Expository Preaching and Redemptive-Historical Models

A generally helpful post on what expository preaching is not led me to think particularly about redemptive-historical models. His seventh “busted myth” runs like this (quoted in full):

Expository preaching is not always historically-redemptive preaching. Biblical preaching proclaims the Person and Work of Christ. It also explains what the text means by what it says. Surveying the history of redemption may present the gospel and protect the sermon from moralism. But faithful preaching does not ignore the historical and literary setting of the text. 1 Samuel 16 is not primarily about how Christ slays the giant of sin for us. It is about how God helped David defeat Goliath to introduce the young shepherd as the newly-anointed king. We must preach the former without neglecting the latter.

The problem here is one of definition. Some, like myself, would see the the first two sentences as a contradiction. If we are to preach the person and work of Christ from the Old Testament, how can we possibly do that without historically-redemptive preaching? Other models would be closer to pure allegory. But the problem here is one of definition. If, by “historically-redemptive” (I usually reverse the terms to read “redemptive-historical”), we mean that the preacher stays inside the history of redemption, and never applies the text, then that isn’t preaching at all, but rather a lecture. If we mean an A.W. Pink-ish tendency to find Christ under every rock and cranny, that is not helpful, either (though some of Pink’s ties to Christ work quite well; we shouldn’t throw out the redemptive-historical baby with the allegorical bathwater!). If, however, we mean that every sermon on an Old Testament text takes into account the fact that the entire Old Testament is about Jesus Christ, and gives us a history that culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ, then all Old Testament preaching (and NT too, for that matter!) must be redemptive-historical. One of the most crying needs in our day and age is to put the Bible together for the person in the pew. How does it all fit together? So it depends on what Mr. Charles defines as “historically-redemptive” as to whether good expository preaching is or is not historically-redemptive.

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Synchronic Versus Diachronic

One of the biggest debates in biblical scholarship today is the debate between synchronic and diachronic methodologies. Synchronic approaches read the text in its final, completed form. That is the only form that really matters, because it is the canonical form. It is called “synchronic” because it reads all parts of a given book of Scripture simultaneously, or synchronously. Diachronic approaches are determined to search out possible development of the text from earlier to later versions, hoping that this will cast light on the meaning of the text. The Documentary Hypothesis of JEDP (popularized by Julius Wellhausen) is a good (and famous) example of diachronic analysis.

Most Christians will not care very much about this distinction. However, what they don’t know could hurt them. It is important at this point to stress that not all diachronic approaches undermine the canonicity of a book. Consider, for instance, Kings and Chronicles, both of which are anonymous to us. We do not know who wrote them. It is theoretically conceivable that God could (through the Holy Spirit) have inspired a process of a developing book. Not every book of the canon need have been written all at one sitting. However, there is a great danger to the diachronic methods: atomization of the text. Context must be defined synchronically, since this is how God has providentially preserved His text. Diachronic methods often wind up destroying that context in favor of a completely different context. Furthermore, these methods are highly speculative and subjective. They rely on supposed stylistic differences to find “seams.” The problem with all stylistic arguments is that we do not have a large enough sample size, either in OT or NT, to determine different styles to such a nicety that we can base entire theories on them. Some stylistic differences are visible in the Bible. One can tell the difference between Paul and John, for instance. However, this has limited usefulness, because all the writers of the Bible could have written in a different style than the one they are known for, unless we want to posit the “stupid original writer hypothesis” (SOWH), whereby biblical writers are artificially limited to one and only one style.

In the Pentateuch, it seems important, biblically, to be able to say that Moses wrote it. That being said, we can ask the question of the last chapter of Deuteronomy. Is it possible that Moses wrote the account of his own death? Certainly it is possible. God could have revealed to Moses what would happen after his death. This is hardly difficult. However, isn’t it more likely that Joshua, also writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, added a final chapter to Deuteronomy? It is like Frodo and the red book, telling Sam that there is room for a little more, and leaving it to Sam to finish. It is also possible that there are minor editorial additions (in order to address a new context of living in the promised land) in the Pentateuch that Joshua could have added by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This would not preclude us saying that Moses is still the author of the Pentateuch. But it is possible that it is slightly edited. This should not cause concern among us. There is a difference between saying something like this versus something like the JEDP hypothesis, which essentially denies to Moses any hand in creating the Pentateuch. They will often answer that it is not necessary to affirm Mosaic authorship, since Moses is the main character of the Pentateuch, then we can say it is the book about Moses. This would not, however, seem to square with Jesus’ confident assertion in John 5 that Moses wrote about Him (Jesus). Surely a straightforward reading of John 5 would come up with Jesus making a claim that Moses did the writing. There is no evidence that Jesus is speaking metaphorically or symbolically. He is speaking of typology, but that is something else entirely.

A growing number of scholars believe that there need be no opposition between synchronic and diachronic approaches. In fact, some believe that the diachronic approach can help us appreciate the final synchronic reading better. Perhaps. I have read several authors who claim this, but are unconvincing so far. Separating out layers of a text is still going to run counter to seeing the final form as the ultimate context in which we read any given part.

Where I think we need to be as Christians on this matter is two-fold. On the one hand, we need not have as rigid a view as is sometimes held. Some people think that saying any word of the Pentateuch was written by someone other than Moses is heretical liberalism. Editing has been going on for thousands of years. Are we seriously going to suggest that God could not use it or inspire it? We can say that if there is any editing in Scripture, that editing happened by inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to address a new state of affairs. On the other hand, I think we need to reject the more radical, subjective, hypothetical forms of diachronic analysis. The final form of the text is what we interpret in the church. Period. That is the form God has decreed should be the norm and guide for the church. Diachronic analyses should not be confused with exegesis, for these analyses do not interpret the text. Rather, they dissect it.

Parallelomania

It is quite the fashion these days in scholarly circles to find parallels between biblical texts and either Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) texts, for the Old Testament, or Greco-Roman texts, for the New Testament. Very confident pronouncements are then made about organic literary connections, even determining the direction of dependence. Samuel Sandmel, a rabbinic scholar, warned against extravagances in this direction in his address to the Society for Biblical Literature in the early 1960’s. The article was published in JBL 81.1 (1962), 1-13.

It is quite difficult to prove literary dependence. Similarity of verbiage does not prove literary relationship. Even if it did prove it, it does not prove the direction of literary dependence. Not even the relative age of manuscripts can prove literary dependence. What happens in the vast majority of biblical scholarship is that the foreign influence is always deemed to be prior, and the biblical text late and derivative. It is not difficult to detect a direct attack on the inspiration of Scripture: did the biblical ideas come from God, or did they come from humans?

One could argue, I suppose, that God could somehow use already existing human materials in a new way in the process of inspiration. However, that is not how parallelomaniacs argue. They argue that the biblical text is fully derivative. They start from an assumption that the Bible could not possibly be breathed out by God. It is merely a human document.

The problems with this position are two-fold: 1. it undermines the doctrine of inspiration; 2. it ignores the often apologetic tone of Scripture. What I mean by the second point is that if Scripture “sounds like” the ANE or Greco-Roman literature, it is usually done so as to reject those ideas, not appropriate them.

Old Testament scholars will immediately cry foul and point out the similarities of, say, the biblical book of Proverbs and the Egyptian Proverbs of Amenemope. To such scholars, I ask the following question: on what basis could one possibly prove that the scriptural book of Proverbs is dependent on the Egyptian document? The date of manuscripts? This is not conclusive in the least. Date of manuscript does not prove date of origin. Secondly, is it completely outside the realm of possibility that God’s common grace might reveal some wisdom to those outside the covenant? The covenant, incidentally, constitutes the major difference between the biblical book of Proverbs and the Egyptian document. The fear of the Lord in 1:7 and in chapter 9 is a covenantal fear, and this controls the whole book of Proverbs. In other words, the wisdom of Proverbs is not secularly derived, but rather from the fear of the Lord.

Historie and Geschichte

Liberal German theology invented a distinction between two supposedly different ways of looking at history. The term Historie referred to what actually happened. The term Geschichte referred to an interpreted history, or what the meaning of history is. On one level, this could be a helpful distinction. There can be a distinction in our minds between an event and the interpretation of that event. However, the Germans did not limit the distinction to this. They believed that true scholarship could go behind the Geschichte in order to find the Historie. Or, to put it in easier terms, that scholarship could rid itself of all biases in order to be able to see an absolutely objective historical reality.

In a post-modern world, very few people are willing to say that an objective view of history is possible. In fact, the pendulum has swung the other way. If, in the old German model, reality was located in Historie, and it was the historian’s duty to try to get to that objectivity, in the post-modern world, the reverse has happened: now there is no objective reality beyond our interpretation. The locus of reality has shifted to the mind and to Geschichte, except in one realm: science. There is still the great delusion that science is still objective.

What is the biblical view of all this? The biblical view is well expressed by Geerhardus Vos. There are events in history (especially salvation history) that are then interpreted. We can never escape our situatedness in order to achieve a truly objective interpretation of history. All views of history are biased, since they are necessarily selective, and the principle of selection will inevitably involve bias. Some are more self-aware than others. Those who are self-aware are the better historians. The question for the Christian is not whether we will have an interpretation of history, but whether our interpretation of history will match up with God’s interpretation or not. As Ken Ham would say, the real question is which bias is the right bias to be biased with in the first place. Here is where we have to fight post-modernism tooth and nail. For post-modernism denies that there is such a thing as correct and incorrect interpretation of Scripture and history. Christians, on the other hand, argue that God’s interpretation of history is correct, and that our interpretation should align with God’s.

Some Thoughts on Thanksgiving

The week of Thanksgiving is coming up. I do not intend to engage the argument here about whether Thanksgiving services should be held. Rather i wish to engage the question of the biblical concept of thanksgiving.

Adam and Eve’s fall into sin can be seen in the light of this question. Instead of being thankful for what God had given to them, they became discontent with what they had, and desired to rule over their own lives. They believed that they knew what was good for them better than God did. Instead of being thankful that they could eat of all the tree of the garden except from one tree, they believed Satan’s lie that God was somehow keeping something from them.

The history of idolatry in the times of Old Testament Israel has this same aspect to it. Instead of being grateful to God for the peace and prosperity that God had given them in the promised land, they hankered after something more. Ironically, that something more wound up always being something less, for how could anyone have something more than God?

What humanity needed was a new heart full of gratitude. So the gospel itself comes into view as God’s solution to the problem of ingratitude. And when God changes a person’s heart, the ingratitude and dissatisfaction becomes gratitude and satisfaction, as God’s infinite goodness to sinners becomes so clearly evident. The gospel, in this way, is all about thanksgiving. That is, the gospel always produces thanksgiving (among many other things).

The Rift Between Exegesis and Systematic Theology

Some exegetes believe that systematic theology (ST) has no place in exegesis. There are various reasons why people might believe this. Some might believe that ST would artificially narrow down the valid exegetical possibilities (horror of horrors!). Others believe that because ST is not their specialty, that therefore they cannot venture in to that field when they are doing their exegesis. Still others believe that exegesis is for the academy, while ST is for the church (and never should the two meet!). I will answer these objections one at a time.

To the first objection, I would answer that ST never narrows down the number of valid exegetical possibilities. One must define “valid exegetical possibilities.” For some exegetes, this would mean (in line with reader-response criticism) that they can understand the text to mean whatever they want the text to mean. So, when one comes to the text in Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man that He should lie,” a valid exegetical possibility for the reader-response critic might even be “God is just like a human, and is quite capable of lying; in fact, He often does.” What exegetes fail to realize in this regard is that we already have a ST grid of our own that narrows down interpretive options. So, the question is not whether we will have an interpretive grid, but which grid we have. The people who claim not to have a grid are the ones with the most fiercely narrowing grids of all. The reason for that is that they are not even aware of their own grids. And it is the invisible grids that are the most pernicious.

This also answers the bit about ST not being someone’s field. If one is a theologian, then ST is part of what we do. Period. Just because an exegete might not have read all the ST’s ever written in history does not mean that he is exempt from engaging the aspects of theology that fall under the rubrics of ST. ST is not just for the specialist. We all do it anyway. The question is whether we will be honest and upfront about doing it, or whether we will pretend that we are not doing it, when we really are.

Thirdly, exegesis is, most obviously, not just for the academy. Actually, most exegetes recognize this. Some merely think that their own exegesis is for the academy, and not for the church. The gulf between academy and church is particularly huge and disturbing. One expects the gulf with unbelieving scholarship. However, even some exegetes who believe in Christ as Lord and Savior also posit a huge gulf between academy and church, thus refusing to love what Christ has loved. I do not understand how believing scholars can do their work for the academy and not for the church, unless they are motivated by the fear of man, and the idol of prestige and honor among men.

Was Jesus Able to Sin?

This is a thorny question that has received more than one answer in history. Some Reformed authors like Sproul and Hodge have argued that Christ was not truly human if He was not subject to the possibility of falling into sin. Others have said that the unity of the God-man implies that the divine nature would have prevented the human nature from falling into sin. Both sides would agree that Jesus did not, in fact, sin. The question is whether it was possible or not.

I would argue that it was not possible for Christ to sin. However, this must be argued carefully. I would argue from the analogy of Christ’s sin-bearing that it was not possible for Christ to sin. How could Christ, as the God-man, bear the infinite weight of the punishment for sins? A mere human could not do so. Ursinus, in his commentary on the Heidelberg, argues that it is the divine nature which sustains the human nature in the sin-bearing. I would argue that Christ’s divine nature does the same with regard to withstanding temptation. Some versions of the position I hold wind up endangering the distinctiveness of Christ’s human nature. If we use the concept of sustaining, then we do not run the risk of attributing divine attributes to the human nature. This would be a more Lutheran communication of attributes that we should avoid. We can attribute characteristics of either nature to the person, but not human attributes to the divine, or vice versa.

Another way to get at the problem is to ask what kind of impossibility of sin are we positing? The impossibility I argue for is an impossibility of character. Not only was Christ’s human nature in the state of innocence, but also the divine nature sustained him in the temptations so that He would not fall into sin. This in no way minimizes the ferocity of the temptations directed Jesus’ way. Satan threw everything he had at Jesus. It is because Jesus resisted to the very last, to the very utmost heights of temptation, that he can be our Savior.

Did God’s Essence Become Incarnate?

One of the most difficult questions in Trinitarian theology is how the essence/person distinction relates to the Incarnation. The classic formulations state that God is in essence one, and that one essence is shared fully and completely in the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The essence of God must be involved somehow in the Incarnation, but finding a way of expressing that is difficult. On the one hand, it is vitally important not to drive a wedge between the essence of God and the three persons. Otherwise, we wind up with the classic problem of a quaternity (essence plus three persons).

The way this problem has been avoided in the past is through the doctrine of perichoresis, or mutual indwelling of the persons. The three persons interpenetrate each other in such a way that the persons remain distinct, and yet share fully in the essence. Perichoresis is also the only resource we have for understanding how God can be one essence that is simple (not divisible), and yet also be three distinct persons.

Objections to this doctrine usually bring God down to man’s level. For instance, someone will object that an essence cannot be so shared. The objection will only prove true, however (upon close examination), of mortal and finite essences. An infinite essence such as God’s essence is not limited by such problems.

The other problem we will have to avoid is in saying that the essence of God underwent any change whatsoever in the Incarnation. Here the Chalcedonian formulations help us out. The two natures of Christ remain distinct, even though inseparable. Therefore, the divine nature of Christ did not change at all when the Son added a full human nature to Himself.

This helps us answer the question: did God’s essence become incarnate? We have to say that God’s essence did not change into something else at the Incarnation. At the same time, we have to say that God’s essence was involved in the Incarnation. The Reformed scholastics help us out here. Their formulation is that God’s essence is incarnated, but only in one of its hypostases or persons (see Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, volume 4, p. 211). The process of incarnation is one of addition. A full human nature is added, taken up in hypostatic union with the second person of the Trinity, the essence of God in the second person. This must not be understood in any way that would imply that a separate already-formed human person was joined to the divine person. The full human nature (body and soul) of Christ only ever exists in hypostatic union with the divine nature. This being said, the Father and the Holy Spirit were not passive spectators in the Incarnation either. All the outside works of the Triune God are indivisible (which means that all three persons of the Trinity are at work in everything God does). The Father sent both the Son and the Spirit in the process of incarnation, and the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary. This must qualify what was said about only the second person being incarnated. For while it is true that only the second person became incarnated, yet it is also true that the Father and the Holy Spirit were involved.

Extra Services?

The Puritans generally rejected extra services of worship besides the Sunday Sabbath services. They lived in a context where the churches in power tended to require lots of extra services. There were feast-days, holy days, saint-days, etc. The Puritans believed that requiring all these extra services bound the conscience to something that was not God’s Word. Their position became clear: only the Sunday services of worship were required by Scripture. However, they did not forbid extra services entirely. WCF 21.5 states that “thanksgivings upon special occasions” are appropriate. The WCF does not specify what those special occasions are. We know from the rest of the standards that none of these extra services can be forced upon the people. However, that is a very different thing from saying that therefore they are not allowed.

If a congregation, therefore, decides that it wants to give thanks to God generally by holding a Thanksgiving service; give thanks to God for the incarnation of Jesus Christ at Christmas; and give thanks to God for Christ’s resurrection at Easter, this does not fall foul of the Regulative Principle, and it falls within the parameters of WCF 21.5. The congregation would then have decided that those are the special occasions on which it wants to give thanks. If someone were to respond by saying “those aren’t special occasions,” I would respond by saying, “who gets to decide what the special occasions are?” Is it not the congregation, led by the session? In my situation, for instance, the congregation is used to having a Thanksgiving service, a Christmas service and an Easter service. No one feels bound in their conscience to go. They go freely. This is very different, obviously, from what the Puritans were facing, in terms of required services.

Now, can we require people to go to extra services? Of course not. That would definitely be a violation of Scripture. Nor could we, hypothetically speaking, discipline anyone who did not come to the special services. They must be kept voluntary. This is the understanding of many Reformed churches through the years. One could not fault a church for holding only to the Sabbath services. However, it seems to go too far to judge churches that have Christmas and Easter services. There seems to be a range here of acceptable practice.

How Can Our Theology Be True?

It was a commonplace in Reformed scholasticism to make a distinction between archetypal theology and ectypal theology. This distinction has been lost in subsequent centuries, greatly to the loss of the church. The Reformed scholastics, however, understood that humans, being finite, cannot comprehend the infinite. We can know things truly, but never in the same exact way that God knows. Here is one place I have felt that followers of Gordon Clark have not even remotely done justice to the history of Reformed theology. They want to blast Van Til for creating something that leads to complete skepticism and uncertainty. If we cannot know in the same manner as God knows, then we can know nothing at all, say the Clarkians. But Van Til did not create the archetypal/ecyptal distinction. It has been around for centuries. Just to take two classic examples, Johannes á Mark (Marckius in his Latin spelling; also sometimes spelled Marck), divides theology first into true theology and false theology. The first division of true theology is into archetypal (God’s own knowledge of Himself) and ectypal (the knowledge of God that an image-bearer can have). See his Medulla, 1.6-8.

Of greater importance, because of the deeper definition of “ectypal,” is Junius’s definition. He uses the same distinction of theology into true and false theology. He further divides true theology first into archetypal, which he calls “undoubtedly the wisdom of God Himself, or it is ectypal, having been fashioned by God” (page 86 of A Treatise on True Theology). What is fascinating about Junius’s definition of ectypal theology is that God made ecyptal theology. This becomes even more clear a few paragraphs later: “Ecyptal theology, whether taken in itself, as they say, or relatively in relation to something else, is the wisdom of divine matters, fashioned by God from the archetype of Himself, through the communication of grace for His own glory.” To all my readers, I do not think you will find a finer definition of ectypal theology anywhere else. What is vitally important for our purposes is that phrase “fashioned by God from the archetype of Himself, through the communication of grace.” How can we know that ecyptal theology does not relegate us to complete skepticism, not knowing anything truly, if we don’t know it the same way God does? We know that ecyptal theology is still true theology because God made it off the pattern of His own archetypal theology. And He gives it to us by grace (Junius certainly has revelation in mind here, which comes by grace). It is theology fitted to our capacity, as Junius also makes clear, and is “communicated by union, vision, or revelation” (ibid.).

The fact that our theology can only ever be ectypal does not stop Junius from stating that “The form of theology is divine truth” (p. 88), or that “This truth is holy, just, and perfect,” or that “this theology is one, eternal, and immutable” (p. 89). Ecyptal theology is true because God made it so. If ectypal theology were dependent on the human brain, it would be constantly changing, and it would provide zero certainty. It is matter for great rejoicing, then, that the certainty of ectypal theology does not rest on fallen human reason, but on God’s unchanging revelatory grace.

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