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Preaching Christ in the Old Testament: A Look Forward to the Upcoming Table Talk with Dr. Scharf and Dr. Luy

On Wednesday, November 11 from 12-1:15 pm at the front of the library, Dr. Scharf and Dr. Luy will be facilitating a discussion on preaching Christ in the Old Testament. We will be examining some of the different perspectives and issues involved in that endeavor. Because of the complexity of this topic and the many subjects it raises to our attention, Dr. Scharf and Dr. Luy will begin the Table Talk by making some brief introductory comments. These initial remarks will serve to focus subsequent discussion. And after discussing these matters in groups, we look forward to a time of interaction with Dr. Luy and Dr. Scharf on further questions and group observations.

I hope that you will bring your lunch and join us!

This blog post seeks to introduce you to the subject at hand–preaching Christ in the Old Testament–and to expose you to some of the issues involved in that conversation.

As Dr. Scharf recently wrote me in an email,

The practice of preaching Christ in the Old Testament raises a host of questions and subjects the preacher to significant perils as well as offering great promise. Navigating these waters requires that the preacher have a defensible theology, a valid hermeneutic, and exegetical expertise (enriched ideally by a grasp of the history of interpretation of the preaching text) as well as a love for his or her listeners, the required spiritual gifting, and prayerful reliance upon the Holy Spirit.

You’ll immediately notice from his statement that the issues involved here are multi-faceted.

On the one hand, there are hermeneutical questions.

For example, many are concerned about preserving the original authorial intent of the text in its immediate literary and historical context. You may share my experience of sitting in classes with professors, typically Old Testament professors, who express such concerns. One question for preaching Christ from Old Testament texts then is, how do I connect the apparent authorial intent of this text to Christ (or, maybe better: preach Christ from this text) and still preserve faithfulness to its authorial intent, that is, without engaging in what might be called “Christo-eisegesis”?

Sometimes this particular question is posed in terms of an “either/or” issue. “Either you can preach the original intent or you can preach Christ. But, if you preach Christ, then you are necessarily not preaching the original meaning.” But are preaching Christ and preaching the authorial intent mutually exclusive or necessarily incompatible, or might that original meaning be organically related to Christ? Is not the latter the very claim of thoughtful advocacy of preaching Christ from the Old Testament, an advocacy based on a presupposition of the unity and Christocentric nature of scripture itself?

And with that latter point, what do we mean when we speak of ‘meaning’? Is it appropriate to make a distinction between two dimensions of meaning–original meaning and meaning unveiled through Christological connections?

These are some of the sorts of hermeneutical questions with which we need to wrestle if we are to think well about this matter.

But we can go on. It’s one thing to say we can preach Christ from the Old Testament, i.e., that it’s legitimate to do so and doing so does not necessarily violate scripture’s intention and meaning. But it’s another thing to actually do that sort of preaching.

The question at hand here may be, for example, “How does this text relate to Christ?” And this may be where Biblical theology enters the discussion as at least one possible avenue for answering that question. How does the Bible hold together? And where does this particular text fit into that larger redemptive-historical unity?

Second, I want to bring up the “why” question–why preach Christ from the Old Testament? What’s the point, the motivation, the driving assumption behind such preaching methodology? Is preaching Christ merely an alternative approach to preaching, one as equally as valid as others? Or do we have an obligation as Christian preachers to preach all of scripture in light of Christ?

One might argue that there is nothing wrong about preaching the Old Testament simply in terms of its original meaning, in terms of its immediate grammatical, historical, and literary context without consideration of its relationship to the broader Christian canon and Christ in particular. I mean, God purposed that original meaning. Thus, we may have a sense of wanting to guard ourselves from somehow implicating that this original meaning is deficient if preached solely on its own terms. But, at the same time, we may worry, “Can this sort of preaching be described as ‘Christian’?” In other words, what is distinctively Christian about it in such a case?

I’ve heard some claim that the Old Testament is inherently Christian. Thus, we don’t need to somehow Christianize it. The text does not need to be “baptized.” Preaching the original meaning is Christian preaching. To argue otherwise is to claim, by implication, that the text is deficient, somehow less than Christian.

But, to come at things from another angle, would this sort of preaching disclose the full significance of this text in light of the full witness of scripture and especially in terms of its relationship to Christ? Is that is what we mean by a distinctively Christian form of preaching, one the considers those broader theological connections?

How we answer these sorts of questions will likely effect the importance (or imperative) we place on preaching Christ from the Old Testament.

Along with these “why” questions are the often uninvestigated “what” questions. For example, when we say, “preaching Christ?” what do we mean by “Christ”? Is the goal to simply show the unity of scripture, i.e., how everything relates to Jesus? Or (and?) by “Christ” do we mean the Gospel, in which case “preaching Christ” is a synonym for “Gospel-centered preaching”?

We would do well to examine the nature of our particular contrual of “preaching Christ” before we enter discussions about what it would look like to do that from the Old Testament.

In other words, I’m trying to point out that many times when people advocate preaching Christ from the Old Testament, there are often (stated or unstated) assumptions about what this sort of preaching is and why it should be pursued. And, I think, in order to sort out our disagreements over these matters, we would do well to disclose those conceptions and their motivations and ask if they are legitimate. In short, let’s go to the source of the debate.

Finally, I want to revisit the “how” question I introduced above. As I said, it’s one thing to say we can (or ought) to preach Christ from the Old Testament, but it’s another thing to actually do it, and do it well. We must move beyond theory to methodology and practice if any of this discussion will affect our pulpits.

It’s worth asking a range of homiletical questions. For example, how do I convey these connections to Christ effectively? Winsomely? When do I preach Christ in the sermon? Do I tag it onto the end as a neat ‘bonus feature,’ or does the reality of Christ somehow pervade my entire message? How do I preach the original meaning of the text and preach Christ within my time restraints (presuming we have those)? These are a few of the sort of homiletical questions I think we want to ask as we approach the matter of preaching Christ from the Old Testament.

I hope you have found these thoughts stimulating and informative. I look forward to meeting with you at the Table Talk and continuing the discussion!


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Working on a Theology or Biblical Studies Paper? Be Sure to Use Journals!

To their detriment, many students writing academic papers fail to consult scholarly journals.  Journals are valuable to research for a number of reasons.  (1) Journals generally contain very focused, specialized studies on a particular topic or issue, and at times may delve more deeply into a specific issue than a book covering the same subject area. (2) Through articles and book reviews, journals provide a window into current research in a particular field.  It is important to remember that good academic writing is not solely conversant with older sources of information (though older sources can still prove helpful), but demonstrates awareness of recent developments and avenues of inquiry. (3) They preserve the history of thought, or a record of trends, in a given discipline.  By searching a particular topic in a database (such as ATLA or JSTOR), and paying attention to titles and publication dates, one can often trace historically the conversation about a particular topic.  Many times, journals will publish articles with titles such as “Recent Trends in the Study of Old Testament Wisdom Literature,” or “Recent Research in New Testament Textual Criticism.”

Rolfing Library has a sizeable collection of theological journals.  Some of the more commonly used journals for biblical studies and theology include: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Bulletin for Biblical Research, Journal of Biblical Literature, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, International Journal of Systematic Theology, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Pro Ecclesia, Revue Biblique, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, and Tyndale Bulletin.  Additionally, Trinity Journal is published every fall and spring by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Accessing information in journals can be done in various ways.  One of the most productive ways is to use a database such as ATLA, which is a database of published works pertaining to the theological disciplines, though other databases will occasionally prove useful.  Searching ATLA for articles on a particular subject (click here for a helpful tutorial on using ATLA) will often present a list of entries, including the name, volume, year and page numbers of the journal in which they are published.  Many times (but not always!), these entries will have full text pdf files attached that you can download to your computer for free.  In cases where there is no full text file, you will need to search for the journal title (not the article title) in TrinCat to see if a hard copy is available in the library.  Rolfing Library’s journals are located, in alphabetical order, on the shelves on either side of the stairwell, directly behind the main desk.  Articles in journals that we do not own may be acquired through ILLiad, depending on availability.

Unfortunately, journals cannot be checked out of the library.  However, you may make photocopies of articles in the library.  Photocopies are $0.07 per page for TIU students.  You may also use one of our book scanners to make an electronic copy free of charge.

If you have questions about theological journals, using ATLA or locating articles, don’t hesitate to ask for help at the Reference Desk.

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Graham Cole on Christianity and Contemporary Sexualities: A Table Talk Prelude

On Wednesday, October 21st at noon, our very own Dr. Graham Cole will be facilitating a Table Talk discussion on homosexuality and the Bible and Christianity.

On Tuesday Cole delivered a “Dean’s Hour” lecture entitled “Following Christ in a LGBTIQQAAP’s World.” In many ways, this talk served as an introduction to the conversation that will continue at the Table Talk on October 21st.

In this post I’d like to relay some of the key points of this recent talk as a way to stimulate your thinking and prepare you for further conversation at our Table Talk.

First, Dr. Cole addressed the context in which we engage these matters.

(A) For many of us, these matters are extremely personal. Either we experience same-sex attraction ourselves or we know others–friends, family members–who do. We cannot engage this issue as a purely theoretical one.

(B) Furthermore, we engage this issue in a drastically changing culture, a culture of which the fast-past political changes are symptomatic. We live in a world in which these matters are cast as civil rights issues and opposition to them is addressed with a shaming rhetoric and ostracizing actions.

(C) And, finally, whereas in past times we may have engaged homosexuality and lesbianism, now we are aware of other identifiers and expressions of sexuality (and gender) such as the transgendered, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, etc.

(D) We are living in an ever-changing world. And this ever-changing world brings us to thinking about recent government decisions such as Obergefell. We are now also living in an ever-changing legal world where concerns arise over losing tax-exempt status and preserving religious liberty. But the political climate is such that even individuals such as queers opposed to marriage equality are silenced.

How does all of this effect the church? Cole supports Russell Moore’s statement that such changes in our culture may be “bad for America, but it’s good for the church.” These changes will likely result in the demise of ‘folk evangelicalism,’ in which ‘cultural Christianity’ thrives, and the rise of a church that is clearly distinguished from its society. That is a good thing, as bad as it may be for our society.

Cole noted that recent Supreme Court decisions raise questions regarding religious liberty. For many in our culture, religious liberty is shrunk down to worship. Noteworthy is the failure to consider religious practice, i.e., living Christianity outside of the home and church walls such as in the public square, as under the cover of religious liberty. Cole stated provocatively, Christians are essentially forced to practice atheism in the public square.

Cole argued that our Bibliology–our view of the Bible–ultimately must flow out of Christology, specifically how Christ viewed scripture. Scripture is the authority for what we ought to believe. And when we look at the key Biblical texts on same-sex sexual behavior, a rather consistently negative picture emerges. “There’s not a positive text of scripture on this subject,” Cole said.

However, as evangelicals, although we are often quick to stress the negative strands of scripture on these topics, we too often fail to emphasize the positive and beautiful strands of Biblical teaching on gender, sexuality, and marriage. Taking Christ seriously, we must take this testimony of scripture seriously as well.

But we must do more than merely hold to scripture with conviction. We must act wisely as we engage the church and society.

In our overly sexualized culture, “sex has replaced the soul”; and many things that are not inherently sexual are often times tied up with a sexual identity and orientation. As Christians, we need to practice discernment in order to sort out these cultural associations and clustered-attachments.

“God is not as interested in our happiness as in our holiness,” Cole stated, loosely citing C.S. Lewis. If we are going to be a people that “holds the line” on these issues, we need to become a community in which such convictions make sense, a community that strives after holiness no matter what the issue.

But, not only are we to be holy, we are to be loving. We are not out to offend. We are not to go out of our way to offend. Yet, at the end of the day, we can’t control whether or not people take offense. People will take offense. And following Christ in this world may mean facing shaming rhetoric. But, as much as we are able, we ought to be characterized by “convictional civility.”

In summary, Cole argued that the central issue at stake in the Christian relation to these controversial matters is loyalty. It all boils down to loyalty. Bearing the name “Christian” is a statement of our fundamental, primary loyalty–loyalty to Christ. If we believe in Christ, if we follow Christ, and if we come to grips with his view on scripture and scripture’s take on this topic, we will remain convictional on these matters. And being convictional, and facing all that means in our society (e.g., marginalization, shaming rhetoric, etc.), we would do well to re-read and give more attention to those parts of scripture that speak of the normal place of the Christian in society–marginalized, persecuted, etc.

As Cole closed he said, “Friends, the Dean’s Hour is over; but Table Talk is coming.” Certainly it is!

I hope you benefited from this summary of the key points from Dr. Cole’s lecture. And I hope you are able to attend our Table Talk Wednesday, October 21st at noon.

* This Dean’s Hour was video recorded. So if you are interested, you should be able to track that video down eventually.