Your Old Testament Sermon Needs to Get Saved Review

Book Review: 

I've known something about the "Christocentric" hermeneutic for many years now. I need to admit up front that I've always disagreed with it in theory, but have never really fully formulated why I disagree with it. I saw 'Your Old Testament Sermon Needs to Get Saved' by David King and figured that it would be good chance to read the whole argument for Christocentrism in preaching and think it through more thoroughly.

One of the main arguments that King makes for a Christocentric interpretation of everything is the Lordship of Jesus. "We start with the simple but sweeping confession: Jesus is Lord. Take a second to ponder the weight of that three word sentence. Could there be a more persuasive argument for preaching Christ from the Old Testament? If Jesus is Lord, then He is Lord over the Old Testament - and Lord over our Old Testament sermons, too." At first, it was hard to figure out how to reply to such an argument. A lot of the arguments in the book are similar to the one above in that they seem to be made up of 'gotcha' questions and statements, such that you feel wrong disagreeing with them. Here are some other snippets:

"do you believe that there are portions of the Old Testament that have nothing to do with Jesus?"

"If Christ is the final word from God, then all previous words lead to Him"

"Everything about the Old Testament flows to and through Jesus."

These arguments are too vague. Take for instance the first one, that Jesus is Lord. Of course Jesus is Lord! But what does that entail? One could use a similar argument to say that since He is Lord over everything then He is Lord of any secular book too, such as Moby Dick. Should we preach Christ from Moby Dick? Should we preach him from Star Wars?

And then of course you have the "Emmaus road" argument, "And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."(Luk 24:27 ASV) I've always read that to mean that Jesus pointed out that the Scriptures had clearly prophesied about Him, and that He went through the Scriptures and showed them the particular places that prophesied of Himself, not that He showed them that He was in (or the point of) EVERY SINGLE THING written in them. King also uses what Christ said later that night to try to further his point: "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."(24:44-47). I have always read "everything written about me" as a clarification, that all of the prophecies of Christ in those books must be fulfilled, not that those books were prophesying about Him in everything they said. I've never read those passages as if they said, "Everything in the Law of Moses, the prophets and Psalms was speaking of Me." Or "He showed them that everything that the prophets wrote, and everything written in the Scriptures concerned Himself." I see "the things concerning Himself" and "everything written about me" as narrowing the focus to particular passages, not encompassing everything in the law, prophets and Psalms.

Next, the author says that "the apostles adopted a broad prophetic understanding of the Old Testament"
The illustrative verse used for this section is Matthew's pointing out the fulfillment of a prophecy in Hosea, "Out of Egypt have I called my Son", in Mary and Joseph taking Jesus and coming back to Israel after having gone to Egypt in obedience to God's command to Joseph to flee there. Many commentators have thought that Matthew was viewing "Israel" as a type of Christ because the statement before "out of Egypt I called My Son" says
"When Israel was a child, then I loved him" (Hosea 11:1). I don't see that Matthew absolutely has to be viewed as interpreting a passage about Israel by applying it to Christ - one could make the case that the juvenile Israel who was loved is not the same as the Son who was called from out of Egypt. Especially since Matthew only specifically states that the return of Mary, Joseph and Jesus from Egypt was fulfilled by the particular statement "out of Egypt I called My Son" and he doesn't mention that it fulfills the statement about God loving Israel when Israel was a child.

King states that,"Christ can be proclaimed from old Testament texts in a manner that pushes the boundaries of our own prophetic understanding. Matthew wasn't mistaken." I agree, Matthew wasn't mistaken but I don't see that he was necessarily pushing the boundaries, and I would probably argue the same about any other prophecy. I think that more, perhaps all, of the "Messianic prophecies" are more explicitly speaking of Christ than many people assume. Many seem to think that some of the Old Testament texts quoted in the New are not explicitly speaking of Christ but had a 'secondary fulfillment' in Christ, that they had 'double' fulfillments. I think that a case can be made for assuming that any Old Testament texts that are said, in the New Testament, to be speaking of Christ are direct prophecies of Christ and that we need to align our understanding and study of those texts around that assumption. Even Christ called his Jewish disciples fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken(Luke 24:25), I rather think that heavily implies that the prophecies that spoke of Him were very plain, very obvious.

King thinks that if Christ is not preached in every sermon, then you are preaching a "synagogue sermon", not a Christian sermon. "…. you must consider whether the Father means for His Son to be preached as an appendix to the sermon rather than as the heart. Until the conclusion, such sermons are suitable for the synagogue." He seems to think that 2 Timothy 3:15-17 (Are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathe out by God and is profitable for teaching…") supports his point. "To be just a tad provocative, Paul isn't saying that all Scripture is profitable for making us competent Jews. He's saying that all Scripture is profitable for making us competent Christians. And we don't have to infer that this is what Paul means - he states it plainly. The sacred writings, he says, are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." Why would we assume that the Scriptures are only profitable (and wise for salvation) for Christians if you preach Christ from every text, rather than preach what the text says?

What if a pastor is preaching through the book of Ezra, and on this particular Sunday he is in Ezra chapter one and he doesn't preach Christ as THE POINT of these texts. Rather, after exegeting the text, he applies it by talking about how God's promises and prophecies always come to pass, and he goes on to emphasize the greatness of God, and how every single detail of His prophecies come to pass; he reminds the people that later down the line every detail about the Messiah and His salvation would happen exactly as foretold but he doesn't focus on this, he just mentions it, and moves back to talking about how God does exactly what He says, how God is sovereign even over our salvation, reminding this Christian congregation that they ought never to doubt God, they should always trust Him. Was that not training in righteousness? Or was it not because the pastor applied the text by focusing upon God's sovereignty rather than on Jesus Christ and His redemptive work?

Even if one does believe that one should preach Christ from every text, King warns that one can preach too much of Christ or too little of Him, you can also do it in a "kooky" way (finding Christ in the wood of Noah's ark, that the wood symbolizes the cross). "The path between the text and Christ is not found in a twister hermeneutic. Our goal instead is to understand how the text is fulfilled in Jesus." I don't understand. Why would finding Christ in the wood of Noah's ark be wrong? The more you see of Christ the better, right? Here's another excerpt from the book which might help you understand my confusion: "Jesus drives an interpretive stake in the ground by in asserting that all the Old testament is fulfilled in Him. In other words, Jesus changes how we read the Old Testament. Not just parts of the Old Testament, but all of it is fulfilled in Him! Every dot and iota of every passage - every jot and tittle…..Jesus' fulfillment language here clearly goes beyond obvious messianic promises and prophecies and patterns. It includes everything!……Jesus is the goal of every detail in the Bible." I don't understand, based on arguments like this, how you could go wrong with connecting Christ to every single thing in the Old Testament.

King says that, "Failing to preach Christ from the Old Testament is a serious problem. It's exegetically and theologically wrong. It dishonors Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture and the centerpiece of salvation history. It leads people astray by perpetuating a Christless notion of the Old Testament and, worse, by inadvertently directing them to rely on God, or even themselves apart from Christ." I don't understand these statements. I don't think I know of any pastor who promotes the idea that Christ was never spoken of or referred to in the Old Testament. Nor do I understand how they would rely on God or themselves apart from Christ. I have actually noticed that "seeing Christ" and focusing on Him has become THE MOST important thing in some Christians' goals over and above God's plain revelation in any given text (even over and above revelation coming directly from Christ Himself). What a text truly says becomes irrelevant as long as someone's view of Christ is built up, as long as Christ is magnified, it doesn't really seem to matter what the any given text actually says.

Let me critique one more thing in particular. The author uses Jeremiah 29:11 as an example of how to preach Christ from any given text. "…God's plans for the welfare of exiled Israel is a prophetic promise. Since all the promises of God find their Yes in Christ (2 Cor 1:20), you must locate the fulfillment of this verse not in modern-day Israel, or America, or in any other nation-state but in Jesus and, by extension, those who are united to Jesus through faith. Whether Israeli, or Palestinian, American…..a person receives the benefits of Jeremiah 29:11 only in Christ." I agree that one mustn't locate the fulfillment in modern day Israel (as if it were already fulfilled) or America, or any other nation-state. But I do believe that the fulfillment, whether past or future, will have happened to Jews, the ethnic descendants of Jacob, and not to Gentiles. A few verses later on seem to explain what the fulfillment of this verse would look like (after Israel has called upon the Lord with all their heart): "And I will be found of you, saith Jehovah, and I will turn again your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith Jehovah; and I will bring you again unto the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive."(Jer 29:14 ASV)

The people of Israel were promised that they would be gathered from all the lands and brought back to Israel when they seek the Lord wholeheartedly. The promise to return them to the land is repeated many times in the Old Testament (Deut. 30,Ezek 37,36,39, 39, Jeremiah 23: 1-8, Amos 9…etc.). But of course, the Israelites cannot seek God with their whole heart on their own, apart from His grace. Because of their innate inability to make themselves seek Him, will what God repeatedly told Israel through the prophets about their being brought back to the land permanently never come true? That's absurd! The days are coming when those prophecies will be fulfilled. Though many individual people of all ethnicities are the beneficiaries of the New Covenant at present, one day God is going to establish the New Covenant with Israel as a nation (Jeremiah32:36-44, 31:31-37)). God clarifies in His prophecies through the prophet Ezekiel that He is not going to act favorably toward them because they have all of a sudden changed and are now seeking Him, Oh no! there is no indication that they have changed themselves for the better. Rather, God says that He will act Himself, not doing it for their sake but for His holy name, He will create in them the required conditions of the fulfillment of the promise to bring them back to the land of Israel: "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God."(Eze 36:26-28 ASV) He also said this through the prophet Jeremiah: "Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. “For thus says the LORD: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them."(Jer 32:37-42 ESV) Even in the more famous New Covenant prophecy in Jeremiah 31, after having promised to make a New Covenant with Israel, God emphasizes that ethnic Israel will always be a nation before Him, that He will not fully cast them off despite all that they had done.

And thus Paul(Romans 9-12) explains to the Roman Christians that God is still going to do what He promised to the Jews as a people, and that Christian Gentiles shouldn't become arrogant toward the Jews, emphasizing that God will one day save the whole nation of Israel, through Christ's salvatory work just as He saves us individually through that work (11:26-27): "And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob'; 'and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.'" (Rom 11:26-27 ESV) And I say all of that to make the point that I don't believe that one can make a true biblical case that Christian Gentiles are ultimately the ones addressed in that particular promise in Jeremiah 29, and also to note that many Christians seem to have already arrived at what Paul warned against: them becoming arrogant toward the Jews (Rom 11:25-36), as though God is fully done with the ethnic descendants of Jacob as a people and that He has replaced them with the 'true Israel': the church.

This is quite long so I had better wrap up. My last argument against a christocentric hermeneutic is that Jesus Himself didn't preach Himself from every Old Testament text. For instance, in Matthew 24:15, Jesus spoke of Daniel's prophecy of the Abomination of Desolation, He didn't preach Himself from that text, He told the people what to do when it came to pass. When you see the abomination, run! He demonstrated that He didn't read it as a symbol of something spiritual, or of Himself in some way, but rather as a particular thing that would happen in the future that they were supposed to be watching out for. I don't see how anyone is dishonoring God and not respecting Christ's Lordship by preaching what the text says, obeying God's will, submitting to His sovereignty, obeying Jesus' commands, mimicking good examples of faith, believing all of the prophecies (including Christ's Revelation to the churches about things to come) and even just by reading the historical accounts and 'seeing' what God ordained to happen in the past. What does Jesus command? Do it. Where did Jesus look and point to? The Father. So should we. Jesus honored the Scriptures, preaching them as though they meant what they said, pointing out that people were not understanding their plain meaning, not their hidden meaning. We don't want to be guilty of the same.

Many thanks to the folks at Moody Publishers for sending me a free copy of this book to review! (My review did not have to be favorable)