Sunday, July 28, 2013

King David's Righteousness

One of the fundamental assumptions of conservative Christians is that the Bible is the Word of God. As such, it must be without error and contradiction. This does not mean, however, that it is easy to understand how every passage fits together. Many things in the Bible are difficult to understand because they create tension in our fallen minds. I have found, however, that studying and meditating upon these difficulties often results in a deeper appreciation for the unity of the Bible and the depth and power of its teaching. I recently came across an example of this when thinking about God’s assessment of King David.

David is such a major example of faith in the Bible that he serves as a type of Jesus Christ. God often mentions David favorably. He is called a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14, Acts 13:22), he is commended for keeping the commandments and walking in the way of God (1 Kings 3:14), and the general pattern of his life was to worship and glorify God. In 1 Kings chapter 14, however, God says that king Jeroboam was not like David who “… kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes…” (1 Kings 14:8).

If asked to list the heroes of the faith I am sure most of us would list David but how can God say that he did only what was right? After all, David violated the law on multiple occasions. He was an adulterer (2 Sam. 11:4), a murderer (2 Sam. 11:15), was prideful (1 Chron. 21:1, 7, 8), and a negligent father (1 Kings 1:6). His sins caused tremendous pain and anguish for himself, his family, and the nation. We know that God was aware of David’s sin and He cannot lie (1 Jn. 3:20, Heb. 6:18). We also know that God could not simply overlook the sins of David because of who David was (Acts 10:34, 1 Jn. 1:6). How then could God refer to David as someone who did only what was right?

The answer is great news for David and for you and me. Indeed, it is The Good News. God does not declare David righteous based on his keeping of the law. He does so based upon David’s connection to Jesus Christ through faith. Paul helps us to understand this in his letter to the Romans where he explains, 

“…the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." (Romans 3:21-28)

David lived before Jesus was crucified but Paul explains that God had passed over former sins. He made His grace available to those who believed prior to the cross even though the sacrifice had yet to be made. It is because of people like David, just as much as you and I, that the cross was necessary. The cross is a vindication of God’s righteousness in light of His acceptance of sinners like David on whom God showed favor. The cross, as just punishment sin, means that God’s declaration about David is true because through faith God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). David, through faith, was a partaker in the promise to stand holy and blameless before God in Christ (Eph. 1:4). Christ was his righteousness.

Although Christ was not yet crucified when David was alive, the sacrifice was a certainty. So certain that it is often described as made before the foundation of the world. The very identity of God Himself was the basis of its inevitability. He is all knowing, all-powerful, all merciful, and his grace endures forever. Because of this, His promises are absolute certainties. David believed in the promises and trusted God. God’s declaration that David is righteous therefore stands on the same foundation as His declaration of the righteousness of sinners who believe today. 

We are also sinners who deserve punishment and yet are declared justified by God if we are united to Christ through faith. David knew he was a sinner saved by grace through faith. David understood that the righteousness credited to him was an act of grace through faith and was unearned. This is why Paul says “David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Rom. 4:6-8)

God is just in not counting these sins because Christ has paid the penalty for them on behalf of those who believe (2 Cor. 5:21, 1 Pet. 2:24, 3:18). What a blessing it is to have such hope through the work of our wonderful savior. Jesus Christ saved David. We see the evidence of David’s faith in that although he sinned, he was repentant (Ps. 51:1-2). He was a child of grace whose desire was to glorify God and to worship Him alone. He was not a perfect man but was perfected through his union to Christ in faith (Heb. 10:14). I pray that the same is true for you.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Authorial Intent in Christ Centered Preaching, Part 2

In the previous post, I tried to show that although Christ centered preachers are often criticized for disregarding authorial intent in order to “make” every text about Jesus, a christocentric emphasis is not so much the result of exegetical method as of hermeneutical convictions. If Jesus is the culmination of all that the Old Testament writers said then applying their words to Christ and His work is recognizing rather than disregarding their original intent.

Nevertheless, the Bible is not a wax nose to be twisted into any shape that one desires, even if that shape is the shape of the cross. In this post, I would like to argue for a balanced approach to preaching Christ from all of the Bible while not ignoring the authorial intent of Old Testament writers. After all, if the Old Testament writers intend to present Christ then a faithful exegesis will be Christ centered and yet never disconnected from the purpose, structure, and context of their words.

If we take a balanced approach and explain the plain meaning of the text before making application of Christ, we will avoid many of the deficiencies of the positions at the extremes of either position. For example, some critics of Christ centered preaching accuse it of being light on practical application for a life of holiness while supporters criticize exemplary preaching of the Old Testament as bare moralism. The approach I am advocating allows for exemplary preaching within the context of redemptive-historical application. Some advocates of Christ centered preaching insist that every Christian sermon must explicitly present Christ while critics assert that the purpose of every sermon is to explain the meaning of the passage and that not every passage explicitly focusses on Jesus. The approach I support allows for the preacher to present Christ while explaining the plain meaning of Old Testament passages. I believe that these applications develop naturally from the text because Jesus and His work are the culmination of all Old Testament teaching.

There is not room here for a detailed analysis of the topic but a few basic concepts help provide boundaries for balancing authorial intent and Christ centeredness. First, as Walter Kaiser Jr. argues, we must read the Bible from front to back rather than back to front. Many advocates of Christ centered preaching insist that the fullness of New Testament revelation should inform our understanding of Old Testament passages. Some Christ centered advocates such as Ed Clowney and Graeme Goldsworthy argue that the full meaning of particular Old Testament texts may transcend the language and context of the original passage. Certainly, we should not read the Old Testament as if we do not have the New but as Kaiser points out, to disconnect the meaning of a passage from the actual words, context, and structure of the human author is to undermine the Bible as a standard of truth.

If, however, this is the case then how is it that I can claim that every passage is about Jesus Christ if many Old Testament texts are not explicitly messianic? The reason is that every passage to one degree or another connects to a series of trajectories that culminate in Christ and His work (past and/or future). Every text is related to God in some way, whether it is His kingdom, His promises, His people, etc. These grand themes such as God dwelling with His people, the coming King, the blessing to the nations, God creating for Himself a holy people, run throughout the Bible from start to finish. The connection between God and the full revelation of Himself to human beings in Christ is the basis for a natural application of Old Testament passages to Christ. If we are preaching with the whole Bible in mind and yet are reading it from front to back we can clearly explain the natural meaning of the Old Testament passage based upon the context and purpose of the human author and then make legitimate application to Christ and His work. Since Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God, we are to understand God the Father through Him (Jn. 14:9, 2 Cor. 4:4, Heb. 1:3). We therefore are able to make the proper and intended application of the Old Testament without reading meaning back from the New Testament. The New Testament revelation is the culmination rather than the foundation of the Old.

If the preacher faithfully preaches the meaning of the Old Testament passage, there will be a natural pathway to Christ or His work. The text does not have to be explicitly messianic in order for the application of the text to be legitimately Christological. The reason is that even the non-messianic texts work together to build toward a fulfillment in Jesus and His work. Here are just a few of many examples that would encompass a wide range of Old Testament texts.

  • The Kingdom / Christ is the promised king
  • The Law (holiness of the people of God) / New Covenant in Christ’s blood & His perfect righteousness
  • The Wisdom of God / Christ the divine Logos & wisdom of God, also Christ who applied the Law perfectly and is the wise teacher who is greater than Solomon
  • Defeat of the enemies of God / the Cross & the 2nd coming
  • God dwelling with His people / the incarnation & new Jerusalem

We can preach wisdom and exemplary points and still connect the texts to their culmination in Christ through either promise-fulfillment or a redemptive-historical approach. Many strong authorial intent advocates are critical of the methods of the redemptive-historical school but if you agree that the intent of the Old Testament prophets was to point to Christ, (1 Pet. 1:10-12) it is possible to incorporate much that is valuable in their methods without abandoning a commitment to a plain hermeneutic.

For example, Ed Clowney is well known for his triangle diagram that shows the relationship between a particular Old Testament event and its typological reference to Christ. Clowney argued that many Old Testament events have symbolic references to broader themes that then develop throughout the history of redemption until they finalize in Christ. His method was to preach those typological references to Christ always emphasizing an organic relationship between the promises and their fulfillment.

Many criticize the direct move from Old Testament symbol to New Testament referent because it opens the door to potentially disregard the Old Testament passage in its own context and the symbolic connections can only be certain if they are explained in the New Testament. I agree with Clowney that there are many more typological connections between the Old and New Testaments than are directly explained by the New Testament writers and I think it is legitimate to preach them. Clowney’s method is very helpful (as are his oft-ignored guidelines on identifying legitimate O.T. symbols). However, in order to maintain control of the exegesis it is more helpful for the preacher to walk the congregation through the process of moving from passage to symbol to fulfillment than moving direct from symbol to fulfillment (move along the 90-degree turn rather than along the hypotenuse). That way, the typological insights are clearly presented as arising from the relationship between the Old and New Testament passages in their natural contexts with the Old culminating in the New.

Other advocates of Christ centered preaching have suggested additional approaches that can be used while remaining true to authorial intent. For example, Bryan Chappell suggests that we pay particular attention to what he calls the fallen condition focus. This means that every Old Testament text in some sense reveals something about a particular sinful condition. By examining that condition, we can demonstrate that our contemporary congregations struggle against the same fallen condition. We can examine God’s response to that condition in the Old Testament and place that response in the broader story of God’s ultimate solution to the problem in Christ. Sidney Greidanus also argues for the need to build from the Old Testament text and suggests seven legitimate ways to move from the Old Testament message to Christ. These include:

1)      Redemptive-Historical Progression
2)      Promise-Fulfillment
3)      Typology
4)      Analogy
5)      Longitudinal Themes
6)      New Testament References
7)      Contrast

It is true that sometimes preachers use Christ centered approaches in ways that fail to honor authorial intent, but the blame lies with those preachers and not the general conviction to preach Christ from all of scripture. It is possible to take a balanced approach that allows us to draw out the Christological focus already present in the Old Testament (as well as the other lessons) without superimposing the New Testament over the Old. Rather than following any particular preaching fads, we are called to present the Word of God in a way that honestly emphasizes both the unity of the scripture as well as the unique contribution of each part.

“… our concern is not to preach Christ to the exclusion of the “whole counsel of God” but rather to view the whole counsel of God, with all its teachings, laws, prophecies, and visions, in the light of Jesus Christ.  At the same time, it should be evident that we must not read the incarnate Christ back into the Old Testament text, which would be eisegesis, but that we should look for legitimate ways of preaching Christ from the Old Testament in the context of the New.”