Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ted Donnelly on Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

Yesterday I crossed the River Severn and entered the Land of my Fathers for a Minister's Day Conference at Free School Court Evangelical Church, Bridgend. The speaker was Ted Donnelly, who has given two series of much appreciated main addresses at the Evangelical Movement of Wales' Aberystwyth Conference. It was good to meet up with some old friends at the conference. On the way home, I was able to drop in on my mum for a cup of tea and some Welsh Cakes.

Ted is a real pastor's pastor. He approached the subject in hand with a fine grasp of the hermeneutical and theological issues at stake. Yet was not afraid to question the received wisdom of the academy. His presentation was engagingly clear and stimulating. But Ted did not come to us an an expert with all the answers. He had the air of a fellow-practitioner, who was himself trying to come to grips with faithfully preaching Christ from the Old Testament. Here's a brief report of what he had to say in his two lectures.

The apostles clearly preached Christ from the Old Testament. That was the only Testament they had! From the Old Testament they proclaimed Christ as Prophet, Priest and King. They preached his death, resurrection and lordship as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. A cursory look at the apostle's preaching in Acts confirms this point. But we seem to have difficulties in this area. We don't want to fall into the trap of "spiritualising" the Old Testament narratives. The Enlightenment has taught us to view the Bible not as supernatural revelation with one essential message, but as a disunited jumble. Such an approach precludes seeing Christ as the key theme of the Old Testament. Perhaps the task of grammatico-historical exegesis has been too narrowly defined, with attention being focused almost entirely on the immediate history and context of the Old Testament texts. The wider canonical context has been missed. This does not mean that sober, grammatico-historical exegesis should be jettisoned. But our exegesis must bear in mind the canonical and Christological dimensions of the Old Testament.

Some scholars argue that we should not follow the apostle's method of exegesis, for they were inspired interpreters of the Old Testament, and we are not. Ted Donnelly turned that on its head by saying that we must follow the apostle's method precisely because they were inspired. They found Christ everywhere in the Old Testament. There are around 1,600 quotes from the Old Testament in the New and around 2,000 allusions. Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. He is found in the types and shadows of the Old Testament. In him God's covenant with Abraham reaches its grand conclusion. The Kingdom of God, prefigured in the Old Testament, draws near in the coming of Christ the King. We should be able to see Christ revealed on every page of the Old Testament.

Redemptive historical preaching is good at showing how big Bible themes are fulfilled in Christ. But those who advocate such an approach to preaching can sometimes be guilty of denigrating a practical and exemplary use of the Old Testament. However, the apostles urged believers to heed the warnings of the Old Testament (1 Corinthians 10) and to follow the specific examples of Old Testament saints (James 5). We must build on the work of biblical theology, with its attention to the development of biblical motifs through the history of redemption. But we also need to be careful not to downgrade the importance of systematic theology. We need the guidance and insights of the creedal and dogmatic heritage of the Church as we attempt to preach the Word of God today.

Above all preachers need to love the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who love him will be careful to preach him from all the Scriptures. We must also love our people. Pastors are more than preacher. We must also be among the saints and minister to them in their afflictions and temptations.

There were times of discussion after each address, where some helpful points were made. In all it was a most profitable day out. I arrived home just in time to grab something to eat and then went off to our Prayer Meeting, where my friend Jim Henry from the Open Air Mission gave the Bible study.

1 comment:

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