Tim Keller’s Book on Preaching

I was very pleasantly surprised to read Tim Keller’s book on preaching. I was afraid I would encounter a low view of preaching, an antinomian spirit, a denigration of exposition, and an exaltation of things that have no business being in the worship service. I encountered none of these things in this book. Although the book is not perfect, the good definitely outweighs the bad, and by a fair margin.

The good things: 1. He has a very helpful way of connecting the first use of the law to the third (though he does not use these terms). A general movement in the sermon that he recommends goes something like this: the law is what you are supposed to do, but you can’t do it. Jesus has done it, so if you are united to Him by faith, here is how you can do it, by growing in your faith.

2. In general, he uses excellent sources, and usually the best, to bolster his points. You see names like Ferguson, Lloyd-Jones, Clowney, Carson, Spurgeon, Old, Perkins, Dabney, Calvin, Edwards, and Packer.

3. In an age when preaching is falling on hard times, Keller is definitely going counter-cultural here. In fact, his thoughts on culture are very helpful at places. He has a balance between acknowledging what can be a point of contact, while using that same point of contact to confront the culture at various points, including both unconsciously held narratives as well as explicit idolatries.

4. He advocates a mostly responsible redemptive-historical understanding of Scripture (see my one caveat below) that sees Jesus in the Old Testament.

5. The gospel is for Christians and unbelievers. He has a robust view of the possible hearers, and a helpful taxonomy of various spiritual places that hearers could be.

6. There are many insights that are eminently quotable. Here are a few: “[Secular people]…won’t even consider real Christianity unless they see it is not identical to moralism” (p. 62). “We need not only the Bible’s prescription to our problems but also its diagnosis of them” (p. 97). “[I]magine that the Bible is not the product of any one human culture or set of authors but is a revelation from God himself. If that were the case, then it would have to offend every person’s cultural sensibilities somewhere. No matter who you are, you inhabit an imperfect culture that shapes your beliefs, and the Bible-if it were authoritative revelation from God-would then have to be outrageous to you at some place. Since that is the case, it is no argument against the Bible to say, ‘It offends me at this point.’ That is precisely what you should expect” (pp. 113-114). It should be pointed out that Keller is not advocating a low view of Scriptural authority here. Rather, he assumes a high view.

There are many other good things about this book. I have not been exhaustive, but only representative.

There are a few caveats that I feel are necessary to point out. First, although Keller does have what seems to me a responsible redemptive-historical hermeneutic that sees Christ in the Old Testament, he also tries to use a bit of the Christotelic hermeneutic, compliments of Tremper Longman (pp. 86-87). I used to think that a second Christotelic re-reading was fully compatible with Luke 24 and John 5. I no longer think that is true. Yes, the New Testament does help us understand the Old Testament. The question is whether the NT sheds light on what is actually there in the OT, or whether the NT changes the meaning of the OT. It is not entirely clear to me which of these positions Keller would ultimately assume, although the majority of his argumentation favors the former, more orthodox position.

Secondly, Keller references Krister Stendahl’s article “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” which was a seminal article in the formation of the New Perspective on Paul. While it is possible that there is some good in that article, it would have been nice to see Keller offer a caveat, so that people would not think that Keller is endorsing the NPP. He does the same with N.T. Wright in at least one place.

Thirdly, there are a few false dichotomies he uses that I do not think are terribly useful. On pages 157ff., he advocates (rightly) that the human being is a whole being, body and soul, mind and heart, and that we should not separate these things. The heart can think, biblically speaking. It is not just emotions (p. 158). He advocates preaching to the heart (again, how could one disagree?). The quibble I have has to do with how Keller sees truth, propositions, and the mind. It seems to me that Keller does not really see the truth by itself as carrying the weight of conviction that Scripture says it carries. Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free. Jesus did not say “the truth dynamically spoken.” Keller agrees with Edwards that there is no opposition between mind and heart (p. 161). Well and good, except that he also advocates an essential element of making the truth “gripping and real to the heart” (p. 160). He is not excluding rational argument and doctrine (p. 162 makes this plain). Is there room in Keller’s theology for God using a dry-as-dust-but-orthodox sermon to transform someone’s life permanently? Another example of what I am asking is on page 169, where Keller (ironically) uses a proposition to denigrate propositions. He argues that the imagination is more affected by images than by propositions. Perhaps, if one has a low and narrow view of propositions. But why must propositions be dull and unimaginative? Why can’t propositions use imagery, metaphor, word-pictures? He brings in the example of Genesis 4:7, and the imagery of sin being like an animal crouching at the door. He argues that this imagery conveys more information “than a mere proposition could do.” But if you look at his own statement, it is a proposition. Furthermore, so is Genesis 4:7! It is a proposition that sin is like an animal crouching at the door. It seems to me that Keller simply has a narrow view of what propositions can do, as if they can only be premises or conclusions in a formal logical argument. Related to this is something that is simply false on page 287, footnote 4, where Keller agrees with Smith in critiquing what he calls “an approach to ministry that is too rationalistic and focused on information transfer and the transmission of right doctrine and beliefs. His response is that we change not by changing what we think as much as by changing what we worship-what we love and fill our imaginations with.” This is a false dichotomy. It is difficult to square this kind of thinking with Romans 12:1-2, where we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Is doctrine really this boring?

Fourthly, I do not share his view of the inadvisability of preaching through entire books to a mobile city church. Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia has just as mobile a congregation as Redeemer does, and yet they preach straight through book after book of the Bible. It doesn’t seem to have hurt Tenth very much, to put it mildly.

I am not sure what I think of his three tiers of communication related to the gospel (the introduction, pp. 1-7). Initially when I read it, I thought that it makes sense on one level. However, what Keller did not make clear is what impact this would have on his view of, say, women in ministry. Keller is in favor of the dictum that a woman can do anything in worship that a non-ordained man can do. But if this is true, and a non-ordained man can preach, then may a woman do so? This certainly would seem to fall foul of 1 Timothy 2.

Although I have had to explain at somewhat greater length my quibbles with Keller’s book, I do not want the readers to get the impression that the quibbles outweigh the good things. Quibbles always take longer to explain. Furthermore, my list of good things is only representative, whereas the quibbles are pretty much exhaustive. This is still an excellent book on preaching, and I would recommend it to anyone who is committed (as everyone should be with any theologian, including this blogger!) to eating the meat and spitting out the bones.

Are Sacraments Fundamentals?

It seems rather common these days in the PCA for folks to deny that sacraments are gospel issues. The way the intinction debate went is an excellent example showing us how the PCA tends to think about the sacraments. So many people claimed that intinction does not threaten the gospel, so why should we bother? In fact, rather unkind words were thrown in the face of anyone arguing the opposite case (legalistic, Pharisaic, overly narrow, etc.). I have written a fairly comprehensive (all of the most important secondary literature was consulted) paper on intinction, arguing that the Bible is against the practice, because of the symbolism of separating body and blood being closely connected to death. Even intinction is a matter of the clarity of the gospel being preached in the sacraments.

The matter of the recipients of either sacrament is a fundamental of the system. We obviously hold that this is true with regard to the recipients of baptism, since we do not ordain credobaptists in the PCA. Yet, inconsistently, most of the PCA regards the age of the recipients of the other sacrament as non-essential. Why would the age of the recipients of baptism be essential, whereas the age of the recipients of communion not be essential? The only reason I can think of in this regard is that we have let pragmatics and precedent take over. The single most cited reason why we should allow people to believe and teach this (even if they are not allowed to practice it) is that we have allowed this in the past, and that, going back to Wolfgang Musculus, it has been “part of the Reformed tradition,” whatever that nebulous standard implies. To respond, there is nothing in the BCO that establishes past precedent as constricting future action.

As I have written in the past, there are 17 places in the PCA Constitution that assume credo-communion, such that an advocate of PC CANNOT claim a difference with only one part of our standards. The difference is FAR more fundamental. The PC advocate has a completely different view of how the sacrament works. Reformed theology has always claimed an active component in the reception of the LS, unlike what is required in baptism, which is wholly passive. The PC advocate denies the distinction between the sacraments, ironically demonstrating that he has not thrown off his Baptistic assumptions enough.

If the sacraments are not gospel issues, then why should we not ordain someone who holds to transubstantiation? Consubstantiation? Memorialist? Usually, we’re not willing to go there. But then, that would mean that we view some sacramental issues as gospel issues, and other issues as not gospel issues. Perhaps this is true. I, for one, am not willing to die on the whole grape juice versus wine debate, though since Jesus used wine, I see no reason why we should ever have switched to anything else. But this is a different question from the recipients of the sacraments.

So, this blog post is addressed to the evangelical middle of the PCA: I plead with you to consider the evidence, dig through the material, and recognize that the Reformed tradition has always viewed the sacraments as fundamental to the system. They are not peripheral. Our forefathers were willing to die over differences regarding the sacraments. That is because the sacraments preach the gospel. They are gospel issues.

A Great Book for the Burned-Out Pastor

The author of this book is a pastor in the same Presbytery where I labor. He is the chairman of the shepherding committee in the Presbytery, and this book certainly helps explain why. Clay is a warm, pastoral man with a heart for hurting people. I heartily recommend this book to any pastors who are discouraged and beaten down with the routine or with crises in the ministry. This book is also a good antidote to the almost universal naivete afflicting good-hearted young men as they come out of seminary ready to fix all the world’s problems (if only the stupid world would listen to them!). Heck, I would even recommend it to pastors who are doing just fine, so that they stay that way!

Clay is certainly honest about his own journey, which makes the book all that much more interesting and compelling. The first five chapters are diagnosis, and the last five are solution. The diagnosis section is painful but healing to read. Chapter 3 comes to mind. Here are a few things that zapped me: “It’s as if God has been saying, ‘Clay, let my people go!'” (p. 51). “Yet we often want to press fast-forward on our ministry remote and make people mature faster and our churches grow quicker because we so desperately want these things now” (44). “Constant conflict made me seek comfort anywhere I could find it, especially in a quiet office with a closed door in the safety of reading books” (60). “Resurrection power may heal the hurt, or it may simply give us the strength to endure. Either way, resurrection power meets us in our weakness” (85). “[T]he love inside of our hearts can be padlocked, whereas our anger often has a hair trigger” (89). The book is well-designed to make a pastor feel really, really guilty, and then really, really forgiven in Christ.

I don’t have any quibbles with what he says. There are a few things that I would like to see in, say, a second edition of the book, or a “revised and expanded” edition (or a second book!). Of course, one can’t say everything in one book, and this is Clay’s first book. One question that nagged at me throughout the book was this: how do we pastors get this grace, when we are the ones “dishing it out”? I don’t mean that we are the source of grace, of course. But how do we get the benefit, for instance, of the Lord’s Supper and of the sermon, when we are the ones presenting those things to the congregation? This goes along with a parallel concern: I would like to have seen more emphasis on the means of grace, and how those factor in to relieve the burdened pastor. A second thing I would like to see addressed is the day off. How do we see our roles on Sunday? As work, or as our part in the worship services? And then, what do we do for a day off during the rest of the week? A third thing is coordinated with the last chapter. He has an admirable and biblical emphasis on pursuing unity (unity achieved is a great stress reliever!). What I would like to see is how that relates to the pursuit of truth and purity of the gospel. How do we avoid burnout, for instance, when we are fighting wolves in sheep’s clothing? What about the temptation to avoid conflict about gospel issues for the sake of our own comfort and avoiding burnout? What is the difference between pursuing our own comfort versus avoiding burnout? I would love to see these questions answered, if not by Clay, then by someone building on what Clay has done here.

This is a great little book. It doesn’t take long to read (and it is, by and large, well-written). It lays a great foundation for thinking about the ministry in a grace-driven way. It deserves a very wide readership by pastors of all stripes. Tolle lege.

Wise Words on Preaching

Timothy Ward concludes his wonderful book on Scripture with some wise words on preaching that I would like to share with folks.

Firstly, he notices that some pastors are so afraid of seeming too arrogant, authoritarian, or tyrannical in the pulpit that they seek to avoid any and all trappings of power in their sermons: “In sermons like these the preacher comes not proclaiming, declaring, exhorting and rebuking, but sharing, musing, reflecting and imagining” (157). He puts his finger directly on the problem with this: “The main problem with preaching in this ‘weak’ style is that it is not weak for any of the same reasons that the apostle Paul judged his own preaching to be weak” (157). His trenchant conclusion on this issue is very quotable indeed: “Preaching goes as tragically astray when it muses and reflects on those matters it should be proclaiming, as it does when it confidently proclaims what the preacher cannot know, because Scripture is silent” (158).

Secondly, Ward establishes a very clear, strong and beautiful connection of the Holy Spirit to the Word in preaching: “[W]hat the faithful preacher does, and what the Holy Spirit does with Scripture through him, is best described as a contemporary re-enactment of the speech act that the Spirit performed in the original authoring of the text” (emphasis original, 162). This should have a profound effect on the preacher himself: “The preacher should have grappled with the meaning of the text in his preparation, desiring the Spirit-given purpose of the biblical text to become real in in his own life. He should enter the pulpit as someone who has been chastened by the Spirit, or given new hope, or set out on a new course of action, or renounced a kind of behaviour, or had love rekindled in his heart, that is, responding faithfully to the speech act conveyed by the Scripture on which he is preaching” (164).

Thirdly, Ward connects the private reading of Scripture to the public preaching in an interesting and helpful way: “the healthiest way to relate the two is to think of the individual reading of Scripture as derivative of, and dependent on, the corporate reading and proclamation of Scripture in the Christian assembly” (171). What he means by that is that “good preaching exercises something of a ‘credal’ function in the local church” (172). It helps the people read their Bibles better.

Fourthly and lastly, Ward gives us a good argument for turning to commentaries a bit sooner in our preparation of sermons. This statement is worth quoting in full. Notice how balanced it is, with appropriate qualifications and limitations set on it:

There is certainly merit in not simply turning to learned books to find ‘the answer’, as a lazy short-cut to avoid wrestling with Scripture for myself. Yet increasingly, when reading Scripture, I find myself wanting to turn to a good Bible commentary sooner rather than later. My reason is this: a good commentary will give me an insight into the consensus view on the meaning of each passage held by the generations of believers who have come before me. Working within that framework seems to be a sensible, humble and faithful place to start. For most Christians, who lack the time, resources and perhaps also the inclination to do the research themselves, good preaching will be a crucial means by which that historic consensus on Scripture’s meaning is conveyed to individual believers. For that, of course, the preacher needs to be, as he should be, well educated in biblical, historical and systematic theology. (paragraph break, LK) Nothing that I have just said denies outright that God can cause new light to break out from Scripture, enabling us to see truths in it that our forebears did not” (173-174).

What’s Your Point?

I am re-reading T. David Gordon’s book Why Johnny Can’t Preach. It is a delightfully instructive and entertaining read. Our session is going to be going through it with the idea of studying how communication works, such that we can improve our teaching. The thesis of the book is relatively modest in scope. It does not claim to identify and solve all the problems with preaching today. Rather, Gordon claims to be identifying one major problem, and maybe the foremost problem. This problem has to do with the way in which the media, a primarily visual means of communication, has interfered with our ability to read texts well. He would go farther than that by saying that it has almost eradicated our ability to read texts well.

I agree completely with his thesis. However, I would like to point out something else, something less obvious, something deeper and less traceable, albeit still connected with Gordon’s analysis. I would argue that the almost complete division and separation among the disciplines of learning has resulted in ministerial candidates who do not offer the kind of well-rounded sermon that Gordon is promoting. What I typically find is that sermons these days are exegetical or systematic-theological or practical or historical or apologetic. This problem is not merely due to the fragmented way in which many seminaries teach the theological disciplines (though that may well be the main factor). It is also due to the colleges and high schools, which are usually oblivious to the problems that this Enlightenment-created phenomenon has produced. I realize that I am speaking somewhat generally, and that there are exceptions (specifically, most instructors and congregants desire the sermon to be practical, and so the practical aspect is often there alongside one of the other aspects; although, even here, the “practical” is usually truncated to mean “what is helpful to me at 9 AM on Monday”).

The effect this division among the disciplines has on preaching is profound, especially when aggravated by the factors that Gordon mentions. In the modern sermon, not only is there lack of unity in subject matter (“Point? What point?”), but there is also lack of unity in theological discipline (which is, ultimately, the viewpoint of the sermon). Most of the time, it seems that preachers will take one of the disciplines (their favorite) and preach from that viewpoint. As a result, their sermons are greatly truncated. What unites the theological disciplines, after all, is Scripture itself, as Abraham Kuyper so admirably says in his Principles of Sacred Theology (which ought to be required reading at every seminary in the last semester of study). It is like trying to pull a rope while grabbing only one of the strands: eventually the rope unravels.

Lawson’s Address

This is actually Lawson’s second address. His first address was a description of the contents of the new book on Spurgeon that Reformation Trust is publishing. That was an excellent address, but I did not write a summary of it. This lecture is entitled “Foolishness to the Greeks.”

The text is 1 Corinthians 1:18ff. Greek philosophy was very much a going concern. It came to Corinth from Athens. there were many differing philosophies on offer in the first century. The gospel Paul preached was in direct conflict with all the philosophies of the day. It was regarded as foolish. Furthermore, the messengers were also considered foolish. It is also a foolish method. In these three ways, Paul’s message is foolish to the Greeks.

The message was regarded as foolish. We are not just dogmatic about the cross: we are bulldogmatic about the cross! But it is nonsense to those who are perishing. Notice the present tense: they are currently dying from the inside out. We preach what seems like a contradiction: a crucified Christ. That’s like saying “freezer burn.” Or “Central Intelligence Agency” (LK) We preach a crucified conqueror, a slaughtered savior. This is foolishness to the world. But it is the only way. Why? Because God will have all the glory for Himself. We should therefore never try to make the foolishness of the cross appear to be brilliant to the world.

The messengers were also regarded as foolish. In verse 26 he shifts to the messenger, although this is not a shift of main subject. He is still plumbing the depths of why the world considers the message foolish. It is nott only because they think the message is foolish, but they also reject the messengers. God wanted to make sure that it was not because we were to have faith in the messenger. So God chose the foolish ones of the earth. Notice that God’s choice stands behind and before the calling. This is so encouraging, though. How could God use us? We didn’t make Who’s Who? We didn’t even make Who’s Not. God intentionally reached down to the bottom of the barrel. The only possible explanation left is that there has to be a God. We are all nobodies telling everybody about Somebody. If someone is intellectually elite, God will have to work quite a bit harder.

Lastly, the method God chooses is also regarded as foolish (chapter 2:1ff. “Lofty speech” refers to the style, and “wisdom” refers to the substance. We cannot come at this by saying that the method never changes the substance. Paul says that the method is important. It has be a cross-centered method. It has to be a straight-forward approach. This is in contrast to all the rhetoric that was so much loved in Athens and Corinth. Preaching is foolishness to the world. Everyone who tries to change the method God has established is trying to rely on man’s wisdom. Hence the vital importance of preaching in the church today.

The Bride of Christ

(Posted by Paige)

A friend and I were discussing this biblical metaphor this morning, and I thought to cast this question out to all of you as well: Do you think it is in keeping with biblical intent to speak of the marriage of God or Christ to individual believers as well as to the Church corporate?

In his preaching and writing, my friend will speak in terms of both individual and corporate marriage as rich expressions of God’s/Christ’s relationship of union with believers. I am not sure that he is wrong to do so, but I am personally less comfortable speaking of the individual’s “marriage relationship” with Christ (or calling the individual believer the “Bride” of Christ), simply because in both OT and NT usage God and Christ are never (as far as I can see) said to be “married” to individuals, but only to the corporate bodies of Israel or the Church (cf. Is. 62:3-5; Jer. 2; Eph. 5; Rev. 21). On the other hand, there are plenty of relational metaphors available in the Bible that express the individual’s relationship to God and Christ: child, sibling, friend, sheep, servant (even slave), soldier, citizen, etc.

Is the application to individuals of this “marriage” metaphor a fair implication of the corporate picture of Christ’s Bride, or do you think it is beyond the intent of the scriptural witness? If the latter, do you perceive any harmful or misleading influence in speaking this way?

If, on the other hand, you think it is a fair way to picture Christ’s union with the believer, how can it be framed in teaching and preaching so that the individual does not lose sight of the corporate nature of being the Bride of Christ?

Thanks for your thoughts!

Not Masses of Help?

Paul Levy over at Ref21 has written (quoting Ray Galea) that sermons that become chapters in a book lose their life. He says: “He’s right isn’t he? We’re probably a bit afraid to admit it but those vast volumes of commentaries which are just transcribed sermons are often hard work and not masses of help in preparation apart from when hunting for illustrations or we’re very short of time.” I would certainly waive the point when it comes to plagiarism. Pastors MUST preach their own sermons to their congregations for the very simple reason that no one else knows their congregations like they do. Only the local pastor can bring home the text to THAT congregation.

However, I wish to address a different point here. He says, basically, that commentaries made up of sermons are not masses of help in sermon preparation. I cannot say that I agree with this statement. For one thing, there are very few commentaries period which could be said to be “masses of help.” The question is this: what are one’s expectations on using a commentary? I find a commentary to be somewhat helpful if I underline anything in two or three pages. If I underline one thing per page, it is a very helpful commentary. If I underline 3-4 things per page, then it is a massively helpful commentary. How many massively helpful commentaries do I own? Not many, and I own many commentaries. My point is that reading commentaries is not like hitting up Fort Knox for gold. It’s like looking for needles in haystacks (this can certainly be said for the entire scholarly enterprise). I have not found sermonic commentaries to be less helpful than the other types of commentaries. In preaching on Romans, for instance, I have found Boice and Lloyd-Jones to be very helpful, even though I don’t underline on every page. Anything Iain Duguid writes on the OT is massively helpful, and they pretty much ALL originated as sermons. I would not like to see pastors reading fewer commentaries as a result of Paul’s statement, however much he might have been addressing a different point.

Amos As Preacher, Contrasted With Modern Social “Preaching”

I found Old’s discussion of Amos as preacher to be very engaging and helpful, especially as it focused on a book that we do not study very much, although it is a book that has undergone exceedingly extensive analysis since the 1960’s (60 commentaries have been written on this book in just the three decades of the 1960’s-1980’s).

Amos is generally regarded as the first of the writing prophets, the first whose words are recorded in literary form (p. 47). Old notes that “For the prophets, the word that they preached was as much the Word of God as the word that Moses preached.” In Amos’ case, it is clear from the opening words, wherein the prophecy is introduced as “the words of Amos,” but then immediately go on to say “The Lord roars from Zion” (p. 48).

Amos was not the “bubba” type sheep-herder that many have thought he was. Instead, the evidence of his own writing points to someone who was sophisticated, cultured, and wise (pp. 48-49). Maybe he was one of the elders in the gate (49). He could express himself clearly and with power, indicating some measure of practice with public speaking. And some of the book that bears his name records for us his public speaking, which can be labeled sermons.

Incidentally, we are treated to a helpful distinction between the Law and the Prophets, when Old writes, “The Law, the Decalogue, was understood as the Word of God in the most direct sense, too, but the Law, or at least the Decalogue, was apodictic. It applied to any place or time; regular pronouncement of it was sufficient. The prophetic oracle generally was understood to be the Word of God in every bit as direct a way, but it was sharpened and pointed to be shot like an arrow into a particular situation” (p. 49).

Another incidental discussion Old gives us is on the nature of the Word of God as preached, which, as the Reformers all stated, IS the Word of God. Muller has a very helpful distinction that helps us here (pp. 204-205 of volue 2 of PRRD) of immediate and mediate Word of God. What comes from God’s own mouth is immediate, and what comes from the preacher’s mouth is mediate. Nevertheless, both are said to be the Word of God (inasmuch as the preacher’s words agree with the text, of course).

Old notes that the targets of Amos’s preaching in the cows of Bashan has direct relevance to pampered women today (which is, of course, only one subset of all women), who tend enjoy the cosmetic luxuries of the culture, but care nothing for justice and righteousness. Amos’s thundering against them could very easily be applied to today’s Hollywood women.

Amos warns against syncretistic (read here “postmodern, inclusivistic, ecumenical”) worship in chapter 4. Old makes the very interesting observation that Amos 5-6 is a literary dirge for the whole Northern Kingdom, which at that time was prospering and well (p. 55)!

To close, Old has some choice comments for so-called “social” preachers, in his contrast to Amos:

In the strictest sense of the word, the Church has neither prophets nor apostles today; the canon of Scripture is closed. In a larger sense, however, both the word “prophet” and the word “apostle” are used today. Surely today’s ministers are called to be prophets as well as apostles, and surely the Church of today, as always, needs prophetic preachers. During the last half of the twentieth century, Americans have heard plenty of preaching that claims to be prophetic. We have had a whole generation of amateur social critics in our pulpits who thought they were following the example of Amos by denouncing everything from the Vietnam War to smoking marijuana. By a sort of typology they imagined that President Johnson or President Nixon, or President Reagan or President Clinton, was the contemporary Jeroboam. Few of these sermons even came close to those of Amos. Their social criticism may or may not have been justified, but that is not the point. The problem was that they imagined that one line of social criticism or another was the Word of God for our time. They used the prophets to justify some economic program or social ideology and thought they had done their job (pp. 58-59).

The Prophets Samuel and Elijah as Preachers

Continuing on in Old’s book, we come to an interesting distinction he notes from Roland de Vaux. This distinction is that “priests were concerned with the interpretation and application of the Word of God as it was revealed in the law of Moses, while the prophets were concerned with proclaiming the Word of God as God revealed that Word directly to the prophet” (p. 41). Undoubtedly, this is a bit simplistic, as there were preachers who also proclaimed a new word from the Lord. Ezra was one of these. However, the distinction is still helpful, as long as it is remembered that the preaching of the Word of God IS the Word of God (while it is faithful to the Word of God, of course).

What motivated prophets to say “Thus saith the Lord?” Old says that “It was not that they were so convinced of the truth of their interpretation of current events and so impassioned by the moral imperatives of what they thought ought to be done that they were willing to call their view the word of God in order to get people to listen. As they understood it, God had given them His Word” (p. 42).

Old asks the question what Samuel was doing in Shiloh with old Eli (p. 44). The answer was almost certainly that he (probably along with other boys) were “being taught the sacred traditions, both the written and the oral ones” (p. 44). In terms of the distinction noted above, Samuel also constitutes something of a crossover, since he combined both priestly and prophetic duties in one person. Given the fact that he was a judge, he also had a somewhat kingly function as well. Von Rad points comes to the conclusion that Samuel can best be regard as a preacher of the Law (Old Testament Theology, 2:7, referenced on p. 44 of Old).

When it comes to Elijah, he must be vigorously contrasted with the ecstatic Canaanite prophets (pp. 45-46). Elijah was something “much more profound.” Elijah mediated the Law to the people, especially in terms of the first and second commandments, as the incident on Mt. Carmel indicates. Both of these two prophets understood the necessity of preaching the Law of God to the people of God.

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