Results tagged “exegesis” from Reformation21 Blog

Questioning Our Preaching

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The transition from preaching occasionally to preaching weekly came for me a little more than three years ago as I was called from an associate pastor position to lead a church plant. My preaching courses in seminary and the books I'd read had focused on style and content. How to exegete the text, then outline the sermon. How to deliver it in such a manner that I wouldn't put the congregation to sleep. What I didn't get a lot of was principled foundations. So I've had to cobble them together on my own, picking up pieces here and there. I'm far from being an accomplished preacher, but I do think I've got a set of principles now that guide my sermon preparation that are helpful. And as men aspiring to preach ask me how I go about thinking through and preparing, I find myself more and more going to these principles.

Everyone has their own style. And you hear often enough that you can't and shouldn't try to sound like your favorite preacher. Be yourself. That's excellent advice. But we are also stepping up into the pulpit to fill a role that is, in some important ways, alien to us. It is not our Word that we preach. And it is not with our own authority that we preach. And if we are powerful preachers, it is not in our own power that we preach. So what principles shape this calling as it comes to us? What mold do our own gifts and personalities need to fit into as we work? I humbly suggest that the following are worth consideration.

1. Is it true to the text?

We as preachers may have a lot of useful things to say. We may even have a message that is biblical, but if we are going to open God's Word and preach a passage of Scripture, we should preach that passage and do so faithfully. Let the passage determine the content of your sermon. This is not only a consideration as you begin, but something you should check for at each stage of your sermon preparation. Have you understood the text? Is your sermon outline true to that message? Do your supporting elements further that message?

2. Am I preaching Christ? Is it gospeline?

I am well aware of the discussion surrounding the necessity of preaching Christ from every text. I am convinced that it can and should be done. If we are not preaching Christ, what are we preaching? Is it some truth about God? It is comprehended in Christ. Is it some aspect of our salvation in God? It is apprehended in Christ. If it is the law, then will you place that command in the context of the gospel, as God does consistently in his Word? Every sermon should be a brushstroke on the canvas on which you paint for your congregation an image of Christ in words, an image that is compelling in its beauty for those who would believe and terrifying in its wrath for those who are lost. Christ did this with his disciples after the resurrection. Every New Testament author did this in his use of the Old. Each sermon in Acts points to Christ in the Old Testament. What are we preaching if not Christ?

3. Am I preaching the law and the gospel (the indicative and imperative) in the same measure as the text presents it?

Perhaps a corollary of both the first and second principles above, are you preaching the gospel and the law in proper measure? If the passage is entirely imperative, the sermon should, I would argue, be focused on the imperative. Never to the absolute exclusion of the indicative of the gospel, of course. But neither should we state the imperative and flee quickly to the indicative and camp out there the rest of the time. Let the text guide you in this. Alternatively, when the text is filled with the grace, mercy, patience, and love of God for his people and the truth of all he has done, is doing, and will do for them, we should not then be focused on imperatives!

4. Is it compelling?

By this I mean, is my presentation of it compelling? I can do all the above and be quite boring. Have I written the sermon in such a way that people understand it and are compelled by it? We have a responsibility to stand before God's people and explain the Word in such a way that its meaning is clear (Ezra 8). Then, appealing to their hearts by way of the truth, we call them to believe and obey. Often, doing so requires us to know our parish. The good news is, the story is already compelling. If we believe it ourselves and are allowing the text to speak to us first, then a compelling presentation is not usually too far away.

5. Have I exegeted my congregation?

This is one reason I prefer small parish ministry. The idea that I will preach week in and week out and someone else will know and care for the sheep during the week is unsettling to me. Others may be able to do this, but I am not so equipped. Knowing your flock will enable you to communicate with them more effectively. It will also help you when it comes time to decide what to leave out of your sermon. And with enough time spent preparing, you will almost certainly need to leave something out. What does your congregation most need to hear? What are their greatest needs? Whether it is comfort or hope or admonition, knowing your flock will enable you to feed them well. Carelessness in this could result in running roughshod over the weak and hopeless (Is 42:3, Matt 12:20). The work of the pastor in the pulpit is sometimes more like surgery than anything else.

6. Have I allowed the Word to exegete my own heart?

I mentioned above that we must believe the message ourselves and allow the text to speak to us first. We are in the awkward position of being sheep ourselves. Like the Aaronic priest who had to make sacrifice for himself before he could make atonement for the people, we must first let God's Word have its way with us. We are weak like those we serve. It requires a humility that we should not fear, hate, or be ashamed of, but instead embrace. The author of Hebrews says that this shared weakness of priest and people is a hallmark of Christ's person and work (Hebrews 5:2-3) as our Great High Priest.

No matter the passage or topic or style of the preacher, any sermon can and should fit into this mold. There are certainly others that I haven't yet considered, so this may just be a beginning. Whatever you do as a preacher, I suggest you find a set of principles that have biblical authority and adhere to them doggedly. It is God's Word we proclaim and not our own, and so we have a responsibility to do so according to his Word.


Rev. Matthew Bradley is the founding pastor of All Saints PCA in Brentwood, TN

 

Tripping on Scripture

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Humans are amazing pattern finders. We detect patterns everywhere in the world around us: contorted faces in the wood grain, mythical creatures in the clouds, phantom ailments in our aches and pains--there's no end to the patterns our vibrant and active minds discover in the world around us.

Detecting and Projecting Patterns

The curious thing is that many of those patterns are not really there, not in the things themselves in the same way that the pattern or form (in philosophical jargon) tree is in the massive pine specimen in my front yard or even the way the moonlit sky is in Van Gogh's The Starry Night. This is because the face in the wood grain and griffin in the clouds is a projection of our mind--something we impose on the raw material of reality.

The grain in the wood is certainly there and is given to the mind in all its particularity. That particularity is telling too. A dendrologist can discern not only what kind of tree it came from but how old it was, which way it faced, how many fires or hurricanes it endured, and so on. There is much for science to ponder and sort out in the wood's grain.

That same particularity, however, becomes the imagination's fertile field as our pattern-detecting minds turn to it. If the grain of the wood were not just as it is, and if the plank had not been cut and planed and erected just as it is, then our minds would never see that eerily drawn out Munchian face. The wooden plank is not an empty canvas and the face we see in the grain is both there--ready for us to see; seemingly impossible to un-see--and yet it is not really there at all. There is nothing for dendrology in that face; there is a great deal for the artistry of our pattern-projecting imaginations, however, and perhaps also for psychology's interest in this imaginative knack we have.

The Problem with Projecting

If we swap out the wood grain for the text of Scripture the exegetical problem becomes clear. Responsible exegetes and biblical theologians devote significant energy to justifying the patterns they detect in the pages of the canon. They aim to demonstrate that their interpretations are actually there in the text like the moonlit sky is in The Starry Night--as an intentional creation of its author rather than the mere projection of their active imagination on the grain of the text.

It is not enough to demonstrate the possibility of seeing this or that supposed pattern of meaning in the text. We are capable of seeing all sorts of things in a text. Just because we see it, and see it so vividly we find it nearly impossible to un-see it, does not mean it is actually there by authorial intent. It really could be nothing more than a face in the grain.

What we want to expound is just what is there to be known and understood by science, if you will.

Not Just a Postmodern Problem

This is what divides Augustinian exegesis, which aims at the divine author's intended meaning, from that family of postmodern approaches that locate meaning in the interplay between the raw material of the text and the reader's pattern-detecting and often pattern-projecting imagination. Though we can never eliminate our subjectivity in the act of reading--ought not even to try to do so if we would read the Bible as God intends--we can certainly do better than reduce Scripture to a Rorschach ink blot or muse for pious psychedelics to trip on.

But this is not just a postmodern problem; we are all inclined to project our own meaning onto the grain of the text. Augustine understood this and warns us about it:

"Whoever takes another meaning out of Scripture than the writer intended, goes astray, but not through any falsehood in Scripture...For if he takes up rashly a meaning which the author whom he is reading did not intend, he often falls in with other statements which he cannot harmonize with this meaning. And if he admits that these statements are true and certain, then it follows that the meaning he had put upon the former passage cannot be the true one: and so it comes to pass, one can hardly tell how, that, out of love for his own opinion, he begins to feel more angry with Scripture than he is with himself. And if he should once permit that evil to creep in, it will utterly destroy him" (De Doctrina, 1.36-37).

Destroyed, that is, by the meaning we "put upon Scripture" that is not actually there-not there by authorial intent--however much the grain of the text might suggest it to our pattern-projecting minds. Destroyed, we might say, by loving the meaning we supply, with all its false intricacy and novel insight, more than the meaning God intends.


Dr. Bruce P. Baugus is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS. He is the editor of China's Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom

Counselor, Comforter, Keeper?

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One exegetical consideration upon which I have never truly been settled is that which concerns the meaning of the word παράκλητος (Paraklete)--as it appears in such places in Scripture as 1 John 2:1 and John 14:16. The list of translation options from which we may choose includes such glosses as Comforter, Counsellor, Advocate, Helper, Keeper and Encourager. I have long been undecided to how to come to a settle opinion about the proper gloss. On the surface, all of these translations have their merit. However, we will only ever determine the meaning of the word based on the context in which it appears in Scripture.

Needless to say, I was delighted to find a treatment of the meaning of this word in Geehardus Vos' Reformed Dogmatics. Vos gave the word two individual meanings, based on its respective exegetical contexts. The first is that which is tied to the teaching of 1 John 2:1. Vos wrote:

"[Jesus] is called our Substitute or Advocate. He is α παράκλητος, Paraclete (1 John 2:1). One should note that the word paraclete is used in a double sense in the New Testament. It is originally a passive form and means 'someone who is called to help'--that is, an advocate. Since, however, an advocate can also take the place of someone whom he helps, the word at the same time also takes on the meaning of "substitute." It is so used of Christ in the passage just cited (1 John 2:1): 'And if anyone sins, we have an advocate (a substituting intercessor) with the Father.' This is the first meaning."1

The second meaning Vos gave the word is associated with Jesus teaching about himself and the Spirit--the other παράκλητος--in John 14. He explained:

"The word is taken in a somewhat different sense when Christ calls Himself 'Paraclete' for believers and promises them the Spirit as another Paraclete (John 14:16): 'And I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, that He may be with you forever.' Here the Paraclete is 'counsel-giving advocate.' The Holy Spirit, too, is now called a paraclete in this sense, especially because He fills the place of Christ with believers now that Christ has departed. Of course, the principal work of the Holy Spirit as Paraclete is to bring comfort, but the translation of the word itself as 'Comforter,' however common, appears to be incorrect and cannot be justified. Παρακαλεῖν does mean 'encourage,' 'comfort,' but παράκλητος is a passive, not an active, form. The explanation that most presently give it and that is supported by this active form, namely, 'counselor,' is also that of Augustine, Calvin, Beza, Lampe, and many others. The concept 'comforter' is too narrow."2

While this may not settle the question for everyone, it certainly provides a plausible conclusion based on a careful consideration of the unique biblical contexts in which the Holy Spirit has employed the word παράκλητος; and, that is the heart of all true exegetical labor. 

1. Geerhardus Vos (2012-2016). Reformed Dogmatics. (R. B. Gaffin, Ed., A. Godbehere, R. van Ijken, D. van der Kraan, H. Boonstra, J. Pater, A. Janssen, ... K. Batteau, Trans.) (Vol. 3, pp. 168). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

2. Ibid. pp. 168-169.

Formulating Doctrine

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"It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good." (Westminster Confession of Faith, 4.1)

The Savoy Declaration (1658) and the Second London Confession of Faith (1677/89) contain very similar statements. Our triune God is the Creator of all things (i.e., "all things" other than Himself, of course).

Formulating Christian doctrine, especially as it relates to the doctrine of the Trinity, is not as simple as counting texts which use the same words. Biblical texts ought to be weighed to determine their importance. Weighing texts is especially important when considering creation in relation to the Creator. If only one text of Holy Scripture informs us about a crucial element of the divine act of creation, that text is of great importance. This is the case because creation involves everything in relation to God. The doctrine of creation, as with the doctrine of the Trinity, is a distributed doctrine. John Webster's words capture what is meant by creation and the Trinity as distributed doctrines. He says:

"...the doctrine of creation is one of the two distributed doctrines in the corpus of Christian dogmatics. The first (both in sequence and in material primacy) distributed doctrine is the doctrine of the Trinity, of which all other articles of Christian teaching are an amplification or application, and which therefore permeates theological affirmations about every matter...The doctrine of creation is the second distributed doctrine, although, because its scope is restricted to the opera Dei ad extra [i.e., the external works of God], its distribution is less comprehensive than that of the doctrine of the Trinity. Within this limit, the doctrine of creation is ubiquitous. It is not restricted to one particular point in the sequence of Christian doctrine, but provides orientation and a measure of governance to all that theology has to say about all things in relation to God."1 

Because both creation and the Trinity are distributed doctrines, it is of utmost importance that we allow the Bible to speak on these issues, even if it does not speak as often as it does on other issues. We do not need a plethora of biblical texts indicating the work of the Spirit in creation, for example. One text would suffice, and its truth would extend to the entirety of Christian thinking on creation, conservation, re-creation, and consummation.

Formulating Christian doctrine is also more involved than a rehearsal of redemptive history. Though the study of redemptive history (i.e., biblical theology) is a vital aspect of the theological encyclopedia, it concerns itself with the revelatory process presented to us in Holy Scripture. Its method is not designed to conclude its work by presenting full statements on the various places of systematic theology. Unlike biblical theology, systematic theology is designed to collate various aspects of revelation under pre-determined headings (i.e., Scripture, God, creation, providence, etc.).[2] When systematic theology does its work properly, each topic's statements are formulated by a canonical consultation, a consultation of Scripture as a finished product of divine revelation, and in conversation with historical theology. Systematic theology reduces all the truths of Holy Scripture concerning given topics to propositional form. Similarly, confessional formulations seek to reduce large swaths of biblical truth into brief compass (e.g., 4.1 quoted above). In order to do this successfully, these formulations must weigh texts in order to ensure the formulations are brief, though comprehensive, enough to accurately convey the major emphases of Holy Scripture.

It is important to remember that the confessional documents mentioned above are confessions of faith. They contain, in summary form, what subscribers to them believe the totality of the Bible teaches on given subjects. The confession is not merely a reference point from which one subsequently develops doctrinal conclusions; it is the doctrinal conclusions on the subjects that it addresses. Because the confession summarizes what the Bible teaches on given subjects, this means the whole of the Bible is considered in the formulation of chapter 4. You can see this by noticing the Scripture references (and their order) at 4.1 in the WCF: Hebrews 1:2; John 1:2-3; Genesis 1:2; Job 26:13; Job 33:4; Romans 1:20; Jeremiah 10:12; Psalm 104:24; Psalm 33:5-6; Hebrews 11:3; Colossians 1:16; and Acts 17:24. Citing Scripture references indicates to readers that the members of the Assembly formulated the doctrines, in part, by the fruits of previous exegetical work in the biblical text. In other words, this is not some form of simplistic proof-texting. Stefan T. Lindblad helps us understand the rationale behind the practice of citing biblical references in the confession. He says:

...To call this a "proof-texting method" in the modern derogatory sense is misleading. By citing specific texts in support of their statements, the authors of the Confession were indicating their adherence to methods of biblical interpretation and doctrinal formation that was characteristic not just of Reformed orthodoxy but also of the whole sweep of pre-critical exegesis. The texts cited...are regarded as the primary seat of the doctrine, the primary (not exclusive) place in Scripture where the doctrine was either explicitly taught or "by just consequence deduced."3 By citing...texts the [Confession] was not arbitrarily appealing to texts out of context. Rather,...the [Confession] was drawing on the interpretation of these texts as argued in the biblical commentaries and annotations of the era. The statement of the Confession is thus a doctrinal result resting on the foundation of Scripture and its proper interpretation. The biblical texts cited thus point in two directions: back to biblical interpretation and forward to doctrinal formulation. Such texts, the dicta probantia or "proving statements," function as the necessary link between biblical interpretation and doctrinal formulation. A confession was not designed to reproduce the work of biblical interpretation, but to affirm its fruit, given that Scripture was the only authoritative and sufficient foundation for every doctrinal topic and for a system of theology as a whole.4

The texts cited are not the only scriptural bases from which the confessional formulations were derived. Also, the formulations are not mere recitations of the words of Scripture. Doctrines taught in Scripture must be formulated into words other than Scripture in order to explicate their meanings for us.

Finally, WCF 4.1 assumes all that comes before it. It assumes the doctrine of Scripture (along with a working hermeneutic [cf. 1.9]), God's attributes and triunity, and the decree. These doctrinal formulations provide background and context for the statement in 4.1. For example, the Creator at 4.1 is the same triune God confessed in chapters 2 and 3. He does not refashion Himself in order to create or while creating. If that were the case, 4.1 would contradict previous assertions of the confession.

Far from displaying a simplistic proof-texting method, the confession evidences a careful methodological approach. This includes exegesis of texts and synthesizing various scriptural emphases, as well as the assumption of doctrinal formulations previously contained in the confession.

 

1. John Webster, God without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, Volume I, God and the Works of God (London, Oxford, New York, New Delhi, Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2016), 117.

2. We must not think that these pre-determined headings come from outside of Holy Scripture, imposed upon it to make sense of it. The doctrinal places of systematic theology come about due to contemplation upon Scripture.

3. This is a citation from Nehemiah Coxe, Vindiciae Veritatis, or a Confutation of the heresies and gross errours asserted by Thomas Collier in his additional word to his Body of Divinity (London: for Nathaniel Ponder, 1677), 9.

4. Stefan T. Lindblad, "'Eternally Begotten of the Father': An Analysis of the Second London Confession of Faith's Doctrine of the Eternal Generation of the Son," in By Common Confession: Essays in Honor of James M. Renihan, eds. Ronald S. Baines, Richard C. Barcellos, and James P. Butler (Palmdale, CA: RBAP, 2015), 338-39.

 

Richard C. Barcellos, is pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA and Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at IRBS Theological Seminary. He is the author of Getting the Garden Right: Adam's Work and God's Rest in Light of Christ and The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis.

Essential Tools for Preaching Christ (Part 1)

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Owning a home brings blessings and liabilities with it. While a home can be a good investment it requires maintenance. Homeowners generally have two options in maintaining their homes: they can hire someone to do the work, or they need to get the tools that they need to do it themselves. They need to know how to use those tools as well.

Preachers must develop many tools in order to preach Christ biblically and effectively. It is one thing to know what preachers should do and why they should do it. It is another thing to ask how they should preach. Preaching is a public authoritative proclamation of the gospel, through Christ's ordained ambassadors, through which Christ pleads with sinners to be reconciled to God. Preachers and listeners alike need to understand how this general definition applies to preaching biblical texts. Methods for preaching Christ should include exegesis, redemptive history, systematic theology, and personal devotion. This post gives examples of preaching Christ exegetically and redemptive historically while the posts that follow complete the picture of the preacher's tools through typology, systematic theology, and personal devotion to Christ.

Preachers should preach Christ exegetically. Exegesis refers to an explanation or critical interpretation of a text. John 1:18 describes Christ as the one who exegetes the Father. As Christ interpreted and declared the Father to his hearers, so preachers must interpret and declare Christ to theirs. Christ said that the Scriptures testified to him (Jn. 5:39). Matthew's gospel proves repeatedly how Christ's person, actions, and work fulfilled Scripture. The risen Christ chided his disciples for not believing what the prophets said about Christ's sufferings and the glory that would follow, expounding what Moses and the prophets said about him (Lk. 24:25:27). All Scripture is God-breathed and it is able to make people wise for salvation in Christ (1 Tim. 3:15) because all Scripture testifies ultimately to Christ. Exegesis is direct a direct means of preaching Christ.

Preachers must preach Christ exegetically from the Old Testament by explaining prophecies and promises about Christ. He is the Seed of the Woman who crushed the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15). He is Abraham's seed in whom all the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16). He is the Prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:5; Acts 3:22; 7:37). He is David's Son and David's Lord (Psalm 110:1; Matt. 22:45). He is the shoot from Jesse's root who would rule as King (Is. 11:2) as well as the "root out of dry ground" (Is. 53:2) who would obey and suffer as Priest (Acts 8:30-36). He is the Priest whom God crowned as King (Zech. 3:8-10, 6:12-13; Heb. 7). Preaching Christ from the Old Testament exegetically means locating specific signposts that point to Christ directly.

Preachers must preach Christ exegetically from the New Testament. While this point might seem obvious, it is important to remember how the New Testament reveals Christ. The gospels reveal Christ's person and work through theologically charged history. The rest of the New Testament explains, expands, and applies the truths that the gospels reveal about Christ. The New Testament also provides the interpretive grid for finding Christ in the Old Testament. The New Testament authors used the Scriptures Christologically and they teach us how to do so.

Preachers should preach Christ in light of redemptive history as well. Redemptive history reflects the fact that the Bible has a main point in light of which the biblical story unfolds. Preaching Christ redemptive historically relates every text to Christ insofar as Christ's person and work are the main point of the teaching of the Bible as a whole. Genesis 3:15 serves as a thesis statement for redemptive-history by pitting Christ against Satan and Christ's people against Satan's people. The sacrificial system both before and under Moses explains how Christ would gain victory for his people over sin death and Satan. The Exodus becomes a paradigm for redemption in Christ. The genealogies in 1 Chronicles show the progress of redemptive-history up to that stage.

Typology falls under the category of preaching Christ redemptive-historically as well. A type is a kind of picture that foreshadows something else. It may be ideological or personal. The temple is a type of Christ's body, through which God dwelt among his people (Jn. 2:21). Adam is a type of Christ in his representative character (Rom. 5:14). Melchizedek is a type of Christ's eternal priesthood (Heb. 7). Types move the story of redemptive-history forward by foreshadowing later and greater realities through lesser historical predecessors (Col. 2:17). Every prophet, priest, and king in the Old Testament should direct us to the final Prophet, Priest, and King in the New Testament. Types do not correspond to their antitypes in every respect. Sometimes Christ as antitype excels all types superlatively and sometimes he does so by contrast. Preaching should include redemptive-history to help hearers relate particular passages of Scripture to the broader biblical storyline.

Exegesis and redemptive-history are tools that help us understand Scripture in relation to Christ. Preaching Christ exegetically touches every aspect of Christ's person and work as well as the Spirit's work in applying his benefits to us. Preaching Christ redemptive-historically is more general in scope. It illustrates how Christ's place in God's plan creates the biblical narrative and gives significance to its parts. If we isolate redemptive-historical preaching from other biblical tools for preaching Christ, then it runs the risk of telling a story that believers are not part of immediately. Knowing Christ (and preaching Christ) involves more than imagining that we are part of Christ's story. It involves actual participation in Christ, which comes only through personal union with Christ by faith. Yet exegesis needs redemptive-history. Preaching Christ exegetically alone effectively removes Christ from most of the Old Testament. Exegesis without redemptive-history is like reading road signs without knowing where the road is taking us. However, if preachers limit their methods for preaching Christ to exegesis and redemptive-history, then they will still fall short at points of the biblical definitions and aims of preaching established in the previous posts in this series.