Aspects of God’s redemptive character revealed in his representative actions, may be specifically stated in a text or may be implied by the place of the passage in the larger flow of redemptive history. Yet whether a preacher gleans these conclusions from the historical sweep of Scripture, a passage’s specific doctrinal statements, a literary echo, or God’s relational interaction with his people, the redemptive themes must be harvested lest preaching sow mere moral commentary and reap Pharisaism as its inevitable fruit.
I have lingered on this discussion of how the grace of God that culminates in Christ may be reflected in God’s relational dealings with his people because I consider this to be both the easiest and most common approach for redemptive preaching from all Scripture. When I first began teaching the impact of biblical theology on preaching this was not so. My models were the pioneers who rescued redemptive/historical methods from liberal theology that had held it hostage for a half century. Yet, I discovered that, although my students appreciated that big picture of redemption, they struggled to know how to preach individual passages every week (i.e., Did they have to go from Genesis to Revelation every week, and how can you be sure that your interpretation of a particular passage’s role in all of redemptive history?)
The historical approach has remained foundational for all in the biblical theology movement, but approaches have become more diverse as the movement has matured and its preachers have multiplied. Some, whose instinct and inclinations are more doctrinal, have become skilled at demonstrating how Scripture discloses it redemptive themes in statements or actions that illuminate or presage New Testament doctrines (such as justification by faith being shown in the righteousness that was credited to Abraham, or the mercy of God for sinners demonstrated in God’s instruction for Hosea to keep taking Gomer back as his wife). Finally, a category of redemptive preachers has become particularly skilled at showing the unity of Scripture’s purpose by using literary motifs (images, actions or phrases that are echoed from the Old Testament to the New).
Each of these approaches (historical, doctrinal, and literary) brings wonderful insights and skills to the task of proclaiming the redemptive thrust of Scripture. Our redemptive-interpretation tool bag has gotten more full and varied to serve the different personalities preaching and the different kinds of passages that need to be preached. Still, I have watched my students question and stumble a bit as they have tried to imitate the methods of some of the great, contemporary practitioners of these redemptive approaches. So, as I have commended the preaching and approaches of all of these methods, I have also encouraged my students and myself not to forget how easy it is for us to put on our gospel glasses. When we use their lenses to ask, “What does this text reveal about the nature of God and what does it reveal about me?” we will readily see and confidently explain how God provides for those who cannot provide for themselves. In this relational interaction, the grace of God that culminates in Christ’s ministry almost always beacons clearly and powerfully.
Note: This article is part of a section in the forthcoming revision of the book, Christ-Centered Preaching.
About: Bryan Chapell is the Senior Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (Peoria, Illinois), the Founder and Chairman of Unlimited Grace, a radio and online Bible-teaching ministry, and President Emeritus of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is an author, conference speaker, and preacher. He also serves on the faculty of Knox Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and is an adjunct professor of preaching at numerous seminaries nationally and internationally.