Busy Busy Busy – and – Graeme Goldsworthy on Old Testament Examples

No, this isn’t a plug for Kevin DeYoung’s new book (though I probably should read it), it is just an update/explanation for my (Andrew) relative inactivity here on the blog. Once again, Shane has been doing the lion’s share of the posting! (Thanks again, brother!)

I have a writing deadline coming down the pike for some dictionary articles, so I’m throwing myself at that. (Unfortunately, they’re topics that don’t blog well, so I can’t double dip with the research!) I’ll also be presenting a paper at the upcoming ETS regional meeting in Pasadena and am finishing up an online counseling class through CCEF. Add my full-time pastoral work and the fact that my wife is due with our 3rd child in about 5 weeks and my time is pretty much spent.

Anyway, I intend to get back at it with regular posts in coming weeks, but I just wanted to alert readers that I haven’t dropped off the edge of the earth!

Just to stay in the blogging game, I’ll share a quote from Graeme Goldsworthy I recently found interesting:

An exemplary sermon on David’s faith is incomplete and misleading if it does not bring us to David’s greater Son, who is both the subject and object of true faith.  It is not legitimate for a Christian simply to imitate an Old Testament character unless this character’s significance is in some way refracted through the prism of the gospel.  The New Testament’s primary call to Christians is that we should become more like Christ, not more like any of the Old Testament heroes.  But even the imitation of Christ can be a destructive concept if it is removed from its foundation in the unique substitutionary and representative role of Christ.

Notwithstanding this emphasis, it is important not to overreact to exemplary preaching and teaching.  The Bible is full of examples.  Evangelical Christians may react rightly to the kind of liberal teaching that reduces Jesus’ life and death to the merely exemplary.  When Jesus is relegated to the role of ‘good teacher’ and his death is seen only as a supreme example of self-sacrificing love, we do well to object.  We recognize that being imitators of Christ is a significant aspect of New Testament teaching, but Christ as the example is derivative of Christ as the unique author and finisher of our salvation.  The work of Christ for us is the heart of the gospel and the mainspring of the Christian life.  The work of Christ in us by his Spirit stems from that gospel and cannot operate without it.

What, then, is the alternative to an overemphasis on exemplary preaching and teaching of the Old Testament?  If the characters of the Old Testament are more than examples for follow or, alternatively, to avoid, what are the and how do we penetrate to their significance?  Sidney Greidanus in his treatment of the matter indicates that one alternative is the redemptive-historical approach.  I would stress again that the redemptive-historical does not exclude the exemplary, but rather provides the context that controls it.

Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles, Pg. 32.

Alright, I’ll get back to posting as soon as I’m able!

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

2 Replies to “Busy Busy Busy – and – Graeme Goldsworthy on Old Testament Examples”

  1. Hi Andrew,
    This is a topic that I’ve spent some time with in the past few years (subtle, indirect plug for my forthcoming book! :-).

    I really go back and forth on exemplary preaching. Most of the time, I’m not in favor of it. (I’ve got Greidanus in my bones!) However, when I look over the history of reformed preaching and devotional material, I observe a great deal of “exemplary” sermons, reflections, exhortations, etc. 16th and 17th century authors regularly use biblical figures as examples of piety and praxis. From what I can see, the current strain of redemptive-historical preaching is quite new and reflects a heightened sensitivity to Heilsgeschichte. That’s not to say, of course, that 16th and 17th century authors eschewed salvation history, but they really are still quite medieval (and patristic) in their patterns of preaching.

    I think the biggest danger is that one ends up preaching a “Law” sermon with no Gospel. The sermon theme: “Be like David” lends itself to this more than “Yahweh strengthened David’s hands,” etc.

    Anyway… Just my two cents :-)


    1. Thanks for the comment, Nevada. I see most preaching that utilizes biblical figures as exemplars to not be rooted in the bigger scheme of redemptive history and sometimes it even looses it’s exegetical moorings with preachers simply emphasizing qualities of a given figure that lacks either textual or intertextual warrant. But my sense is that if we *do* have a strong understanding of the RH and law/gospel issues at work, then we might be more comfortable using appropriate and pastoral exemplary application. I find it really hard to work through the Joseph story with its wisdom themes and not find ample opportunity to commend his wise behavior and warn against the folly of his brothers. But like Goldsworthy suggests, the RH is providing the context that controls any and all such exemplary application.



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