Book Review: Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, by Sidney Greidanus
Sidney Greidanus’s Preaching Christ from the Old Testament has been in print since 1999. Greidanus wrote it because, at the time, no contemporary books took a seminary student or church pastor through the basics of Christocentric, Old Testament preaching. Since 1999, biblical theology has stormed into many evangelical circles and been popularized for the church’s good by a number of authors. Still, Preaching Christ is worth a second (or a first) look, if only because pastors committed to preaching expositionally must move beyond understanding the main themes of the Bible to addressing how particular texts point to Christ with great specificity.
In essence, Greidanus argues that, since the Old Testament witnesses to Christ, faithful preachers must preach sermons from the Old Testament with Christ as the focus. He defines “preaching Christ” as “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” (10). Greidanus then spends over 300 pages unpacking this idea.
He not only defends the necessity of preaching Christ from the Old Testament, but of preaching the Old Testament in general. Appealing to the unity of Scripture, Greidanus argues that the Old Testament gives the church a fuller understanding of Jesus Christ.
A large portion of the book is devoted to a historical overview of Old Testament preaching, with special attention given to the dangers of allegorizing. Greidanus is critical but not dismissive of interpreters who have come before him, carefully assessing the contributions of preachers going back as far as Origen, but devoting extended space to Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, and William Vischer, a twentieth-century theologian banned from teaching by the Nazis. Reading this history, it is comforting to know that preachers have been wrestling with these ideas for centuries. Pastors today have the opportunity to learn from their insights as well as their mistakes.
The meat of the book is the methodology Greidanus proposes for actually preaching Christ from the Old Testament. He argues that there are many “roads” that lead from the Old Testament to Christ, and it is incumbent upon preachers to learn the map. Some of the roads include
- redemptive-historical progression (certain events find their fulfillment in Christ);
- promise-fulfillment (specific Old Testament promises are fulfilled by Christ);
- typology (past acts or figures foreshadow or prefigure gospel events and figures);
- analogy (roughly speaking, God was for Israel what Christ is for the New Testament church);
- longitudinal themes (Old Testament themes reinterpreted in light of Christ); and
- contrast (differences between the Old and New Testaments brought by Christ).
In addition to these roads, the “redemptive-historical christocentric” method Greidanus proposes calls the preacher to look for New Testament references that link to Old Testament texts. In this way, the New Testament itself serves as a guide for preaching Christ from the Hebrew Bible.
Finally, any book on preaching that is going to posit principles should show those principles in action, which Greidanus does with an in depth application of his method to Genesis 22. To a lesser degree, he also applies it to five other texts: Genesis 6:9-8:22; Exodus 15:22-27; Exodus 17:8-16; Numbers 19; and Joshua 2 and 6.
Preaching is challenging, but preaching faithfully from the Old Testament is especially daunting. With this in mind, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament is an excellent resource that has yet to be replaced. Dennis Johnson’s Him We Proclaim comes closest, but given Greidanus’s laser-like focus on the Old Testament, and given the lack of books on preaching from the Old Testament, his book remains a very useful tool for pastors trying to make sense of redemptive-historical preaching.