Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Preaching the Old Testament

“Preaching the Old Testament from a Christian Pulpit” by
S. D. (Fanie) Snyman; Professor of Old Testament Studies at The University of the Free State; Bloemfontein, South Africa. The Calvin Theological Journal45 no 2 N 2010, p 304-316: from the EBSCO Luther Rice Library. Available at http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?sid=73c97684-3832-4103-aad8-f09f9338df46%40sessionmgr104&vid=1&hid=107&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001821059

     The referenced article is written as support for using the Old Testament in New Testament preaching. The author, a professor of Old Testament Studies, argues that the Old Testament is and should be just as relevant to New Testament Believers as it would be to those following Judaism. While the article is not a treatise against Marcionism, it certainly has the feel of anti-Marcionite work. The fact that as early as the mid-First Century New Testament Christians were dismissing the Old Testament as non Scripture and non-authoritative to the church shows that the dismissal of the Old Testament is not a new problem. In fact, many congregations today hear relatively few sermons from the Old Testament.
     This problem is brought out by Dr. Snyman. He postulates that the reason may be a lack of understanding of the connection between the two Covenants. Perhaps in South Africa there is a lack of understanding that the God of the Old Testament was/is the “Father” that Jesus Christ prays to in the New Testament. That does not seem to be a problem in the Bible-Belt portion of the United States; nevertheless, it is still a manifestation of liberal theology. The so-called “Two Gods theory” of the Bible, which suggests a stern faced, cosmic killjoy God in the Old Testament who is ready with switch in hand to discipline His children, is juxtaposed with a gracious, doting grandfatherly type of God ready, willing, and able to look past all sin in the New Testament.

     Obviously, this dichotomy is false and its aspersions greatly exaggerated. While the God of the Old Testament is a just God ready to hand out harsh punishments for law breakers, so is the God represented in the New Testament. As gracious as the New Testament God seems, He is just enough to kill church members who lie to the Spirit, while we see the angry God of the Old Testament passing out grace by the bucket-full. So in this we see that the Old and New Testaments are equally important to understanding the whole of the redemptive story of mankind.

     With this in mind, Snyman wonders how does the New Testament preacher find a place for the Old Testament in his preaching schedule? Also, should it be treated the same as New Testament texts for teaching, reproof, and doctrine? The answer is a resounding "Yes."

     Snyman gives an understanding of the proper way to preach the Old Testament. By understanding the Old Testament as a work of the Holy Spirit that reveals God’s working in history, we can be freed from forcing Christological explanations into every Old Testament text. At times, the text is simply a revelation of God dealing with a particular preacher. We are not forced, as Luther said, “To find Christ behind every rock.” Sometimes the text is simply about Abram chasing after his nephew’s captors. We are then free from pulling Christological implications in from the text that are not placed there by the Holy Spirit.

     This becomes very freeing indeed, but we must also be cautioned not to go to the other extreme and never see the plain references to Christ when they are present. As an example, seeing Christ walking in the flames of King Nebuchadnezzar’s oven most likely stems from a horrific mistranslation of the Authorized Version. Whereas, not readily seeing Christ in Isaiah 53 as the Suffering Servant is to miss the Messianic connection completely.

     The article itself was wearisome and in all honesty, a bit boring. The connections; however, would be beneficial to share with those who are modern day Marcionites, whether by choice or simply practical Marcionites, de facto, by never preaching from the Old Testament. The article concluded with a very practical look at how preaching the Old Testament can help a ministry by aiding in pastoral care, doctrinal teaching, witnessing to the world, and liturgy. Snyman concludes his article with the admonishment that the church needs to preach the Old Testament as the whole counsel of the Word of God. To that I give a healthy “amen.”

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