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Preaching & Biblical Theology | Book Review

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It is helpful to read the preface of this book, as it clarifies that it was not written as a book but as a series of lectures in the 1950s. The language used is somewhat old, and reading through it at times was difficult because the writing style was also outdated. Going past the difficulty I had reading it, I enjoyed the content. I found it helpful and will likely return to this compilation of lectures for more insight in the future.

The first chapter introduces the topic of Biblical Theology by providing the history of the term ‘Biblical Theology’ (10). While the term is still used differently between progressives and conservatives, Clowney aligns with what Geerhardus Vos defines it as: “that branch of exegetical theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible” (15). He further affirms this by claiming that “biblical theology is also the fruit of exegesis” (15). While defining Biblical Theology, Clowney makes a few digs at Dispensational theology. He argues that all of the Bible communicates one gracious design, whereas Dispensational theology argues there are different manifestations of that gracious design throughout (15). He concludes the chapter by further expounding on what Biblical theology is, “a labor of worship,” and gives us a warning and encouragement from an old Dutch preacher that “the pulpit must not drive us to the text, but rather the text must drive us to the pulpit” (19).

The second chapter addresses the authority of preaching. Clowney introduces a greek word that he constantly refers to without explicitly defining it: kerygma. When I googled it, it literally means proclamation. As Clowney puts it, “This New Testament noun for preaching implies that the gospel is a royal proclamation and the preacher is an official messenger” (20). Clowney reasons that the authority of the Word of God, or the royal proclamation, is where the preacher should base their authority. A current ‘activism’ is in place (at least it was in the ’50s) where “Preaching is seen as the redemptive event in which the Word of God is present, and the church is called into existence” (29). This view empties Scripture of its authority because “Virtually any words spoken in the situation may become God’s Word” (29). From here, Clowney discusses the true authority God’s Word bears. He provides several examples throughout Scripture of how “At every step in the history of redemption the sovereign power of God’s word is manifested” (34). Throughout the rest of the chapter, Clowney transitions from talking about how the authority of God’s Word is seen in the Covenants in the Old Testament and the New Testament and ends with a section on the limits of the authority in preaching. As he says, “We are called to be Christ’s but not Christs” (61).

Chapter three deals with the character of preaching. Something Clowney touches on is that many preachers today fail to preach with urgency and that we cannot have the same urgency until “we have understood the perspective from which his (Peter’s) addresses are formed, the perspective of the whole New Testament” (67). He divides the chapter into the time, place, and richness of our preaching. He spends most of the chapter where it should be--preaching Christ. In his words, “biblical theology serves to center preaching on its essential message: Jesus Christ” (74). He then concludes with a section on David and Goliath, something that could arguably have been put into the section on preaching Christ.

Chapter four concludes with the content of preaching. He introduces his method of approaching a passage with a biblical-theological interpretation in two steps: Relate the text to its immediate theological horizon, and relate the event of the text to the whole structure of redemptive history (88). He then spends most of the chapter walking through passages this way. In the second half of the chapter, he walks through different tools used to approach a passage, such as symbolism, comparison and contrast, or themes and divisions. 

While Clowney touches on many aspects of Preaching and Biblical Theology, there is only so much he can handle when giving three lectures. Because of this, it feels at times, he left out some significant points. For example, in the chapter on the authority of preaching, he fails to mention the authority structure within a church and who should or shouldn’t be preaching. It also felt as though much of what he wrote was sermonic in structure, as he would constantly walk through several passages of Scripture to prove his point. While I am by no means saying that too much Scripture is a concept to even be fathomed whatsoever, he seemed very repetitive in his writing.

Despite my various qualms with the book, he provides several practical tips and warnings when interpreting and preaching Scripture. There were plenty of times when he would introduce a concept and then provide a list of ways to do it or why it works. I already provided one example above in his steps to interpret Scripture in its historical place. Still another example is how he breaks down the structure of covenants found in Scripture (39-40). Overall, I would recommend this book to any preacher who needs a helpful tool to sharpen their preaching or to a church member who might want to understand much of the thought process that goes into faithful preaching.

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Weep With Those Who Weep

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[5 minute read]

Picture this: A friend of yours is suffering. Maybe they just lost a loved one, perhaps they are feeling anxious, or maybe they are going through a spiritually dry season. They come to you and tell you about their suffering. What do you say? Do you open the book of Psalms and talk about trusting God amid trials? Do you recommend a Christian counselor for them to go and see? Or do you sit with them, mourn with them, and try to feel the weight of what they feel?

All three options have their place in ministry, but I want to focus on one. In Romans 12:15, Paul says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." Many of us read that and don't have a second thought about it, but what does it mean to not only rejoice with those who rejoice, but also weep with those who weep? The former is arguably the easier of the two because who doesn't like to celebrate? The more complicated and uncomfortable part is to weep with those who weep.

While we might not completely understand the situations that our loved ones might be going through, we know that they are hurting, and if we're like every other human to have lived, we have also experienced hurt and suffering. Having experienced pain ourselves, we have some understanding of what our loved ones might be going through. This mutual understanding draws us to care for our loved ones. To want them to feel better, to be with them in solidarity. And I think that's what Paul was trying to communicate: Solidarity can bring comfort to your loved ones.

A way to live in solidarity with someone is to empathize with them. To empathize with someone is to do as Paul said, to try and feel what they feel. Feeling sad or mournful is usually not something most would consider desirable, so why should we empathize with our loved ones? As Christians, we have been given the most remarkable example of empathy: God becoming a man. Christ coming in the flesh. The most essential part of Christ's life is arguably His death, but that would have never happened had He not become incarnate. He lived on earth for more than thirty years, feeling the same pain as those around Him. If Christ Himself lived in solidarity with us, are we to not live in solidarity with one another?

Another excellent example of the solidarity of Christ is the well-known shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept (John 11:35). Many people read this verse and move on, but reading it in context gives it more meaning. Shortly before this, it says in verse 33, "When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled." Jesus was in solidarity with the mourning family of Lazurus, despite knowing that Lazarus would shortly be walking out of the tomb. He felt the weight of what they felt and wept with them.

One of the difficult parts of being in solidarity with your loved ones is knowing when to stop weeping. I'm not saying that we harden our hearts to them and grow apathetic. I'm merely pointing out that the Psalmist said joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). Joy can't come in the morning if the night is eternal. Consider the story of Lazarus again. Jesus wept, and if He had never stopped weeping, then Lazarus arguably would have never been raised.

Living in solidarity with one another only further displays our oneness in Christ. To bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2). As you go about your week, I want to encourage you to do as the Apostle Paul commanded us to do, to "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). Lift one another up. Turn each other's eyes to Christ. Live in solidarity.

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