of God (12).  As such, the Bible, not human opinions or human epistemological constructions, serves as the source and starting point of expository preaching (13-14).  There is also an inherent safeguard in expository preaching.  Preaching that is grounded in the scriptures is capable of being weighed and measured by and against the objectively verifiable written expression of God’s word.  Greidanus also argues that expository preaching must be God-centered and must be “good news” (14-15).

Greidanus makes further arguments for the superiority of expository preaching.  He points, for example, to John Stott’s four evidences for the preferability of this form of proclamation.  First, the Bible places limits around the expository proclamation.  Second, it “demands integrity” by tying the proclamation to the Bible.  Third, by tying the sermon to the text, unnecessary and disruptive sermonic tangents are ideally avoided.  Lastly, expository preaching gives the preacher confidence as he stands on the authority of the Bible.  Greidanus goes on to speak of various ways that expository preaching is helpful to the Church as well (16).

Greidanus has a rather fascinating discussion of the variety of forms within scripture.  In this discussion he seems to be combating the notion that expository preaching must forever be wedded to the old “three points and poem” paradigm.  Instead, Greidanus argues that a close evaluation of the particular form and the particular intentions of the text we are interacting with will guide us in the careful application of a variety of expressions that reflect that form’s intentions.  In other words, the Bible communicates itself with variety so why should the preacher not do the same?  Greidanus believes that this can be done in expository preaching and, in fact, will show a higher degree of faithfulness to the actual form of the text in the process (18-20).

Greidanus’s opening chapter is a solid beginning point and is also very helpful to the modern preacher.  His views concerning the authority of scripture are very similar to those of Ridderbos.  This means that Greidanus has a high view of scripture as well as a high view of the nature of proclamation and the need for modern preaching to stand in faithful continuance of the biblical practice of proclamation.  This, of course, is the crucial question for the modern preacher.  Does he speak with authority?  Greidanus’s contention that the preacher speaks with authority as he speaks in fidelity to the text is an extremely important point.  Preaching itself bestows no limitless concept of authority on the various words a preacher might say.  Rather, only those words that conform to the truth of scripture bear authority.

This conviction necessarily drives Greidanus to an appreciation of expository preaching as the most crucial mode of proclamation today.  He has made his case well.  I agree completely.  We have seen in our various reflections on postmodernism the dangerous tide of subjectivity and existentialism that ensues whenever the objectively verifiable text is subjugated to a secondary status.  It is against this potential for homiletical homelessness that Greidanus rightly argues for the need for preaching to be grounded in the text.  His arguments are more than persuasive.

In chapter 2, Greidanus further separates himself from the postmodernist by asserting that the historicity of the events that lay behind the text is actually important (24).  He points to the advent and current dominance of the historical-critical method as the purveyor of much confusion in this regard.  In particular, he interacts with Ernst Troeltsch’s evaluation of the historical-critical method.  To summarize, Troeltsch’s work reveals that the historical-critical method precludes any possibility of transcendence by positing that scripture is to be evaluated like any other text, that the reliability of the claims of scripture is determined as those claims are judged against our present normative experiences, and that history consists only of cause and effect events (25-27).  The historical-critical method also believes in the inherent uncertainty of history and therefore brings doubt to its evaluation of any text.

Greidanus responds to this by noting that the historical-critical method rests on an a priori rejection of a “transcendent cause” (27).  Consequently, the historical-critical method has resulted in an epistemological agnosticism in the field of biblical studies.  Thus, truth has been separated from text, as Watson might say, not only practically but potentially.  With this trend has emerged the postmodern concept of the hermeneutic of suspicion and despair.

Greidanus believes that this need not be the case.  In fact, he believes that the foundational assumptions of the historical-critical method need to be critiqued.  He begins by affirming Troeltsch’s first principle, namely that the Bible should be evaluated as any other document.  We simply cannot ask, and should not wish, for this to not happen even though we accept the uniqueness of the Bible over and above all other texts (29).

Concerning doubt and history, Greidanus agrees that the historian must be cautious.  The complexity of history itself would dictate this.  However, when this doubt becomes unfettered by the possibility of arriving at a conclusion, and especially when this doubt so colors the historical-critics’ a priori assumptions that conclusions are ruled out de facto from the start, this doubt can be said to be out of hand (29-30).

Concerning the principle of analogy, Greidanus points out that it too is important but needs to be qualified.  First, the danger of subjectivity in determining what is normative looms large in this task.  Second, the principle of analogy is flawed in that it cannot handle events which we know to be true that nonetheless have no analogous point of reference.  This principle therefore has obvious problems handling, for instance, miracles.  This is not necessarily due to any absence of analogous point of contact but rather to a skepticism that forbids the possibility of such points of contact that is itself a result of the too subjective criteria lying beneath this principle (31-32).  Thus, Greidanus argues that the possibility of the historical-critical method treating the Bible objectively on its own terms is ruled out in toto by the post-Enlightment assumptions that form its foundation.  How can a system which rejects the possibility of divine activity in normative history or the element of transcendence adequately handle a book which has these two elements at its core?  Truly, a more judicious model should be sought.  To this, Greidanus turns his attention.

Greidanus proposes that the categories of the historical-critical method be rejected or, at least, modified so as to remove their unnecessarily restrictive criteria.  Why should not the principle of correlation include the possibility of divine action in the world?  Surely a rejection of this possibility is ideological in nature and not scientific.  Greidanus proposes that Christians not speak of miracles in terms of a divine invasions of history.  To do this is to construct an unnecessary dichotomy between normative history and God’s divine work.  Instead, all work is God’s, be it normal or extraordinary.  By so defining God’s work, the possibility of seeing divine action through the lens of correlation becomes possible (40).  This also sets the stage for a rebuttal of the principle of analogy.  Why should we, for instance, see all history as analogous?  Certainly God may act uniquely and not in conformity with perceived patterns (42).  By positing these qualifications of tradition historical-critical categories, Greidanus is attempting to bring the investigation of historicity back to the text and away from ideological assumptions that deny the validity of such an investigation.

Greidanus next argues for new criteria to determine historicity.  The criterion of dissimilarity deems historical those acts which have emphases unique from the preceding emphases of scripture.  This criterion is flawed in that it unnecessarily fails to adequately asses acts which are at one with preceding emphases (43-44).  Secondly, one should ask if there is a wide range of attestation to an event in other texts.  If so, historicity may be established.  Third, the act or event must be coherent.  Fourth, we may judge any event or act to be historical and authentic if it offers an explanation of a coming “collections of facts or of data” (44).

Greidanus is to be commended here for his extensive critique of the historical-critical method as well as his proposal of a new critical method whereby the Bible may be approached in a way in which is truthfulness is not deemed to be an impossibility from the outset.  Yet he is not playing games here.  He is not picking arbitrary categories that he simply prefers over others.  On the contrary, in addition to the independent merits of these criteria, Greidanus’s proposal stands as a corrective to a system that is ideologically flawed.  The historical-critical method must be rejected insofar as its foundational assumptions shape its conclusions before it even starts.  Greidanus’s proposal, on the other hand, takes seriously the need to subject the biblical text to a critical evaluation while removing the precursory element of doubt inherent in the modern historical-critical method.  This is done not because Greidanus does not like the outcome of historical-critical approaches to scripture but because he questions the validity of its starting point.

The preacher will find in Greidanus’s critique of the historical-critical method not only a necessary corrective to an ideologically founded, nonobjective approach to the historical validation of texts, but also a responsible framework in which he or she may honor the need for a critical approach while avoiding the flaws of the current system.  In practical terms, the preacher may see the confidence of his proclamation as being grounded not in some blind leap of faith in the historicity of the events of scripture, but rather in the verifiable and carefully evaluated reality of that historicity.  As such, Greidanus’s corrective stands as a crucial tool for the homiletical task.

Chapters 3 through 5 are given to discussions of the literary, historical, and theological aspects of what Greidanus calls a “holistic interpretation.”  His goal here is to argue against what he perceives to be a stifling and insufficiently atomistic approach to scripture in which these three categories are sharply delineated.  The result of this delineation is a failure to understand the scripture as a whole, an unfortunate assumption of the unrelatedness of the individual components of scripture, and a consequent inability to proclaim the whole Bible as being unified and relevant (48-51).

Greidanus begins his discussion by defining source criticism (which is concerned with the original written sources) and form criticism (which is concerned with the development of literary form, structure, intention, and setting) (51-53).  He argues that source criticism is useful in terms of the insights it affords the preacher into the historical underpinnings of a text.  However, the preacher should beware of allowing its speculative nature to sway him over to conjecture at the expense of proclamation (52).

In his handling of form criticism, Greidanus points to the unfortunately atomistic and piecemeal approach to the bible that form critics often take (53-54).  Also, form criticism lends itself to conjecture as well as it seeks to establish a text’s prehistory (53).  Form criticism is nonetheless important, says Greidanus, in that it gives us greater insight into the development and forms of a text.  However, he rightly notes that a preacher’s job is to proclaim the Bible as it is, not to proclaim earlier forms of the text (54-55).

Greidanus next turns to redaction criticism.  Redaction criticism is concerned with the overall theme of individual books as opposed to a focus on subparts of those books.  It is concerned with the intentions of biblical authors.  Greidanus criticizes redaction criticism for its lack of focus on the Bible as a whole but notes some relative value in it as it allows the preacher to understand the characteristic proclamations of each of the biblical writers (55-57).

Next, Greidanus evaluates rhetorical criticism.  Rhetorical criticism seeks to understand what the biblical author is trying to say in his composition of the form of his writing.  As such, rhetorical criticism approaches the text as an art form.  Furthermore, the rhetorical critic evaluates the rhetorical devices employed by an author in order to ascertain the text’s intended meaning (58-60).  It evaluates such phenomenon as repetition, chiasm, inclusio, and other devices as keys to understanding more fully the meaning of a text (61-63).  This is important to the preaching task as it provides the preacher with a more nuanced understanding of the author’s intention and meaning.  Furthermore, the variety of rhetorical devices used by an author offer the modern preacher unique opportunities not only to gain insight into the text but to communicate those insights more effectively.  Nonetheless, the preacher must make sure that he does not allow a search for rhetorical clues of deeper meanings to eclipse fundamental exegetical approaches to a text.  Also, the larger context of a rhetorical unit must not be neglected for a focus on its particular context (66-67).

Greidanus next extols the virtues of biblical theology.  He states that it still has merit today and that its strengths should be reevaluated.  In particular, biblical theology helps us uncover the overarching longitudinal themes of the whole Bible and not just the vertical themes of individual books or sections of books (69-70).  Furthermore, biblical theology contains an idea of progressive revelation whereby the revelation of God is seen as progressing from the Old to the New Testament.  This does not mean the Old Testament is not inspired or is unimportant.  On the contrary, biblical theology would tell us that we can understand the Bible as a whole and view the New Testament as a culminative criterion of identification for the canon as a unit (70-72).  Greidanus speaks very highly of biblical theology and its potential to make preachers view the Bible as a whole, formulate biblical themes, communicate biblical sermons, and come to appreciate the holistic character of scripture (72).

Finally, Greidanus speaks of the canonical approach of Brevard Childs.  In this approach, the Bible is interpreted in its final canonical form.  The reason for this emphasis on the final canonical form of the Bible is to be found in the canon’s normative status, the finality of its nature, and its importance as a channel for communicating the truth in the ongoing life of the Church (74-76).  Greidanus believes that a canonical approach to the scriptures will likewise help the preacher view the scriptures in holistic terms and communicate the relevance of the contents of scripture (76-77).

Greidanus’s purpose in commenting on these various devices within literary interpretation is not only to point out the strengths and weaknesses of each position, but also to argue in the end for an integrated approach by which the positive application of all of these criticisms will assist the interpreter in reaching what will truly be considered a holistic understanding of the literary meaning of a text.  In this, Greidanus is to be commended.  Evangelicals have for too long focused on the abuses and potential problems of critical approaches to scripture.  Too many have posited instead a naive, one dimensional, superficial, and ultimately palsied reliance on their own ability to get a meaning to a text.  Against this type of interpretative superficiality, Greidanus proposes a healthy interaction with these criticisms.

The modern preacher will be aided tremendously by the careful application of these different subsets of the literary critical approach to scripture.  His own understanding will be broadened and enriched.  A fuller comprehension of the meaning of the author will ensue and a greater appreciation of the beauty, richness, and complexity of the Bible will be the result.  Thus, the preacher will be able to communicate and reveal this beauty, richness, and complexity to his people as well.  It is also not naive to assert that bringing a congregation into a direct encounter with beauty and richness where they expect only to find sterility and confusion will have the added result of creating in their minds a renewed desire to encounter the scriptures for themselves.

In chapter 4, Greidanus discusses historical interpretation.  Historical interpretation concerns itself with the original historical situation surrounding the composition of a text.  It is important insofar as it informs the interpreter and thereby provides him or her a more effective framework by which to approach the interpretative task.  Also, it guards against an unwarranted subjective approach to interpretation by grounding the text in space, time, and a historical setting (80-82).

Greidanus highlights the past temporal, unverifiable, multidimensional, ambiguous, and inherently meaningful nature of history in order to show the complexities of the subject itself (83-87).  He asserts that the Bible contains “history writing” as opposed to “history”.  That is, the Bible offers us “literature about history” (86).  Biblical history, for instance, contains prophetic interpretations.  This means that biblical history is more concerned with the theocentric dimension behind historical acts than it is with the recounting of cold facts (87-88).  The Christian views these biblical historical interpretations as authoritative because they are inspired by God (88).  Furthermore, it must be kept in mind that biblical writers did not adhere to or even know of twenty-first century historical standards.  Thus, to expect them to read like twenty-first century histories is untenable.  They must be accepted in light of the general historical standards prevalent at the time of their writing (88-90).  Lastly, the biblical writers had a purpose other than the relaying of chronological events.  They had theological intentions in mind when they wrote.  An acknowledgment of this fact will help the reader greatly in the art of interpretation.

None of this is to say that historical reliability was unimportant to the biblical writers.  The above criteria for biblical history must not be understood as forming an antithesis to historical reliability.  The scriptures must be understood to be historically reliable, though a microscopic examination of the historicity of minutia in the biblical text is unwarranted and unfruitful.  Nonetheless, the veracity and viability of the interpretation and communication of the events of scripture rises or falls with the historicity of those events (91-92).  In this regard, Greidanus stands firmly against the postmodern minimizing of the importance of historical realities though he does caution the interpreter to focus more on the biblical prophetic interpretation of an event than on the question of the historicity of the event itself (94).

Apart from these particular considerations of the nature of biblical history, Greidanus stresses the importance of realizing the overarching nature of the Bible’s view of history itself.  He notes that the Bible presents a universal history of the world from its inception to the final culmination of the ages.  This is called kingdom history due to the fact that the overarching historical vision of the Old and New Testaments is the kingdom of God (97).  Greidanus identifies the major theme of kingdom history in terms of “Creation-Fall-Redemption” (98).  This vision of history has been largely lost or rejected and needs to be regained for today (94-96).

The interpretative implications of kingdom history are substantial.  The interpreter who accepts this historical construct will not deal with scripture or portions of scripture as if they abide in an a-historical vacuum.  Rather, the scripture itself as well as what it reveals will be evaluated in terms of the “grand sweep of kingdom history” (100).  Interpretations can therefore be evaluated in the light of their place in and relationship to the overall flow of kingdom history.  Furthermore, the preacher’s sermon will begin to be communicated in kingdom historical terms.  Passages will not be relegated merely to the here and now, but the enormous implications of the text’s standing in and relationship to kingdom history will be brought to bear on the interpretative proclamation as well.  Furthermore, this will further reinforce a holistic interpretative approach.

Greidanus’s treatment of historical interpretation is particularly helpful to today’s preacher.  To begin with, an awareness of the complexities and nuances of biblical history (as well as history itself) will help shape and form the preacher’s interpretation and communication of the text.  Spending agonizing amounts of time on attempts to harmonize fairly inconsequential details will be seen to be the unfruitful exercise that it is.  More importantly, false interpretations deriving from a faulty or incomplete understanding of the nature of biblical history will be avoided.  In its place, a holistic interpretation informed by a proper understanding of biblical history will be brought to the congregation.  They will then be shown the nature of this history and will be better equipped to avoid interpretative fallacies as well.

Greidanus’s discussion of historicity is crucial.  The assumption that the actuality of the events spoken of in the text is not important has been subconsciously embraced by many in our churches.  This assumption is a product of an existentialistic postmodernity that revels in uncertainty.  Greidanus’s assertion that it is crucial that the events of scripture actually happened is correct and should be integrated in the interpretative and homiletical task in an appropriate fashion.  This appropriate fashion will entail stressing the historicity of the event while not becoming sidetracked with an overemphasis on the verification of unimportant historical details.

A theological interpretation of scripture is concerned with the question of what God is saying in a text.  This interpretation is ideally included in literary and historical interpretation if rightly done.  Greidanus deems “unfortunate” the dichotomy that has been drawn between theological interpretation and these “scientific” interpretations (103).  He argues that the application of literary and historical interpretative techniques alone will lead to an incomplete understanding of what is, essentially, a theological book (104).  Instead of this division, Greidanus argues for a holistic and integrated approach to the scripture which includes literary, historical, and theological elements.  In so doing, Greidanus is mirroring in a fashion Watson’s concern in Text and Truth.

Greidanus sees the impetus for a theological interpretation as residing in a number of facts.  To begin with, he points to the Bible as God’s word (104).  If this is indeed the case, as Evangelicals believe, then a theological interpretation is warranted on the basis of the very nature of scripture.  Second, a theological interpretation is needed since the Church looks to the scriptures “as its standard of faith and practice” (105).  Lastly, the Bible is a book of faith and it is therefore important to approach it with an evaluation of its theological message and one’s own faith content (105-106).

In another attempt to combat interpretative subjectivism, Greidanus advocates determining the author’s purpose.  This will help immensely in the task of understanding where a biblical writer is headed and why.  Furthermore, Greidanus argues that the identification of authorial intent will also help guard the preacher against imposing foreign meanings upon the text (106-107).  He acknowledges that the identification of an author’s intent can be difficult, but he nonetheless rejects the view that meaning is found in the text, not the author, and that authorial content is therefore largely irrelevant.  Greidanus’s rejection of this view is predicated upon his belief that authorial intent can be determined from an examination of the text and serves as the best foundation on which to base an interpretation (108-109).

Greidanus next advocates an identification of the wider purpose of a text.  This he calls “God’s purpose” (111).  To this end he advocates identifying the sensus plenior of a text.  This fuller meaning must, however, derive from the explicit meaning and be informed and, if necessary, qualified and refined  by other revelation (analogia Scriptura).  These parameters that are placed around sensus plenior are done so in recognition of the great potential to use this concept as a justification of eisegetical impositions on the text (113).  The ultimate goal of such an evaluation is the establishment of a “theocentric interpretation” and the rejection of an “anthropocentric interpretation” (114,116-118).  This is in keeping with Greidanus’s contention that scripture has a “God-centered focus” and that the whole canon speaks of and points to Him (114-115).

The great danger for preachers is to disregard the theocentric character of the canon in favor of an anthropocentric approach.  In this approach, moral or ethical lessons are derived from scripture.  God is not so much proclaimed as the central character of the Bible as He is allowed to lurk in the shadows as an occasional reference point.  This theocentric approach to scripture finds its fulfillment, Greidanus argues, in a Christocentric emphasis in interpretation and proclamation (118).  Here, he proposes allowing the New Testament to inform our approach to the Old Testament (119).  Furthermore, the testaments should be brought into interaction with one another in the task of interpretation and proclamation.  Greidanus contends that this interaction consists not initially of a movement from the Old Testament to the New Testament, but rather from the New Testament to the Old Testament (119).  Thus, our interpretation of the Old Testament is informed by our understanding of the New Testament, and, particularly, by the Christ to whom all scripture points.

I believe that Greidanus has done a good job of effectively establishing the need for the preacher as well as any interpreter to have a theological interpretation as well.  He is correct in his assertion that the divorcing of this approach from the perceived scientific approaches (i.e., literary and historical) has led to something of a hermeneutical and homiletical tragedy.  Not only has a dimension of interpretation been neglected, but the dimension of interpretation has been neglected.  Certainly the crucial question for any interpretation  is the question of meaning and purpose.  “What does this mean,” is incomplete if not followed by, “What is the purpose of this meaning?”  A theological interpretation of scripture reveals to us its purpose.  Greidanus wisely finds this purpose in authorial intention.  I agree with him in this but do believe that Erickson’s qualifications and clarifications of this concept as presented in Evangelical Interpretation need to be brought into the process of determining authorial intent.

Greidanus’s theocentric and Christocentric concept of scripture is of immanent importance to any who would interpret or proclaim the Bible.  If interpretation is seen as a journey, then knowledge of the destination will serve as an important guide not only in the evaluation of all proposed destinations but also of the journey as well.  Thus, one’s concept of the ultimate end or goal or destination of biblical assertions will be in many ways the most important component of the interpretative task.  Greidanus proclaims that destination to be the glorification of God in Christ.  I added my hearty assent to this proposal.

It is significant that Greidanus asserts the implications of a theological interpretation on preachers and preaching today in the end of this chapter (120-121).  His doing so is reflective of the reality that the primary task of the preacher is to proclaim God’s word and point the people through that proclamation to God.  This means, obviously, that a fallacy in a preacher’s approach to the theological interpretation of a text will necessarily mean a fallacy in the intention and goal of his proclamation on the basis of that text.  To this end, an emphasis on the need for preachers to create a functional, theological, interpretative approach is more than admirable.

Greidanus next moves into a discussion of preaching by questioning the assumption that “textual preaching” and “thematic preaching” are mutually exclusive forms of exposition.  He proposes instead a model of “textual-thematic preaching.”  In this model, “the theme of the sermon is rooted in the text” (122).

Greidanus defines “textual preaching” as preaching that is rooted in and preaches on the basis of a text of scripture.  He argues for the necessity of having a preaching text on the basis of the authority that the text will grant the sermon.  In addition to this, a text will serve as a guide for a preacher and will put parameters around his homiletical endeavors.  Furthermore, by preaching a text the congregation is given the capability and possibility of weighing the sermon against the textual objective criterion (123-124).  Greidanus proposes that the choosing of a text take into consideration the church’s needs, the preacher’s predilection, the significance of the text to biblical revelation, and the text’s standing as a literary unit, whether this unit be long or short (124-128).

In arguing for “textual-thematic preaching,” Greidanus approvingly quotes Miller’s belief that each sermon should have a single theme.  Greidanus defines a theme as “a summary statement of the unifying thought of the text” (134).  Various subpoints may speak to that theme, but they must not serve as points of deviation from it.  This adherence to the principle of a single theme is, in my opinion, extremely important and should be recognized as fundamental to the preaching task (131).  The theme of the sermon should be the theme of the text.  Greidanus argues that not every verse has a theme, but every literary unit of scripture, on which, by definition, “textual-thematic preaching” is based, does (132).  It is important that the search for a theme does not lead to a distortion of the text.  Greidanus further believes that the implementation and use of rhetorical criticism, especially the use of repetition, may aid the preacher in coming to identify a text’s theme (133-134).

In continuing to construct a foundation for “textual-thematic preaching,” Greidanus calls for the preacher to formulate the theme as an assertion.  This assertion should grow out of the very nature of biblical texts which, by definition, are texts with a message (134).  Furthermore, when attempting to identify and formulate a theme, the author’s viewpoint should take precedence over any other characters’ viewpoints in the text (135).  This will help keep the theme in context.

Next, the theme of the sermon is to be formulated (136-137).  The sermon’s theme is born out of the text’s theme.  The sermon theme keeps the sermon “on track,” helps it to maintain unity, gives a sense of movement to the sermon, and assists in the application of the sermon (139-140).  The theme of the text is the foundation for the sermon its theme.  Greidanus next proposes that the preacher never overemphasize the text theme to the exclusion of the sermon theme or the sermon theme to the exclusion of the text them.  This proposal is meant to ground the sermon simultaneously in the “then and now,” and to guard against the sermon becoming a history lesson with no application on the one hand or a talk to modern people with no application to the text on the other (137).

In proposing “textual-thematic preaching,” Greidanus has done the modern preacher a great service.  Many preachers feel or sense or type of “either/or” tension regarding text and theme.  Some use the text as a mere springboard to develop their theme.  Others are wedded to the text alone and make no thematic proclamations or applications.  As such, their sermons become microscopic examinations of passages of scripture.  This is done in an attempt to remain truly biblical in preaching.

Against these two fallacies stands Greidanus’s fascinating concept of “textual-thematic preaching.”  It is thoroughly biblical in its inception, execution, scope, and goal, yet it places a high emphasis on current thematic implication.  What is more, this model provides room for creativity in the preaching task.

Undoubtedly, the defining of a textual theme and sermonic theme will require a change in much popular sermonizing.  It will in mine.  I believe it will cause me and any who seek to adhere to its tenets to be more cautious and deliberate in the construction of sermons.  However, his will prove ultimately very fruitful and will serve as an extremely helpful model in the forming and delivering of sermons.

Greidanus next turns his attention to the issue of form.  He rightly argues that form may either help or hinder a sermon.  Furthermore, a sermon should have as its goal to bring the people into the same experience that is arrived at through a reading of the text in its form (141).  This will necessarily involving not only an evaluation of the form of the text, but also an evaluation of the form of the sermon.  Form’s importance is found in the fact that, among other things, it ushers the audience along to a response, affects the hearers’ expectations for the sermon, keeps the people’s interest, and “shapes the hearers’ attitudes” (141-142).

Greidanus mentions the strengths of deductive and inductive preaching and then moves to an evaluation of didactic preaching.  Deductive preaching is the most popular form.  It begins by stating a theme and then interacting with that theme in particular ways throughout the sermon.  Inductive preaching, advocated by Fred Craddock, begins with particulars and moves towards a statement of the general theme.  This form of preaching is effective with narratives and, according to Haddon Robinson, helps create “a sense of discovery in listeners” (143-144).

In his treatment of didactic preaching, Greidanus notes that it is thoroughly biblical and lends itself well to an easy-to-follow structure that follows and comments upon the text.  However, many feel that didactic preaching relies too much on structured points.  Furthermore, the desire to fit a text into a didactic structure may actually lead to a distortion of that text and often leads the preacher to neglect the form of the text and its potential implications upon the sermon (146-147).

Greidanus next turns to narrative preaching.  This form of preaching delivers the sermon in the form of a story.  It is claimed that this is the most effective way to communicate, if not the whole Bible, then certainly narrative passages (148).  A narrative preaching of a narrative text would bring out the particular importance of that biblical form to the congregation.  Also, the narrative form is dynamic and maintains movement.  Third, the narrative form importantly utilizes the imagination of the audience in their hearing of the sermon. (151).

That being said, however, it must also be recognized that the narrative form is not appropriate for the preaching of all biblical forms.  Second, the narrative form lends itself to an isolation from the overall flow of biblical truth.  The preacher must take serious precautions against this.  Also, by its indirect nature, the narrative form may not be communicating as clearly and forthrightly as, say, the didactic form would (152-154).

Finally, Greidanus considers textual forms.  He reiterates that sermons should seek to follow the form of the text unless there is some legitimate reason to alter it.  This means that neither didactic nor narrative forms will ever be adhered to exclusively.  The sermonic form should be largely determined by the form of the text.  Thus, Greidanus calls for a consideration of “textual forms” (154).

One of Greidanus’s strengths in his discussion of the forms of sermons is his moderation. He lists the relative strengths and weaknesses of didactic and narrative forms and then calls for a level of flexibility on the part of the preacher.  He very wisely locates the need for this flexibility in an acknowledgment of the textual varieties of scripture.  The point is well made.  What would be the use of slavish devotion to one form or another if the Bible itself is not slavishly married to one form.

Preachers will greatly benefit from this concept of choosing our sermon form on the basis of the textual form.  This is, quite frankly, a revolutionary thought to me.  Have spent my entire life beneath didactic teaching I find that moving away from it is difficult to do.  Nonetheless, honesty and a desire to effectively communicate scripture should cause me to set aside my preferences, or, more precisely, my comfort zone, and step out into preaching forms that will be more faithful to the form of the text itself.

Without a doubt, the desire to make the sermon relevant is one of the greatest desires of a preacher.  Greidanus helpfully points out that the preachers’ task is not to make the Bible relevant.  The Bible is already relevant and, if it was not, it is doubtful that preachers would be able to make it so.  Instead, the preacher’s job is to show the relevance of the Bible.  Part of this process is choosing a passage of scripture that will be relevant to the audience (158).  The great challenge of making the sermon relevant, of course, is the wide distance of the cultural makeup of our world from the world of scripture.

Greidanus outlines a number of inappropriate attempts at being relevant.  Allegory is inappropriate for a variety of hermeneutical reasons (159-160).  Spiritualizing a text is also deficient as it almost always deemphasizes or ignores the historical reality behind that text (160-161).  There is also a problem in pointing to biblical figures as examples or models to be imitated.  Namely, this is not how the way in the Bible presents historical figures (161-163).  Greidanus also points to moralizing as a flawed attempt to be relevant.  This attempt plays to loose with the actual text and its intention (163-166).

Greidanus turns next to a consideration of how to make the sermon relevant.  To begin with, the sermon must stay closely wedded to the text (166).  The desire to step away from the original message in order to assert some point of relevance must be resisted.  The intention of the passage in its entirety must be asserted throughout.

In order to arrive at relevancy, Greidanus asserts that the original message of the text must be evaluated in a number of ways.  First of all, the principle of progressive revelation would dictate that a text’s meaning be evaluated and affirmed in light of the whole Bible’s witness (167-168).  Second, the message must be evaluated in terms of the text’s standing in kingdom history.  Third, the cultural changes between the culture surrounding the events of the text and our own must be taken into account (168-169).

There are, however, some points of continuity that Greidanus points to as well.  The immutability of God serves as an obvious and all important point of continuity between the biblical culture and ours (169-170).  A strong recognition of this fact will aid the preacher tremendously in thinking through the implications of a text for today.  Second, the covenantal aspect of God’s relationship with His people is a point of continuity.  This means that when God addresses His covenant people three thousand years ago, He likewise addresses His covenant people today (171-173).

Another key to establishing the relevance of a passage for today is ascertaining the goal of the original text.  Why, in other words, was it written?  Greidanus contends that establishing this goal is the first half of the journey towards relevancy.  The second is finding a point of contact whereby that goal is applied to a modern audience (173).  This can be achieved through defining modern parallels to the specific situations surrounding the original text as well as delineating the principles of the text (173-174).

Greidanus finally proposes that the preacher consider the specific concrete needs of his people, address the whole person, use dialogue, and use concrete, vivid language (184-186).  Addressing the needs of individuals will serve to draw them into the sermon and will establish relevancy (184).  Addressing the whole person means speaking to the person’s intellect, will and emotions (184-185).  This will be difficult for preachers who prefer a certain style of application or who respond well themselves to certain styles.  Regardless, if the goal is to communicate God effectively, comfort zones will have to be left behind.  The concept of using dialogue is particularly helpful as well.  Greidanus is not calling here for verbal dialogue as much as for a an awareness of how the audience will respond to the message throughout its delivery (185).  This will add a new dimension to preaching that is too often presented as a monologue.  Finally, the idea of vivid language is more than crucial in a day and age when people’s attention spans have already been reduced in length.  There is simply no excuse for the preacher to employ dull and uninspired language.

I was particularly moved by Greidanus’s discussion of relevance.  I realize that I have often resorted to bad or ineffectual methods in an attempt to relate.  The most striking thought that Greidanus verbalizes in this section was the idea that it is not the preacher’s job to bring relevance to the text but rather to show the inherent relevance of the text.  This humbled me greatly.  It caused me to realize that there is something prideful and arrogant in the assumption that it is up to the preacher to make a “boring” Bible relevant.  Greidanus’s perspective makes all of the difference in the world.  It informs the preacher that he is a communicator of relevance, not a creator of it.  The power and creativity of God’s word stands alone without human aid.  Preachers are merely given the great honor of pointing people to it.

In The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, Sidney Greidanus offers a thorough, provocative, and careful analysis of the major issues leading up to the preaching task.  He calls for creativity and freshness in the pulpit, but, most importantly, he calls for a radical faithfulness to the written word of God.  In a day of faddish sermonizing and a-biblical pontifications, this is very refreshing.  This is a tremendous book.

Graeme Goldsworthy’s Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture

In Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Graeme Goldsworthy is concerned primarily with a return to a Christocentric understanding of the whole Bible.  He feels that this understanding will ensue with the recovery of biblical theology and a renewed understanding of salvation history.  He argues that the scriptures must be read within the context of these two frameworks and that, subsequently, our preaching must reflect their influence as well.

In many ways, Goldsworthy’s concerns are imminently practical and pastoral.  They arise out of a conviction concerning the popular misunderstanding of the nature and place of the Old Testament within the greater framework of scripture as well as a crucial misunderstanding of the nature of the gospel and its relationship to the greater framework of scripture.  These misunderstandings have manifested themselves not only in the presuppositions of the laity, but, more tragically, in shallow homiletic moralizings of the Old Testament as well as the New which divorce the ethical mandates of the scriptures from the framework of the gospel and thereby reduce them to legalistic pieties.  As such, the modern Evangelical neglect of salvation history and biblical theology has resulted in preaching that is focused on man and his own efforts at self-reformation.

Goldsworthy’s theological foundation upon which he builds his argument is the assertion that Christ is the center not only of the scriptures, but of theology itself (33).  This means that all of our theological pronouncements as well as our expositions of scripture must point to and be grounded in the gospel, not as a strained homiletic ploy but rather necessarily.  Specifically, he appeals to two scriptural concepts:  Paul’s assertion in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that he had “determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” and Jesus’ own attestation in passages such as John 2:39-40 and Luke 24:27 that all of the scriptures point to Himself (1, 21).  These two concepts reflect Goldsworthy’s two major concerns, the former dealing with the importance of the gospel in all of our preaching and the latter with biblical theology itself.

Before considering Goldsworthy’s remedy, it must be asked whether or not his diagnoses of the problem is sound.  His charge that the Evangelical church has either misunderstood the Old Testament, ignored it, reduced it to mere character studies or pietistic moralizations, or all three, is the easiest to assess.  He is absolutely correct.  Perhaps he hits closest to the mark in trying to understand this when he points to the division of the studies of the testaments in our formal education structures as a possible reason why pastors and lay people alike seem to have such confusion over the nature and place of the Old Testament (xii).  It is truly not surprising that such misunderstandings persist when Christian ministers quite likely go through college, seminary, and beyond studying the testaments in different classes, and possibly in different semesters or years with little or no conversations in either class about how they relate.  His assertions are also verified by the day by day experiences of any pastor who frequently encounters lay, and even personal, confusion over this crucial matter.

Directly related to this is the charge that Evangelicals have neglected biblical theology (32).  He is also correct in this assertion.  Perhaps formal education shares some of the blame in this as well.  More likely, however, the Church is caught in a cycle.  It is producing what it teaches.  Evangelicals are inundated by calls to be “New Testament Christians,” preaching that largely neglects the Old Testament or uses it, as Goldsworthy laments, for teaching only moral lessons, and Sunday School and Bible study literature that does not itself integrate a truly biblical theology in its presentation of the scriptures.

The charge concerning the Evangelical neglect of salvation history is also true.  It must be argued, in the North American Evangelical context, that the mass and often blind acceptance of dispensationalism has and is contributing to this problem.  There seems to be an assumption that the gospel was God’s “Plan B,” once the children of Israel rejected the “Plan A” offer of salvation through adherence to the Mosaic law, or that Christ was sent in and for a particular dispensation as opposed to all of them.  Furthermore, the radical distinctions drawn between Israel and the Church in dispensationalism lend themselves to the erroneous assumption that God is dealing in some sense with two different groups of people in almost two different ways.  It could be argued that classical dispensationalism is not inherently opposed to salvation history.  This is true.  However, the popular dissemination of dispensationalism has resulted in these assumptions.  Regardless, the problem is certainly not germane to and, in fact, expands well outside the borders of any particular school of prophecy.

Goldsworthy hits upon a crucial point later in his work in noting that the Evangelical aversion to salvation history is merely symptomatic of a larger aversion to history itself (72).  That is, coming to see how God’s works through history have typified and culminated in Christ’s coming would require a study and appreciation of history.  Goldsworthy rightly assesses that such a study is not in vogue in churches which are fixated primarily on bringing its members into an existentialist experience with Christ through the moment of “decision.”  We might say, then, that the Evangelical neglect of salvation history is part of the larger issue of the neglect of the mind in many churches.

Later, Goldsworthy offers a proposal for a Christian education plan that will responsibly teach the people the fundamental truths of salvation history and biblical theology (129).  He also offers a proposed outline of biblical history that will help people understand the basic movements of biblical history (101).  This is not only admirable, it is important.  Goldsworthy is correct in his apparent belief that it is not enough for the pastor alone to understand biblical theology.  The challenge is to bring the people to the point where they will understand how to correctly understand the scriptures themselves.   The great challenge will be in trying to communicate the verities of biblical theology and church history in a church climate in which little is expected on the parts of the parishioners.

What, then, of Goldsworthy’s proposed solution?  To begin with, his call for a return to biblical theology and, more generally, to a hermeneutic which sees the reality of Christ and the gospels in all that the scriptures teach and point to, is sound primarily because it is itself scriptural.  As mentioned above, Christ did Himself claim that all of the scriptures point to Himself and Paul did, in fact, assert that all proclamation ought to be of “Christ and Him crucified.”  Thus, Goldsworthy is not grasping at straws or proposing a merely academic solution to the problem.  It is founded in the scriptures.  Furthermore, whatever disagreements might exist about the interpretation of these passages and their implications on biblical theology, it must be agreed that the modern Church, by in large, is not adhering to what Paul and Christ both say.  The Old Testament is frequently expounded upon with no reference to the gospel, and preaching has been reduced to the dissemination of pithy maxims.

Thus, the crucial issue concerning the validity of biblical theology is that Christ Himself believed in it.  Goldsworthy is right in this regard (48).  Furthermore, he is right in believing that Christ understood His coming and work and nature to be the consummation of God’s plan of salvation.  That is, Christ believed in what we have come to call “salvation history” (51).  Goldsworthy makes his argument primarily on the basis of the tremendous focus on “the kingdom of God” in the New Testament and on Christ’s fulfillment of it.  “The kingdom of God,” argues Goldsworthy, is the rightful theme of the entire Bible and Christ’s proclamation concerning its arrival in His coming would have been understood by His Jewish audience to have been a “salvation historical” statement (52).  We are right to heed Goldsworthy’s warning about trying to find in the New Testament or Jesus a precise articulation of our own theological systems, but we are also right to claim that God’s mighty works throughout history have reached their apex in Christ and that, most importantly, Christ Himself acknowledged this fact.

Goldsworthy’s movements are methodical and logical.  Once he has grounded both biblical theology and salvation history in the scriptures themselves, he develops a thoroughly biblical justification for suggesting that preaching that does not proclaim Christ in all of the scriptures and point to Him as the fulfillment of God’s works from Genesis onward stands in violation of the biblical pattern and spirit of proclamation.  It stands to reason that the only way of refuting Goldsworthy’s central argument is to attack its hermeneutical underpinnings.  These underpinnings, however, are well argued and firmly grounded in the biblical text.

When he moves to the specifics of how to read the Bible from the perspective of biblical theology and the vantage point of salvation history, Goldsworthy rather surprisingly argues for the restoration of typology as a valid hermeneutical construct.  This is surprising because there does seem to be fairly widespread uneasiness about typology in many Evangelical circles.  Goldsworthy knows this and realizes that this uneasiness is a result of the frequent abuses of typology that denigrate into allegory (76-77).  Therefore, he more than once addresses the topic and the proper uses of it.  Interestingly, he argues for a “macro-typology” which seems to simply be a recognition of the overall movement of salvation history in the Bible which is affirmed by the New Testament’s use of the Old (111).

In truth, Goldsworthy’s treatment of typology is refreshing insofar as it is a well-reasoned attempt at turning back what is perhaps an undue skepticism in some quarters concerning its validity.  The strength of his argument is in the idea that typology is a natural and organic implication of salvation history itself.  If all of salvation history points to, leads to, and finds its fulfillment in Christ, then all of its events must rightfully point to Him.  The key, here, is not to force a connection between the Old Testament event and Christ or to allow interpretation of the Old Testament to decay into an eisegetical allegoricalism which pours meaning into details which are not germane to the text.

Goldsworthy turns next to the main movements of salvation history.  He proposes that there are three:  from creation to Abraham, Abraham to the first part of the reign of Solomon, and Solomon to Christ.  He finds the foundation of this structure within the Matthean genealogy (89). He further argues that salvation history advances through the history of Israel even when the society of Israel declines (107).  It does so through types: in the movement from Abraham to Solomon through Israel’s history, and in the movement from Solomon to Christ through the voice of the prophets.  Christ and the new creation stand as the antitype to which all of the preceding types point (139).  Goldsworthy next moves, most helpfully, through a consideration of how to preach from all of the major divisions of the Bible as they relate to and stand within the major movements of salvation history.

The implications of Goldsworthy’s proposal are tremendous.  First of all, by arguing that we must first see how and where the text we are approaching stands within the movement of salvation history and what their biblical theological implications are, he is arguing that all preaching is gospel preaching just as all of the scriptures point to Christ.  Thus, Goldsworthy concludes, there can be no direct application of a text to modern hearers without recourse to the gospel to which it stands in direct relationship (117).  To do so would be to introduce a new legalism into the church, for the teaching of the ethical mandates of scripture outside of the context of the gospel implies that the gospel is nothing more than a mere starting point after which we may pursue the difficult business of living.

Goldsworthy’s arguments in this regard are not only compelling, but convicting.  His frequently-stated claim that there is an inherent danger in preaching the ethical mandates of an epistle without a frequent and consistent assertion of the gospel framework in which they stand must be heard by modern Evangelical preachers, especially those preaching “through” certain books.  Furthermore, it has direct bearing on preaching about ethical issues on the basis of these portions of scripture alone.  Goldsworthy’s arguments suggest the compelling notion that the household codes of Ephesians 6, for instance, cannot be proclaimed without the theological gospel foundation of Ephesians 1.  The question seems to be one of how to articulate and re-articulate this gospel foundation throughout a series in a natural way.  Perhaps the answer to this lies not so much in the employment of specific hermeneutical means as much as in the creation of an overall homiletic climate in which the pervasiveness of the gospel and the schema of salvation history is established as an a priori to all proclamation.  This is not to suggest that we reach a point where we try to create the assumption of a gospel foundation in our people.  Clearly, any text’s standing within the framework of salvation history must be asserted again and again.  But it is to be hoped that the theme of salvation history might in time come to be naturally used and heard through a consistent pattern of preaching in this way.

There are also implications in Goldsworthy’s proposals for evangelism.  He rather movingly points to these himself when he notes that many modern evangelistic tactics do not appear to appreciate the power of the gospel insofar as they seem to strive for a decision rather than to allow the gospel message to convict (95).  Goldsworthy is correct that it is the gospel itself, not our emphasis on a person’s need to respond to it, that convicts.  This is crucial, for Goldsworthy’s high view of the power of the gospel stands in direct contrast to the man-centered philosophy which has come to dominate the Church and which is itself a product of the wider shift in the Church from theology to anthropology.

Goldsworthy’s survey of how the preacher might choose to approach the various genres of biblical literature bears the mark of consistency in its application of the principles he espouses up to that point.  His divisions of these texts suggest that preachers must understand the characteristics of these various genres if they are to understand the texts’ place within salvation history and biblical theology and especially if they are to effectively communicate it (137).   He suggests that preachers intentionally plan to preach from these areas with an eye towards leading the people to understand how each text relates to the theology of the book as well as biblical theology in general.  He proposes that the minister lead his people to ask, “How does this event (or character) testify to Christ?” (151).  He then shows how this might be done.

The strength of Goldsworthy’s proposals concerning the examples he gives is not only that their consistency to the framework which he suggests rests at the heart of all true interpretation, but also in his humble approach to these texts.  Quite often, as in his treatment of Ecclesiastes or the Song of Solomon, he suggests that a book’s place within salvation history is not always readily apparent (190-191).  This is yet another example of how preachers are going to have to rise to the occasion and be willing and able to grapple with the text in an effort to understand it.

One of the strength’s of Goldsworthy’s propositions is that it challenges preachers to know more and delve deeper than a mere surface reading and, most tragically, a mere surface preaching of a text.  Goldsworthy suggests throughout that not only preaching, but reading the Bible, is going to require greater care than is often times given to these acts.  One wonders if preachers who preach within church settings in which congregations are used to brief, moralistic sermons will be convicted enough to go about the further study required for a truly effective reading and proclaiming of the text.  It is to be hoped that preachers will be, for nothing less than an accurate proclamation of the gospel is at stake.

Goldsworthy’s discussion of prophetic literature and preachers’ uses of it is more than pertinent today.  Our modern church context presents ministers with serious temptations to try to interpret prophecies as applicable to modern society in just the same way that they were applicable to Israel so many years ago.  Goldsworthy offers severe warnings about this and asks preachers to make sure their applications are valid.  Furthermore, he more generally warns ministers about falling into certain traps concerning preaching on prophecy, such as trying to find modern fulfillments for all of the prophecies of the Old Testament and the New (181-182).  He tellingly warns preachers about the temptation to become “second-coming gurus” (221).

It simply cannot be overstated that these warnings desperately need to be heard today.  In the aftermath of the momentous calendar change into the new millennium as well as the presence of best selling prophecy novels with staggering sales, it is abundantly clear that the Church wants desperately to find the fulfillments of all the details of prophecy in our current setting.  Furthermore, many within the Church are titillated by the more exotic pictures within prophetic and apocalyptic literature and are not afraid to ask the minister to preach on them.  Goldsworthy’s proposals concerning the reading, understanding, and proclamation of scripture mean that ministers must be willing to keep Christ and the text’s relationship to Him as preeminent.  It seems as if the great temptation concerning preaching on prophetic and apocalyptic texts is to preach with the goal in mind of satiating the people’s curiosity.  This should never happen.  If all of the scriptures are about Christ, this means that prophetic and apocalyptic texts must proclaim Him as well.

It is more than evident that Goldsworthy has adequately pinpointed and diagnosed the problem behind much contemporary preaching.  The problem is not that ministers are not sufficiently trained or that our pulpits have too many unskilled ministers.  Rather, the problem of shallow, ineffectual, and legalistic preaching is a result of a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the scriptures themselves.  Goldsworthy’s call for a renewed understanding of biblical theology and the place of the scriptures within salvation history should be heeded by the Church.  For if it is, then Christ will once more be proclaimed as the head of His body and our parishioners will be freed from the delusion that adherence to the ethical teachings of the scripture, independent of the gospel, will usher us into the kingdom.  Furthermore, if his call is heeded, the gospel will be seen for what it truly is:  the thread that runs throughout the entire scriptures, the proper subject of all proclamation, and the hope of God’s people not only since the incarnation, but in the past ages as well.

Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry

It is difficult to remember, when reading Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry, that this work was first published over one hundred and seventy years ago.  Bridges’ book is something of a compendium on a variety of topics related to the ministry.  It is marked by careful theological reflection as well as evidence that Bridges learned the lessons he teaches through much practical experience.

It would be an understatement to suggest that Bridges has a “high view” of pastoral ministry.  He lists the Christian ministry as one of “three grand repositories” of God’s truth, the other two being the Bible, and “the hearts of Christians” (2).  Furthermore, he argues that the office of pastor carries with it a dignity of essence that should be reflected in the lives of its members (6).

The importance of Bridges’ foundational comments concerning the pastoral ministry rests in the fact that there are more than a few subtle as well as explicit influences seeking to attack the office of the ministry both outside and inside today’s Church.  Perhaps the most scandalous of these attacks comes from preachers themselves.  In a modern Church context in which relevancy is seen as the apex of pastoral ministry, ministers face an almost constant temptation to remove any so-called distances between themselves and their parishioners in an effort not to be considered too haughty and to be “one of the people.”  While it is incumbent upon ministers to avoid haughtiness at all costs and to constantly guard their hearts from indolence and arrogance (as Bridges himself notes on page 81), it must be recognized that a desire to be among the people can at times express itself in ways that are damaging to the office of pastor, such as in excessive transparency concerning personal struggles or a deliberate downplaying of one’s convictions and knowledge on a subject.

Within the modern free church tradition, the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer has also been distorted in such a way as to undermine the importance of the pastoral office.  Many modern Protestants see this doctrine not as a tremendous blessing and, in a sense, burden which places a tremendous responsibility on all believers to be holy in their lives and knowledgeable in the Word, but rather as a foundation for undermining and, when they desire, simply ignoring the minister’s words on the basis of their own position as “priests.”  This is especially true in a largely democratic church context in which the members of the church know they can simply “vote the preacher out” if they do not care for him.  To this end, Bridges’ Anglican affiliation probably afforded him some degree of insulation from overt attacks upon the importance of the office, though certainly this was not entirely the case.

These realities, along with the tragic scandal heaped upon the ministry by public godlessness on the parts of ministers, have attacked the very foundation of the ministry.  Its importance and dignity are no longer assumed.  It can be argued that the restoration of the dignity of the pastorate is of essential importance to revival in the church.  It would seem, too, that the first step in this process is not a bemoaning of societal or congregational attacks upon the office, but rather a tending to wounds which have been self-inflicted due to a lack of integrity and spiritual earnestness on the parts of many ministers.  Regardless, Bridges’ words are just as pertinent today, if not more so, than when he penned them so many years ago.

Bridges’ discussion of suffering and the ministry must also be heeded by today’s minister.  He outlines a variety of ways in which ministers can be certain they will suffer:  from the church, the world, Satan, and ourselves (14-17).  Interestingly, he immediately follows this with a discussion of the sources of encouragement that the minister can draw upon in difficult times.  It is interesting to note more generally that much of Bridges’ entire book is devoted in some fashion to identifying, understanding, and overcoming difficulties.  Not only is much of Part I of the book dedicated to this topic, but the whole of Part II and Part III are as well.

The relevancy and importance of his discussion of suffering and encouragement can be clearly seen in the large number of seminary graduates who do not remain in the ministry, the horrendous percentage of divorces among couples involved in the ministry, and the influx of a materialistic mentality within the Church that suggests to young ministers that their lives should be ones of ease.  It would perhaps have been good for Bridges to not have waited so long to include his fascinating discussion of minister’s wives (169-173).  Ministers must consider the dangers and trials of the ministry not only in the choosing of a wife, but ministers’ wives must consider this as well.  In all, it is not an oversimplification to suggest that ministers and/or their wives are often entering the ministry largely unaware of the sometimes extreme emotional, psychological, spiritual, personal, and domestic tolls that are inflicted upon ministers and their families.  To this, Bridges’ quite moving discussion of trials, as well as of encouragement, offers a word that must be heeded.

It is also striking how contemporary Bridges’ discussion of the qualification of the ministry is to today’s Church (24-31).  More than a few men and women are entering the ministry because it is “in the family” or because they are fleeing some other responsibility.  Hand in hand with this fact is the problem of an ordination system in many Protestant churches which is completely devoid of true spiritual discernment concerning questions of whether or not a candidate should be ordained.  This was obviously a problem in Bridges’ age as well (93).  In other words, it seems as if entering the ministry has become too easy.  A return to Bridges’ emphasis on the marked qualifications of ministers would do young people contemplating the ministry, as well as churches and ordination councils contemplating their official endorsement of these young people, much good.

One of the more refreshing aspects of Bridges’ work is his high regard for formal education.  He highly commends “University study” and moves on to a discussion of the importance of knowing different fields of knowledge (35).  The very near future may prove that anti-intellectualism has migrated from excessively fundamentalist churches to the mainstream.  This already appears to be happening in the American Protestant church context.  The reason is probably none other than the influx of relativism, existentialistic spirituality, and subjectivist expressions of faith which have little use for such inconveniences as detailed study.  In this regard, Bridges’ high recommendation of formal education, words concerning avenues of study which will be beneficial to ministers, and warning concerning the danger of much knowledge, offer a much needed corrective and stand in stark contrast to the often commented upon “scandal of the Evangelical mind.”

One hundred and seventy years ago, Bridges lamented the lack of a high view of scripture among ministers and churches (58).  There is perhaps no word more sorely needed today than this.  Interestingly, the modern Church may be contributing somewhat to this dilemma by its often unguarded use of packaged study curricula.  These may, of course, be used to great benefit.  But it is difficult to reside and move in Evangelical circles without noticing that twelve week workbooks are almost eclipsing the scriptures.  In this sense, Bridges’ discussion of the right use of commentaries and study helps is also of great value (55-56).  Are today’s Christians being challenged to know the scriptures first?  The sometimes complete reliance of Sunday School and discipleship training programs upon secondary sources may be moving us to an answer of “No.”  This is tragic.  Bridges is more than correct in his arguments concerning the need for scripture to be the most important source of teaching in the Church.
The most moving section of Bridges’ book for a small church pastor is his discussion of success in ministry.  In particular, Bridges’ comments upon the occasional lack of “visible success” stand in stark contrast to the often-repeated idea that if a particular church is not growing, and growing fast, it is not doing anything right.  More than a few pastors of small and medium churches live under an almost incessant cloud of guilt and despair when confronted with this notion.

This is not to suggest that Bridges believed that the true work of the ministry will not result in “the work of success” (72).  In fact, he argues that God always blesses where His word is sown.  Rather, Bridges argues that visible success varies, that “symptoms of success are also frequently mistaken,” and that, occasionally, we must wait to see success (74-75).  Again, such ideas are too often left out of the latest church growth books.  In them, it is assumed that the right things done in the right ways will produce instant visible growth.  Fortunately, Bridges did not belong to the sound-byte, fast-food, pragmatic society of twenty-first century America, so he was perhaps better able to see the truth concerning the concept of success.

Yet, Bridges does suggest that the minister may be to blame for the lack of success in his ministry.  He does this in one of the more convicting sections of the book, “Causes of Ministerial Inefficiency Connected With Our Personal Character.”  In this section, Bridges considers a lack of devotion, worldliness, fear, a lack of “Christian self-denial,” greed, overworking, pride, a lack of personal spiritual conviction, the neglect of family, and a lack of faith as being predators of the ministry.  It was difficult to read this section without being drawn into a serious reflection on my own life.

One of the more powerful instances of Bridges’ understanding of that which renders ministries ineffective is his discussion of the occasional “want of entire devotedness of the heart to the Christian ministry” (106).  Here, he makes perhaps the most powerful statement of the entire book:  “We are to be labourers, not loiterers, in the Lord’s vineyard” (107).  This is important not only in the sense that ministry without accountability can become little more than a leeching off the resources of the Church with no real effort being exerted on the part of the minister, but more so because today’s minister faces the very real possibility of doing lots of work in the church, but very little ministry.  Ministers are daily besieged with administrative, staff, and office duties that carry with them the very real potential of distraction, and more than a few ministers labor every moment while neglecting their true call.  Misguided busyness is as much an example of loitering as abject slothfulness.  To this, Bridges’ impassioned appeal for ministers to be about the business of seeing souls come to Christ is most moving (111).

Also moving was Bridges’ discussion of the offense of the cross and the necessity for ministers not to sacrifice the word of the cross in favor of social acceptance (116-118).  This represents not only a personal indictment against individual accommodation to a dark age, but also a corporate rebuke of all Churches which have, in essence, removed the cross in an attempt to reach people where they are.  Ministers and churches alike face the temptation of removing the scandal of the cross from their discourse and lives.  It is no lapse into hyperbole to suggest that such is the work of Satan.  Bridges’ further exhortation concerning the fact that congregations will imitate their pastors, for good and ill, also should be heard today (121).

Bridges’ final two sections involve preaching and pastoring, which he sees as the two main duties of the minister.  His treatment of preaching is most helpful.  He does not delve into too many speculative areas, but rather offers something of the practical “meat and potatoes” of preaching.  A predominant theme throughout Bridges’ entire discussion of preaching is the necessity for preachers to speak with clarity and on a level that the people can understand.  Furthermore, he takes great pains to argue for a style of preaching that is sincere and convicting.  It can only be assumed that Bridges must have been reacting to the cold formalism in many pulpits of his day.

Bridges expressed concern over preachers who enter the pulpit unprepared, speak above their people, and do not stay on task (193, 199-201).  These issues all relate in some measure to preparedness.  The modern pastor who finds it difficult to make time for sermon preparation amidst the clamor of responsibilities calling for his attention would do well to consider Bridges’ words.  In many ways, he roots the importance of preaching in the importance of ministry in general.  We must speak in such a way and with such effectiveness that we can be heard.  It also seems important for churches to understand this as well.  Many churches are designed in such a way, and put such excessive expectations upon their pastors, that there would be absolutely no time for sermon preparation if they were to do half of what is expected.  Pastors must strive to tactfully communicate to their parishioners that the preparation of sermons is essential to their task and calling.

Bridges’ comments concerning prayer are especially helpful today.  There seems to be something of a revival in interest concerning prayer in Evangelical circles.  It is important to realize that this has always been a need for Christians in general and Christian communicators in particular.  Bridges saw prayer as the most important component of the sermon preparation.  Without prayer, all will be ineffectual (213).

One of the more interesting aspects of Bridges’ discussion of sermon preparation is his consideration of the preaching of the law.  This is important not only because it relates directly to the discussion of biblical theology, but also because Bridges’ discussion of it shows that the Church has been grappling with understanding the place of the law and, more generally, of the Old Testament, for some time.  It is also of interest that Bridges felt the topic important enough to deal with at some length.

Bridges argues that the preaching of the law is important insofar as it stands as part of the word of God.  He lists a number of benefits that the law offers to us today and rejects the notion that preaching on the law must necessarily be “legal preaching” (223-224).  For Bridges, the law still makes man aware of his sinfulness and thereby drives him to Christ.  In this sense, the presentation of law is essential to a proper presentation of the gospel.  It also offers good rules for righteous living.  Significantly, Bridges labels a wholesale neglect of the law as “antinomian” (225). He also attributes the lack of holiness in the lives of many believers with the Church’s neglect and misunderstanding of the use of the law (228).
One cannot help but feel that Bridges was reacting in many ways to what we might call “easy believism” or “cheap grace.”  The modern Church, too, has removed the sting of the law from its presentation of the gospel.  What it is left with is a form of grace that has been reduced to little more than a cure-all for the consciences of its members.  Without understanding the law, we cannot understand the glory of the cross and the holiness of God.  Bridges should be heard on this point, as he should be heard on most other points he raises in this book.

Bridges also laments for the Anglican church in the loss of many of its people to the dissenting groups because the gospel was not being preached sufficiently (245).  He warns against the gospel getting lost in doctrinal preaching that does not point to Christ, doctrine for its own sake, we might say (254).  Furthermore, in a most moving section of the book, Bridges argues that effective gospel preaching is always preaching that arises from a heart personally convicted concerning the truths of the gospel (262).  Gospel preaching is also to be practical and applicable to the lives of men.  Moralistic preaching that does not speak of Christ is to be rejected, as is purely abstract preaching that does not touch life (265-268).

Today’s churches, especially today’s Protestant churches, need to return to the high view of the gospel which Bridges obviously held.  Preaching in too many cases has been reduced to platitudes and mere lessons on morality.  The clamor for practical teaching has led to the false dichotomy of “practical” versus “doctrinal,” as if the two could be separated.  Bridges has done a masterful job of showing that the two are, in fact, wedded to one another when done correctly.  This means that his words confront the preacher who revels in abstract doctrines alone just as it confronts the preacher who has become little more than a therapist behind a pulpit.  The temptation to be “practical” must not be pursued to the exclusion of the true doctrines which lead to holiness.

In terms of how best to approach preaching, Bridges states that both topical and expository preaching are valid expressions of the proclaimed word, though he does seem to favor expository preaching a little more (284-286).  This tacit approval of topical preaching is actually somewhat surprising as it might be assumed that he would hold slavishly to expository preaching.  However, it must be noted that he does not define topical preaching in such a way as to justify preaching which is not closely wedded to the text.  In actuality, he felt that the two schemes should be joined in a “judicious mixture” (284).  In truth, it is clear that he felt true preaching to be, in all cases, biblical preaching.  Nonetheless, his acknowledgment of the potential uses of topical preaching shows some degree of variety and would perhaps offer something for those who hold slavishly and narrowly to expository preaching alone to consider.

As an aside, there is a wonderful example of doctrinal humility in Bridges’ writing as well.  In his discussion of preaching wisely, Bridges notes that Calvinists and Arminians might perhaps have something to learn from one another.  Calvinists might learn some sense of “holy fear” from Arminians and Arminians might learn some sense of God’s sovereignty from Calvinists (304).  Bridges is clearly a Calvinist and seems to hold deep convictions in this area.  It is therefore all the more interesting that he would even suggest that Calvinists and Arminians might learn something from each other.  In a debate as fierce as that which exists between these two camps, it is quite telling to see a very earnest believer in one side look at the matter with  humble objectivity.  One can only wish that modern Calvinists and Arminians, while not sacrificing their convictions for a superficial harmony, might be willing on occasion to understand what drives the convictions of the other camp.

Bridges is also admirably able to see the responsibility that the Anglican church held for seeing so many people move to the dissenting groups, Methodists and “Anabaptists” (317f).  He lays some measure of the blame on the abstract and ineffective preaching occurring in Anglican pulpits.  This, again, shows a great measure of humility and introspection on his part.  Perhaps Baptists could learn a lesson here in how it responds to the movement of Baptists into, for instance, Mormonism.  Traditionally, we responded by speaking of the heresy of Mormonism, as well we should.  But perhaps we should first of all look to our own pulpits, as Bridges did, and see our own responsibility in the loss of our people.  Bridges seemed to understand, as we should, that if our people are being fed, they will not so quickly look elsewhere for nourishment.

Finally, Bridges’ instruction for ministers to know their people and love their people is a sorely needed word as well.  He notes that ministers should know the young people of their church and that they should feel a particular burden for all of their parishioners (346-347).  In fact, the effectiveness of our preaching depends upon our care for the people throughout the week (350).  This means that favoritism should be avoided at all costs and that the minister should look upon his flock as a parent looking at his children (358, 360).

Personally, this word was very convicting.  How easy is it to become closed up in our offices begrudging the “interruptions” by our people, when they are precisely what our real business is about?  Bridges challenged all ministers to increase in their love for their flock.  In so many words, he was reinforcing the old adage that the people “will not care what we know until they know that we care.”  Furthermore, by equating ministers and their flock with parents and their children, Bridges was challenging ministers to increase in the fervency of their love as well as in their patience, for parents must be, above all, patient.

In all, Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry stands as a surprisingly relevant and powerful book.  Every modern pastor should read it preferably before, and possibly to the exclusion of, more contemporary works on the ministry.  Bridges work has endured because it has bypassed the faddishness of a particular moment and has instead delved deep into the heart of the core issues of ministry.  Most importantly, it is written from a heart of experience and sincerity.  There is deep Christian conviction throughout and one senses that the lessons learned were forged on the anvil of a life devoted to Christ.