Him We Proclaim
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Him We Proclaim

Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures

Dennis E. Johnson

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📖 eBook - ePub

Him We Proclaim

Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures

Dennis E. Johnson

About This Book

In a challenge to modern preachers, this book makes the hermeneutical case for a return to apostolic preaching—Christ-centered preaching, redemptive-historical, missiologically communicated and grounded in grace.

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P Publishing

Introduction Preaching the Bible Like Peter and Paul

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit . . . .” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37–38, 41)1

And Paul went in [to the synagogue], as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. (Acts 17:2–4)

What preacher can read passages like these and not long to be able to preach the Bible like Peter and Paul? What an inestimable privilege to see God’s almighty Holy Spirit change people’s lives before your eyes through the message of the cross and resurrection of Jesus! We read the biblical accounts of sermons that gave spiritual birth to thousands and similar stories from the later history of the church, and we long for God to move in such power and mercy in our time and through us.
We are aware that the early record reports apparent defeat as well as glowing victories: “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him [Stephen]” (Acts 7:54). “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:32–34).
We know that it is ours simply to plant and to water and that God alone can give growth and fruitfulness to the seed of his Word (1 Cor. 3:6; Col. 1:5–6; Acts 6:7). In our best moments, therefore, it is not merely the bountiful results of apostolic preaching that we seek but the apostles’ rich insights into Scripture’s multifaceted witness to the person and work of Christ. We long to preach “the whole Bible as Christian Scripture,” that is, to preach “Christ in all of Scripture.”2 Perhaps we have heard such preaching done well and found our hearts stirred and surprised to behold the glory of the Savior in a text where we least expected to meet him, or we have heard such preaching attempted badly (even, perhaps, by ourselves) and come away feeling that the text itself was abused or ignored and its connection to Christ drawn in strained and implausible ways. You may even wonder whether it is legitimate to learn biblical hermeneutics and homiletics from the apostolic exemplars of the New Testament, because their inspiration by the Spirit of God gave them privileged access to revelatory resources not available to ordinary Christians and preachers.
Yet, the apostolic affirmation rings true: in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Therefore, the apostolic resolve makes perfect sense: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Whatever our biblical text and theme, if we want to impart God’s life-giving wisdom in its exposition, we can do nothing other than proclaim Christ, “the power of God and the wisdom of God . . . our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:24, 30).
But how? This book tries to answer that question, first by arguing in favor of reuniting insights and disciplines the apostles displayed in harmonious unity but that sadly have become disconnected since then. Then it suggests perspectives and strategies to help ordinary Christians discover their Savior throughout Scripture and to equip ordinary preachers to proclaim this Savior convincingly and powerfully from the diverse panorama of Scripture’s genres and eras.

Tragic Divorces

“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9). Jesus was speaking, of course, of the inviolable union of husband and wife in marriage as designed by God. Nevertheless, these words can be applied aptly to the major thrust of this book, which makes a case for imitating the interpretive and communicative methods employed by the apostles to proclaim Christ to the first-century Greco-Roman world as we minister in the twenty-first century. It advocates reuniting things wrongly separated between the apostles’ day and ours to the impoverishment of biblical hermeneutics and pastoral homiletics. Reforging these divinely established bonds will refocus biblical interpretation on Christ, the center of gravity who holds the Bible together and the key who unlocks Scripture’s meaning from Genesis to Revelation. Furthermore, the three reunions we will advocate will empower the proclamation of the gospel in a global postmodern culture that increasingly resembles the pluralism and relativism of the first-century Hellenistic environment into which the apostles first announced God’s good news.3 To testify faithfully and effectively about Jesus the Christ in the twenty-first century, as the apostles did in the first, we need to reconcile three divorced “couples” whose “marriages” were made in heaven: we need to reunite Old Testament and New Testament, apostolic doctrine and apostolic hermeneutics, biblical interpretation and biblical proclamation.

Reuniting Old and New Testaments

We need to rediscover and appreciate with deeper levels of insight the bond between God’s partial and preparatory words of promise spoken through Israel’s prophets and his final word spoken in Jesus, the Son who is the Word (Heb. 1:1–2; John 1:1, 14). The contemporary sense of estrangement of the Old Testament from the New Testament is an anomaly in the history of the church. From the apostolic period through the Church Fathers, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Reformation, the church maintained a hearty confidence that God’s role as the primary author of Scripture, speaking his message infallibly through distinctive human voices, secures the harmony and unity of the Bible’s message from Genesis to Revelation. Admittedly, some like Marcion denied that the Lord who addressed Moses on Sinai is the Father of our Lord Jesus. The church, however, condemned such aberrant repudiation of the Old Testament as contradictory to the teaching of Jesus himself. Others failed to recognize the diversity within the Bible’s unity, especially the fact that the Messiah, in bringing Old Testament promises and institutions to fulfillment, also has transformed God’s covenantal modes of relating to his people. Nevertheless, despite such anomalies in relating the Old Testament to the New Testament, the heartbeat of the church as a whole has coincided with Augustine’s pithy maxim: “The old is in the new revealed, the new is in the old concealed.”4
The eighteenth century “Enlightenment” (as its proponents viewed it) and its resulting historical critical hermeneutic began to drive a wedge between the Old Testament and the New—a division that continues to infect much biblical scholarship today. Enlightenment scholarship’s ostensible concerns were to liberate biblical exegesis from dogmatic tradition and to impose rational controls on interpreters’ imaginative creativity, of which patristic and medieval allegorism offered many extreme examples. Underlying the Enlightenment’s critique of its predecessors’ “dogmatic” and “unscientific” interpretation, however, lay a more insidious denial of the divine authorship that earlier Christian interpreters had assumed as grounds for expecting to discover a single, God-given purpose and message in biblical documents written and received over a time span of well over a millennium.5
Subsequently, dispensational theologians, for different reasons and offering different arguments, adopted a hermeneutic that drove another wedge between Old Testament and New. Reacting to historical criticism’s dismissal of the church’s pre-critical reading of its Scriptures as subjective and imprecise, dispensationalism believed that it could establish the objectivity of its reading of Scripture by treating symbolism with suspicion and preoccupying itself with establishing the text’s “literal” sense. Thus over the last three centuries, the theological substructure of apostolic hermeneutics and homiletics has been assaulted both by the “hostile fire” of Enlightenment criticism and by the “friendly fire” of Bible-believing students who sought to develop an objective hermeneutic sufficient to withstand the acidic rigors of Enlightenment doubt.6
Even more recently, the atrocities inflicted on the Jewish people under Nazism, before and during World War II, and the West’s reaction in a salutary repudiation of anti-Semitism, together with new emphases on toleration amid religious pluralism have driven a third wedge between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. This wedge is visible in a growing discomfort with the New Testament authors’ many assertions and implications that the church, now composed of believing Jews and Gentiles, is the legitimate heir to the benefits (now magnified to eschatological dimensions) once promised to ancient Israel. Although the original apostles, Paul, were themselves Jewish (as was Jesus, from whom they learned to interpret the Old Testament), the “supercessionism”7 articulated in their New Testament writings (for example, Matt. 21:43; Gal. 3:27–29; Phil. 3:2–3; Rev. 3:9) offends many today as insensitive, arrogant, and disrespectful of the religious tradition that gave birth to the church. The problem is further compounded by the church’s abuse of the Jewish people in the centuries between the apostles and Adolf Hitler,8 a shameful record that seems to prove that the New Testament’s theological “supercessionism” naturally breeds virulent and violent anti-Semitic behavior. The only remedy would seem to be for the church to avoid co-opting what it has traditionally called “the Old Testament,” as though it were the church’s book, and instead to allow the Hebrew Scriptures to remain thoroughly Jewish.
Anti-Semitic prejudice and religious pride should have no credibility for Christians who listen carefully to the apostles’ proclamation of Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel and the bestower of unmerited grace to Jew and Gentile alike. The same apostle who announces that Gentiles are now Abraham’s descendents through faith in Israel’s Messiah also puts Gentiles in their place in his great apostolic discourse on God’s mysterious ways with Israel and the nations (Romans 9–11):
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. (Rom. 11:17–18)
The same apostle laments with great pathos over the unbelief of his many kinfolk in Israel (9:1–3; 10:1) and expresses confidence that the sovereign mercy that could engraft pagan Gentiles can likewise reattach “natural branches” to the olive tree through which divine blessing flows (11:22–24). If, in fact, the insistence of Jesus and his apostles is true—that Israel’s ancient Scriptures are eschatologically directed to draw her hope forward to the arrival of her Divine Rescuer as a Suffering Servant—to suppress such insight for fear of seeming impolite or proud would be selfish cruelty toward the Jewish people, not compassionate respect! Despite these formidable trends working against an appreciation of the unity of Old Testament and New, the church’s historic conviction—that the two testaments (two covenants,9 described in the Hebrew Scriptures, e.g., Jer. 31:31–34) are two chapters in one grand, true story in which the triune God is the protagonist—still has articulate defenders. In fact, some recent trends in biblical studies even encourage greater attention to the unity of Scripture as the divine-human record of a single, consistent, progressive plan for the redemption and re-creation of the cosmos.
At the risk of omitting deserving names and titles, I mention here a sampling of twentieth and twenty-first century biblical scholars whose work deepens our understanding of the Christ-focused marriage of Old Testament promise and New Testament fu...

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Citation styles for Him We ProclaimHow to cite Him We Proclaim for your reference list or bibliography: select your referencing style from the list below and hit 'copy' to generate a citation. If your style isn't in the list, you can start a free trial to access over 20 additional styles from the Perlego eReader.
APA 6 Citation
Johnson, D. (2007). Him We Proclaim ([edition unavailable]). P Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/2527133/him-we-proclaim-preaching-christ-from-all-the-scriptures-pdf (Original work published 2007)
Chicago Citation
Johnson, Dennis. (2007) 2007. Him We Proclaim. [Edition unavailable]. P Publishing. https://www.perlego.com/book/2527133/him-we-proclaim-preaching-christ-from-all-the-scriptures-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Johnson, D. (2007) Him We Proclaim. [edition unavailable]. P Publishing. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/2527133/him-we-proclaim-preaching-christ-from-all-the-scriptures-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Johnson, Dennis. Him We Proclaim. [edition unavailable]. P Publishing, 2007. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.