Book Review: Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, by Edmund Clowney
Knowing how an Old Testament text points to Christ is not always so easy. Even the most conscientious pastors can struggle to do this without taking allegorical liberties. We could all use a little help. Enter a twentieth century qohelet (teacher), Edmund Clowney.
Clowney’s Preaching Christ in All of Scripture is a much-needed contribution to the practical literature geared toward developing our preaching skills. Amid all the gimmicks, Preaching Christ is a refreshing change of pace. Clowney begins with a couple chapters describing his methodology, and then models his method in the sample sermons that follow.
Clowney’s starting point is Christ’s words to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (39; Luke 24:25-27, 44-45). All Scripture is about Jesus, even the wisdom books (Col 2:2). Chapter one therefore aims to help the reader find Christ in the Old Testament. Christ is both Lord and Servant of the covenant in the Old Testament (11-20). Clowney agrees with those scholars who argue that “the Apostle Paul read ‘Christ’ wherever kurios appears in the Septuagint” (p.13). As such, Christ is not just symbolically present but historically, actually present in the Old Testament narratives.
Yet Christ is symbolically present in every period of salvation history because each period finds its fulfillment in him. Ceremonial symbolism (e.g., clean vs. unclean), official symbolism (priest, king), and historical symbolism (e.g., Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac) all function as hinges that open the door to Christ. Memorials of significance (e.g., the Passover) find their ultimate meaning in the person and work of Jesus. We also discover that “God’s deliverances of Israel anticipate his ultimate deliverance in the accomplishment of all his promises” (30). So when we read about God rescuing Israel, we may legitimately look forward to the story of Christ saving his people from the spiritual powers of sin and evil (2 Cor 10:4-5; Col 2:15). Clowney rules out moralism, because “it unconsciously assumes that we can go back to the Father apart from the Son” (33). While this categorical prohibition of moralism may not quite do justice to the way Paul uses Israel’s moral experience as an example for us (1 Cor 10:1-13), Clowney’s point is well taken. We need the caution today perhaps more than ever. Clowney’s guiding principle is this:
No revealed truth drops by the wayside in the course of God’s redemption and revelation. All truths come to their realization in relation to Christ. If, therefore, we can construct a line of symbolism from the event or ceremony to a revealed truth, that truth will lead us to Christ (32).
The second chapter teaches the reader how to prepare sermons that present Christ. After contending that Jesus himself speaks to his people in the preaching event, Clowney describes the standard explanation/application division as misleading, because “too often, this results in a series of sermonettes loosely connected to the theme” (49). Presenting Christ “dissolves this problem, for now we present Jesus both in what he says and does to reveal himself, and in what he says and does to direct us” (49).
Clowney then encourages preachers to structure their sermons so that they present Christ from within the story of redemption. While prizing doctrinal preaching, Clowney avers that “all presentation of Jesus has a narrative dimension” (50).
Before turning to sermons that model his method, Clowney exhorts preachers to present Christ by seeking the unction of Christ’s presence, by practicing his presence, and by preaching in the presence of the Lord. He writes, “We do not seek a surge of power in ministering the Word of God. We seek his presence in the act of preaching, as we hold forth the person of Jesus Christ” (58).
MODELING THE METHOD
The book’s remaining pages are filled with sermons that model Clowney’s method. These sermons don’t so much employ three points and a hymn to present Christ, they present him as the climax of a passage’s narrative flow. As a result, Clowney’s sermons exhibit little of what we might call homiletical finesse in their structure—alliterated points, parallel statements, and the like. His preaching style is more narrative than didactic, which might make some a little squeamish at first. It may also be difficult for us to imitate the style of his sample sermons.
But his method is faithful to the text, and it is always rewarding to watch a master craftsman as he plies his trade.
This book is worth having on your shelf for the primary reason that it will encourage you to preach Christ himself from the Old Testament. It’s a short read—179 pages—and the style is accessible.
Grab a pastor friend or an aspiring young preacher in your area, and read through it together. The first two chapters on method will alone repay your investment twice over. They’ll give you some helpful categories for finding Christ in the Old Testament without forcing the text to say something it doesn’t say. If you’re not careful, it may even change the way you read the Old Testament—wonderfully.
The sample sermons may seem to meander as Clowney tromps through the Scriptures, and you may sometimes struggle to see how he jumps from the OT text to Jesus. But watching Clowney till the soil will make any preacher want to dig further into the Scripture in order to make biblical connections that you hadn’t ever seen.
Preaching Christ may also deepen your definition of what expositional preaching is. It’s not simply expounding the moral point of a passage. Still less is it a running commentary on a text informed by historical background and lexical analysis. Real exposition expounds the Word of the Lord, but it does so in a way that expounds the Lord of the Word, Jesus Christ, just as he reveals himself in every part of the Word (Matt 5:17; Luke 24:25-26; John 5:39, 46; Acts 26:22-23; 28:23; 1Cor 1:20).
Preachers are called to expound Christ in a way that exalts Christ, no matter what biblical text we’re preaching on Sunday. Clowney can show you how to expound Christ from the Old Testament in a way that will help both you and your congregation exalt him more faithfully together in the preaching and hearing of his word.