Preaching & Biblical Theology | Book Review
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 The language used is somewhat old, and reading through it at times was difficult because the writing style was also outdated.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.