Biblical Theology: Ballast for Preaching (Part 1 of 3)
Put a cargo ship out on the high seas without any ballast and it will roll. It will simply go belly-up, that is, until it sinks. Worthy sea vessels get ballast by taking water into holding bins beneath the waterline. Once the compartments are filled, and the hatches are closed, the ship is ready for the open waters.
There is a lesson in this for preachers. Sometimes, the thing that keeps your preaching afloat is a discipline otherwise hidden. Good preachers have holding bins that lend weight to their words, ballast found beneath the surface. And that ballast is biblical theology.
In recent years, evangelicalism has seen a wave of resources produced in the area of biblical theology. This is a good thing, because the discipline of biblical theology is uniquely suited to teach us how the Bible progressively unfolds the redemption plan of God in Christ. That said, simply ending a sermon with Jesus does not mean that one is truly preaching Christ. Sidney Greidanus explains:
Preaching Christ [is] preaching sermons which authentically integrate the message of the text with the climax of God’s revelation in the person, work and or teaching of Jesus Christ as revealed in the New Testament.
To deliver Christ in a sermon requires authentic integration of the message of the text with the work of Christ. In other words, it requires ballast.
Our goal in this series of three posts is to introduce tools of biblical theology so that you might put some bulk in your preaching. In this first post we will discuss how plot and theme serve to make preachers Word-worthy vessels.
The Bible has a plotline. It tells one story through 66 books that, under the authorship of the Holy Spirit, all arrive at the same port: the person and work of Jesus Christ. This plot is not simply a literary device, but is an historical unfolding of the progressive revelation that culminates in Christ. According to Graeme Goldsworthy,
It is the nature of biblical revelation that it tells a story rather than sets out timeless principles in abstract. [The Bible] does contain many timeless principles, but not in abstract. They are given in an historical context of progressive revelation.
God did not choose to bring his Son into the world immediately after the fall. Rather, he chose to progressively reveal himself and his plan throughout human history. The result of revealing himself over time, and through the hard and happy history of Israel, was to ensure that when his Son did come we could recognize Jesus to be the fulfillment of all God was doing in history.
This means we can authentically integrate texts in the Bible with the message of Christ by rightly seeing their place in the plotline of the Bible. Texts are not springboards or foils to get to Christ.
Here are some questions that probe the amount of ballast you have in your preaching: How well do you know the plotline of the Bible? Where are its major turning points? Who are the significant characters and what role do they play? What are the different episodes, acts or epochs that show how the Bible’s story is divided?
These are vital and important questions for you to be able to answer. And, in the final post in this series, we will point to great resources for helping you.
As preachers begin to learn to read the Bible through the lens of an historical plotline, themes will emerge throughout, some of which will find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Defining a theme is not easy. But we find it helpful to think of themes in terms of established ideas or concepts that develop throughout the plotline. Themes are more than words that merely get repeated, though a repeated word can be helpful in summarizing a theme.
A good example of a theme is the temple. The temple represents the idea of God’s presence throughout the Bible, which finds its fulfillment in Christ, whose death opens up the way for us to be in the presence of God. The preacher with ballast will learn to handle this theme from places in the Old Testament that are not limited solely to where the word appears, or the ancient structure is mentioned. Rather, they will see the idea in places like the tabernacle or in the Garden of Eden.
A host of themes are present in the Bible, and all of them, rightly taken on, provide much-needed weight for our preaching. They include covenant (how God relates to his people), kingdom (how God orders and rules over his people), exodus (how God saves his people), exile (how God punishes his people), and many others. These all find their fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Preaching that is worthy of being out on the open waters is done by those who know the value of questions like: Are there any themes in my text this week that find fulfillment in Christ? Do I even know the major themes of the Bible? Can I show how these themes are developed and find their fulfillment in Christ?
In the next post we will look at two more tools that will add ballast to our preaching: typology and analogy.
 Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 10.
 Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible As Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 22.