Preaching OT – one more tip

Fantastic jump into a pool of muddy water Peter! It seems as though many preaching practitioners prefer the easy way out when it comes to communicating the Old Testament through homily. Short-cuts of allegorizing, spiritualizing, exhortation to imitate characters, moralizing or, with OT texts, jumping to Jesus is common and simultaneously disastrous. Your tips are a wonderful beginning point. They are helpful in assisting the preacher to think bigger and better!

Here is another tip that relates to preaching OT narrative and other biblical genres as well. Sidney Greidanus gives voice to this tip in his book, The Modern Preacher and The Ancient Text. In it, he introduces a theocentric versus anthropocentric hermeneutic for homiletics. Though this is nothing new, and has certainly been addressed in homiletic/literary circles before by Ryken, Von Rad and the like, the central idea is fundamental to consider when preaching OT narrative.

According to Greidanus, God is the central character and not any other – Saul, David, Elijah, Nehemiah are all secondary. More than this, Greidanus argues that narrative (to be clear, all of Scripture) is making a theocentric point not an anthropocentric point. Now, I am not convinced that this is the case all of the time, in every pericope of Scripture. However, it is fodder for thought.

When considering the point of narrative, it is not enough to simply consider the characters. It is not enough to consider plot – background, inciting incident, rising action, climax and denouement. All of these aspects of narrative are necessary to interpretation, however, without consideration of God, his role, interaction, characterization, etc. narrative becomes nothing more than human-driven moralizing. Certainly, we hold Scripture to a higher standard than this. It is why we refer to Scripture as Revelation, not Humanities 101.

So, enough pontificating in my first post! Here is a summary:

– When working at preaching an OT narrative, do not forget to consider God.
– Ask, what is being said about God?
– Think about how the narrative and its characters depict God.
– Wrestle with how the points being made about God within the narrative contour and give shape to what the secondary characters value and how they live.
– Finally, being that we are all characters similar to Saul, David, Elijah and Nehemiah – a part of the same biblical story, how do we relate to this God?

2 thoughts on “Preaching OT – one more tip

  1. Presumably (I’m thinking aloud here) the original human author’s purpose might at times not be theological. It might be political, for example. Not necessarily making a point about God, but about a kingdom or king, for example. Correct???

    But then God has made it a part of our Scriptures – and presumably He has done that for theological purpose – to reveal Humself and His ways and our proper response. Correct up to now???

    So does this mean that we first ask ‘what was the original writer’s purpose?’ And then ‘what is God’s purpose in putting this into the Scriptures ?’

    But then surely we are having to move outside of the text (to other sections of the Bible ) to ask the latter question, so are starting to read-in stuff to the text, rather than studying the text itself.

    Much confused – can someone help me out??!!

  2. First time poster and am glad to find this site!
    Mike, Yes! For goodness sake, let the sermon be theocentric. Can’t tell you how wearying it is to listen to an endless catalog of anthropocentricities. I want to know “What is this telling me about the nature and character of our God?” “How can I learn more about Him?” Being honest about the failings and falleness of folk is important but I also need to know that there is a God who takes these seriously and provides a remedy.
    Tim, as to your question, please forgive me if this sounds presumptuous. If we were talking in person, this is what I would say to you.
    First, I usually try to sort through what God might have been saying to his people through the narrative – the actions or even the lists. For instance, when God addressed Abram and said, “Abram, I am thy shield”, I would first try to get immersed in what this would have meant to Abram – layer one. This would include doing my homework having a look at the context, word studies, etc. – like – , beside the promise, what would it mean to not have an heir of your own body in that day? This is all the work you are probably already doing.
    From there I ask – “God, is there something you are trying to say to me through this passage? “,- layer two, and then, to pray over it. And, finally, I ask, “God, is there something you want me to say to your people through this?” – layer three, and to pray over it again. At this point, through the everlasting mercy of God, a germ of an idea usually appears and then I can pull in all of the other material as a part of the preparation. Asking questions like, “What does Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther or Calvin have to say about this?” and so on. Through the grace of God, it usually manages to get cooked on time.
    Also, I have not found it helpful to second guess why the Holy Spirit might have inspired a particular text, but try to convert that energy to a deepening curiosity about what the text itself is saying, if that makes sense. One way, you put yourself above the text, while looking at it the other way, you are under it. Finally, I take the risk of trusting that it is there for a purpose and , God willing, if I don’t get it today, I may in twenty years!

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