Preaching Christ from Daniel
January 26, 2015
Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Daniel. Foundations for Expository Sermons. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.
The present volume merits attention as it brings together two issues of great interest: Evangelicalism's perennial fascination - arguably an unhealthy obsession! - with the Book of Daniel, and the Christological interpretation of the Old Testament, which has recently become a matter of some controversy in Presbyterian circles. This book is neither a series of sermons on Daniel nor a commentary proper, though it shares some features in common with both genres. As the title indicates, its distinctive feature lies in its focus on preaching the Book of Daniel Christologically.
The author is an established name in Reformed homiletics, having served parishes in the Christian Reformed Church and taught at various academic institutions, most notably as professor of preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary. Greidanus' doctoral dissertation at the Free University of Amsterdam, Sola Scriptura: Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical Texts, remains an invaluable historical study of the early 20th century controversy over redemptive-historical preaching in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. In it he traced the conscious attempt by theologians such as Benne Holwerda and Klaas Schilder to "reform" the preaching of Old Testament historical texts by moving away from an "exemplaristic" approach which located a text's primary application by analyzing Biblical characters as examples to be emulated or avoided. In contrast, Holwerda and Schilder (and others) sought to bring homiletical practice more consistently into line with the exegetical and Biblical-theological convictions of Reformed orthodoxy: If the historical texts of the Old Testament are rightly interpreted as being primarily the narrative of an unfolding history of redemption, then they should be preached and applied as such and not as catalogs of moral examples. As could have been anticipated, however, the push for redemptive-historical preaching provoked an inevitable reaction by others within the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, and Greidanus' study helpfully analyzed the many issues involved in the debate as it played out.
On a fundamental level, the issues surrounding redemptive-historical preaching have continued to provide the driving force behind a number of more recent works by Greidanus, in which he has sought to explore how the Christological interpretation of the Old Testament should affect Reformed homiletics. These recent works include a general manual, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (1999), as well as two specific volumes on Preaching Christ from Genesis (2007) and Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes (2010) in addition to the present book.
The introductory chapter is entitled "Issues in Preaching Christ from Daniel", but a significant portion is first dedicated to a discussion of important historical and literary issues pertinent to the interpretation of the book such as its date of composition, authorship, extensive use of Aramaic in addition to Hebrew, the apocalyptic genre, and compositional unity. Contrary to much mainline scholarship, Greidanus defends a 6th century (rather than 2nd century) origin for the book. As a result he argues (p.22) that the book's goal in its original setting was to comfort and encourage a community of God's people as they lived in exile rather than as they faced the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes. Eventually Greidanus turns to discuss some preliminary homiletical issues such as how to preach the book (e.g. a selective series of sermons on either the narratives of chs.1-6 or the visions of chs.7-12), how to select particular textual units for exposition, and so on. Of particular importance here is the general framework he lays out for preaching Christ from Daniel, a framework which he developed in more detail in his earlier Preaching Christ from the Old Testament. He argues that there are multiple perspectives by which preachers "can move legitimately from an Old Testament passage to Jesus Christ in the New Testament" (p.27), specifically:
- Redemptive-historical progression
- Analogy (i.e., "noting the similarity between the teaching or goal of the text and the teaching or goal of Jesus" [p.27])
- Longitudinal themes (i.e., tracing a theme from a Biblical-theological perspective)
- Examining New Testament references (citations or allusions)
- Contrast (i.e., "noting the contrast between the message of the text and that of the New Testament, a contrast which exists because Christ has come" [p.28])
These perspectives can overlap to some degree, and a given passage will not display all of these. Nevertheless, they provide fruitful perspectives for Christological interpretation of the Old Testament. Greidanus will systematically employ them in the remaining chapters, which focus on interpreting the discrete textual units of the Book of Daniel.
Each of the body chapters follows a consistent format. After some introductory remarks, Greidanus first considers the "Text and Context", seeking to discern the natural textual boundaries of a passage (a relatively easy task with the Book of Daniel) and to place the unit within the book's larger literary context. Next he examines "Literary Features" such as narrative structure, plot, characterization, and repetition. He proceeds then to consider the text's "Theocentric Interpretation". For this he poses questions such as (p.37), "Where is God in this story? What is God doing?" (It may be observed in passing that the weakness of the "exemplaristic" preaching method is precisely in its failure to ask such questions.) At this juncture in one's study of the text, one should be in a position to articulate the "Textual Theme and Goal", which should seek to be as specific to the text as possible. For example, with regard to Dan 1:1-21, Greidanus critiques various textual summaries as being too broad (e.g., focusing on God's sovereignty and power in general). Instead, he proposes as the central theme: "The sovereign Lord, who guided the faithful Daniel and his friends to positions of power in Babylon, will guide his faithful people even in exile (p.39)." By and large I would say that Greidanus is correct to seek the greatest textual specificity possible, though in this particular case I think his summary fails to integrate the aspect of Daniel's ability to interpret dreams and visions (Dan 1:17), which will form an important motif in subsequent chapters (e.g. chs. 2, 4, 7, etc.). After determining the basic theme of a passage, he discusses "Ways to Preach Christ", utilizing the seven perspectives mentioned above (redemptive-historical progression, promise-fulfillment, etc.). This is one of the most stimulating and helpful sections of each chapter. Greidanus then provides specific homiletical guidance with "Sermon Theme, Goal, and Need" and "Sermon Exposition" (this last-mentioned section is typically quite lengthy, being essentially a quasi-commentary on the text).
Greidanus' stated goal is "to help busy preachers and Bible teachers proclaim the good news of Daniel" and to "enable them to uncover rather quickly the important building blocks for producing sermons and lessons on Daniel" (p.x). I would say that he has achieved his goal admirably. The author is a homiletician and not an academic Biblical scholar, but solid exegetical study undergirds the volume. The emphasis on Theocentric interpretation and Christological analysis and preaching make this a useful volume for preachers and teachers. I recommend it highly.
Max Rogland is Associate Professor of Old Testament and Associate Dean of Erskine Theological Seminary