Anthropocentric Moralizing?

Our Sunday School is going through the book of Daniel, with the ruling elders doing a fine job of teaching the text. I preached through Daniel while I was in North Dakota, but I wanted to freshen up and sharpen up my understanding of the book, so I got two newer commentaries to read through as we went through the book. One of them is by Sidney Greidanus, and it is entitled Preaching Christ From Daniel. Now, I have benefited greatly from Greidanus’ careful and nuanced approach to seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. The various ways in which a reader can do that are very helpfully spelled out by him in all his books. However, there can sometimes be a hesitancy to apply the text. It can be so much about Jesus that it is not about us much at all. This is a bit of an over-generalization, I realize, but I am merely pointing out what I see as a trend.

For my prime example, I will point out that he does not seem to like Iain Duguid’s commentary on Daniel much. Now, when I was preaching through Daniel, I found Duguid the most helpful commentary of any that has been written. I haven’t finished Dale Ralph Davis’s commentary yet (that’s the other one I got to read through), and it is outstanding as well. However, when I was preaching through Daniel, I found the most help in Duguid. Duguid is well-known for a Vossian progressive-revelation approach to Scripture that sees Jesus Christ as the climax of the story, and the main point of the Bible. However, Duguid, unlike Greidanus seemingly, also believes that the text can be about us precisely because it is about Jesus. In other words, if we are in Christ Jesus, then the text will always apply to us precisely because it applies to Jesus first. Greidanus, however, accuses Duguid of nudging “preachers toward anthropocentric moralizing” (84). After a quote from Duguid, Greidanus says, “This be true enough, but it is not the point of the passage.” If there were anyone out there less deserving of this censure of “anthopocentric moralizing,” that person is surely Iain Duguid. Furthermore, Greidanus is guilty of reading Duguid uncharitably and out of context. Duguid was not making his point the main point of the passage. It was an application of the text. I have not found much in the way of application in Greidanus. He gets to Jesus responsibly and well, but what to do after that or because of that, he does not seem to make clear.

The question really boils down to this: can we apply the text to our own lives even if we do not explicitly mention Jesus every time we make an application of the text? On one question at least, there would surely be agreement: the main point of the Bible is Jesus. Greidanus and Duguid would both whole-heartedly agree with that. The disagreement surfaces when we ask the question of whether the Bible also talks about us. Surely it does, since God did not just give the text to the people to whom the writing was originally given. The Bible was given to the entire church of all ages. Yes, historical context is important. But so is the fact that God gave the whole Bible to the whole church. Greidanus is rightly reacting against a mentality that bypasses Christ entirely, since this means there is no exegetical control over the application, and the application is usually wrong when we yank a text out of its progressive salvation-historical place. However, if we place the text correctly in its time and place, and correctly and carefully get to Christ, there still remains application, which flows from that whole understanding. If we cannot do this, then preaching is hamstrung. Greidanus seems to me to be throwing out the correct-application baby with the moralizing bathwater.


  1. roberty bob said,

    June 27, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    If indeed the goal is for Christ to be formed in us so that we have a redemptive presence in this world as the body of Christ, then one should be seeing the saints of the Most High where one sees Jesus.

    The short-coming of the strict redemptive-historical school of preaching, of which Greidanus is dean, is the poor follow through on what the Christian ought actually to do. Those of us who matriculated through this school tend to be application-challenged. We have to force ourselves to ask, SO WHAT?

  2. roberty bob said,

    June 27, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    Let’s all sing Dare to Be a Daniel!

  3. Reed here said,

    June 27, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Because it is about Christ, it is through Him about those united to Him. Moralism occurs when one seeks to apply the text directly to the believer without first looking at how it relates to Jesus. But once that is done, well if it it doesn’t apply us then we haven’t really got it.

  4. rfwhite said,

    June 29, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    GB: It might help to ponder, tweak, or sharpen the statement: “The Bible was given to the entire church of all ages.” Here’s what I mean: we still need to ask, Why – to what end(s) – was the Bible given to the church? And we’d all agree too that the end(s) of one text may not be the same as those in another text. Were the Gospels given to the church for ends different than those for which the Pastorals were given? I suspect we’d all agree that some texts serve different ends than do others.

  5. Mark G said,

    June 29, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    Good observations. It seems that in redemptive-historical preaching there can be an over reaction to application that is seen as “bridge-building” between an ancient text and the contemporary situation to make it relevant to a modern churchgoer. The concern with this is in the implication that the Bible, redemption, the gospel need to be made relevant because they do not transcend time and cultures. Too often this sort of bridge-building treats Scripture as if it is a mysterious users guide (shop manual) to the Christian life rather than divine revelation of redemption through Jesus. However, there is some legitimate “bridge-building” that needs to be done. An obvious example is that most people don’t read ancient Hebrew and Greek and they need to hear the Word preached in their native language. Good preaching starts with translating the text. It is also Interesting that Paul not only presents his indicative-imperative structure in theological & eschatological terms, but fleshes this out with examples of how someone who is a citizen of heaven ought to live, what the “new man” ought to look like; not being of the world and exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit for example.

  6. July 1, 2014 at 12:04 am

    […] the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro, S.C. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  7. De Maria said,

    August 13, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    …. Roman Catholics will typically argue that Romans 4:5,9 are talking about faith itself as the thing that is imputed, thus avoiding imputation of an alien righteousness.

    Your premise sounds wrong to me.

    Romans 4:5

    5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

    Abraham was considered just (i.e. righteous) in the eyes of God because he believed God’s promises.

    Romans 4:9

    9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

    Because of his faithfulness, Abraham was found righteous in the eyes of God.

    And both of these correspond to the Sacraments. Wherein, a Catholic who believes God’s promises and because of his faith is reckoned righteous. It is this faith which grants us access to His grace, which is infused in our soul in the washing of regeneration of the Holy Spirit.

    CCC#1127 Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify…..

  8. De Maria said,

    August 13, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    oops! Sorry! How did I wind up on this page?

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