The View From The Pew
It is my task and my honor to continue our discussion of biblical theology, now from the point of view of a layperson in the pew. The two basic questions to answer in this hour are: what is biblical-theological preaching from a layperson's perspective, and how does such preaching impact us who sit in the pew?
I recognize that there are as many answers to these two questions as there are people in this room or anywhere who have heard biblical-theological preaching. Most of us here have; so if I asked each of you to describe it, I wonder what you would say. And I wonder how different our responses would be.
Would you say it is a faithful, essential kind of preaching . . . or might you rather say frustrating, esoteric? Would you say it is a concrete, personal kind of preaching . . . or might you rather say abstract, impersonal? Would you say it is a profoundly practical kind of preaching . . . or might you rather say highly impractical? Would you say it is a properly intelligent kind of preaching . . . or might you rather say overly intellectual? I wonder what you would say, but my guess is that most of us would agree on this: that biblical-theological preaching is a non-standard, even a radically different kind of preaching of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What is the nature of biblical-theological preaching, and what is the layperson's view and experience of it? There are many possible answers, but only one will be voiced in our discussion this hour, and thus it will serve today as the representative view from the pew. I think it is helpful for you to know it is a representative view that has at one point or another embraced every negative opinion and critical objection just mentioned. But it is a representative view that now confidently takes a most thoroughgoing, affirmative stand on biblical-theological preaching both its method and its message.
Today the representative view is seen through the eyes of a regular, ordinary member who sits in the pew and hears biblical-theological preaching on the Lord's Day at New Life Mission Church in La Jolla, Californiaa Reformed Presbyterian church of the PCA denomination, which has been my beloved church family these past four years. Before becoming a member at New Life Mission Church in La Jolla, I had been actively involved and deeply rooted in a non-denominational Calvary Chapel church fellowship for about eight years. And prior to that, I belonged to and was raised, virtually from birth, in the Roman Catholic church.
I mention my personal history because I want you to see in my life perhaps what you see in your own: a spiritual pilgrimage. And in the story of my pilgrimage, were you able to detectthough it was brief and given in reverse orderdid you notice a definite progression? There was a progression from knowing God abstractly and impersonally only in terms of mastering the mechanics of a ritualistic religion . . . to then knowing God concretely and intimately in a personal relationship . . . and then even further in a covenant union.
And in the story of my pilgrimage, did you notice the critical transitions? There was a transition from a pew where the primacy in the Roman Mass was not the preached Word . . . into a pew where I was first brought in contact with the person and work of God the Son through today's prevalent style of gospel preaching that is practical application-oriented . . . and now into a pew where I am seeing and experiencing the furthest penetration yet into the all-important meaning of the historical life, the vicarious suffering, the substitutionary death and glorious resurrection-ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ for me . . . for us, his Bride, through that unique style of gospel preaching I now prefer, which is redemptive-historically oriented.
Here again I am driving at a major emphasis and my favorite aspect of biblical-theological preachingnamely, understanding my covenant union with Christ. And I will reiterate the point: I am persuaded that our sense and experience of covenant union with God is most deeply penetrated through Vosian biblical-theological preaching because it approaches Scripture in a redemptive-historical way.
I will mention early on also that I intend to firmly press home the husband-wife/groom-bride themes in my definition and evaluation of biblical-theological preaching. For I see covenant union like a marriage relationship. Of course, marriage is the classic paradigm in Scripture to describe God's relationship with his people (Eph. 5:22-33). When I first became a Christian, I readily understood this. I am married to Christ. My relationship with God is no longer one of wrath but one of love. But it has been only over the past four years that I have understood the profound implications of knowing a covenant relationship with God. And I am amazed still at how fundamental is this biblical notion of a covenant for experiencing the full provision of God's grace offered to us in the gospel.
Before I can effectively define biblical-theological preaching, I need to describe my view of the pew. And it will be a corporate view because in recent years I have come to know the important biblical principle of covenant headship under Adam and Christ. I once viewed myself strictly in terms of my personal, individual identity. But now I see that Scripture gives priority to the corporate aspect of who we are, which is why I will be focussing today on the corporate aspect of who we are in the pew. We are similar to one another, aren't we? For one thing, as I have already implied, we are similar in this: each of us is on a journey going somewhere. And each of us began the journey in the very same way.
Can we not confess
with one voice?
. . . that on day one of our journey each of us was born into a coffin
into the grave of this fallen created order.
Born into disobedience
as children of wrath with a corrupted nature
wholly inclined only to evil continually.
Full of kindness, politeness, charm, amazing talents, great service to others.
But all of this done out of a motivation to somehow
promote, affirm, love, and glorify self.
Motivated perhaps out of the fear of man, but not out of the fear of God.
Not understanding the grace of God; thus, enemies of God.
Full of unbelief, determined in our wickedness
to make this world what God never intended it to be: our real home.
Born in bondage to sin and death in an Age of Sin
dominated by the tyrant-prince of sin, Satan,
who further oppresses us in our total depravity
by constantly tempting us to prefer breathing only
the same, sinful stench of earthly air which he himself breathes.
But even more distressing is a truth about us
which seals that ugly, awful coffin for us so tightly
and guarantees absolutely no escape from it by our own power:
the truth that each and every one of us
is intimately, covenantally bound up and united
to our First Covenant Representative, Adam,
who fell from original righteousness long ago in Eden
and whose disobedience and condemnation
are counted as our very ownimputed (credited) to us
even us in the pew who are the people
of the First Humanity under the First Covenant Head in the First Creation.1
Now I am ready to give the layperson's definition of biblical-theological preachingthe kind of preaching my heart now loves because it is the glorious proclamation that the Triune God has accomplished an infinitely great
1 Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.
saving work to reverse this devastating, hellish curse upon us. It is the glorious proclamation that the Preeminent One, who is separate from his creationutterly distinct from the creatures he made actually condescended to our desperate need and became in the Person of Jesus Christ an object of salvation in order to become the agent of our salvation.2 I need to say more, but I want you to hear it in the very words of the minister who preached itto illustrate preaching that is faithful to the text of Scripture and thus faithful to our Lord . . . faithful to the preaching legacy of Geerhardus Vos . . . And if I may be so bold and presumptuous to speak on behalf of those who sit with me in the pew, it is the kind of preaching that we are so hungry for:
(In this particular excerpt, the preacher is proclaiming Jesus Christ out of Habakkuk 3:13 _ "Thou didst go forth for the salvation of Thy people, for the salvation of Thine anointed. Thou didst strike the head of the house of the evil to lay him open from thigh to neck.")
"Christ didn't have any sin. he wasn't in need of salvation. The Messiah doesn't need to be saved himself. But don't you see, that is precisely the point. Habakkuk's proclamation of Christ at this juncture is so thorough, so deep, so profound that he sees the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, to be so absolutely identified with his people that he takes to himself their condition in totality. And it will be by so giving himself over to this identification with them out of his love and in it, becoming the object of salvation that he will also become the agent of their salvation. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:21 _ 'He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.'
2 Taken from a sermon preached by Reverend Charlie Dennison at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, PA, November 12, 1995. I want to note here that I hardly knew Charlie Dennison personally. It is his brother, Reverend Jim Dennison, who is my friend and who has richly encouraged me in my understanding of the gospel over the past four years. Jim commended his brother's exceptional preaching to me, so I have become familiar with Charlie's work from listening to his sermons on audio tape. I am deeply grateful for both Dennison brothers, whose gospel ministries have greatly benefited my life.
" . . . Christ enters the flesh of sinful humanity and on the cross takes to himself our offenses that he, with all his own in him, might undergo the salvation that they are to experience. The Christ who needs no salvation undergoes salvation that those who need salvation might be saved! The One who needs no justification, needs no adoption, needs no sanctification undergoes all of these things in order that those who do need these things might experience them in the full!"
We are so hungry for such preaching that reveals what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, our Eternal Husband, for us who are collectively in the pew, the Lamb's Wife.
Biblical-theological preaching is perhaps at its simplest (yet I will suggest its most essential) level the telling of the greatest and most important love story that we will ever hear in this life. Who doesn't enjoy a great, classic love story? And this one is like no other because this one, in fact, is not fiction, not fable, not myth: The Great Prince came and slew the wicked dragon to rescue the damsel in distress whom he loved even from the foundation of the world. And he married her and brought her into the rich and glorious Kingdom of his Father where they now live happily ever after.
Biblical-theological preaching is telling the great, true love story about our Perfect Bridegroom who left his Father to cleave to us, his Bride:
It is telling the
story about our Groom's journey
from his heavenly world down to our earthly realm
even so far as to sacrificially die on that tree for us.
And then journey further down to enter
into that dark, stench-filled grave for us.
But it is also the story about how
our Husband-Champion-Savior slew the wicked dragon
and rescued us on that third day
when he blasted out those tightly pounded nails, so to speak,
of that ugly, awful coffin, so to speak,
and rose in bodily form out of the deepest death
into the highest life of the New Creation for us . . .
for us who are intimately, covenantally bound up and united
to the Second Adam, Christ—our True Covenant Representative,
whose perfect righteousness and glory
are counted as our very own—imputed (credited) to us—
even us in the pew who are the people
of the New Humanity under the New Covenant Head in the New Creation.3
So can we not confess with one voice?
. . . that the Holy Spirit has given us birth into the Life of the new, created order.
Born now to participate in God's obedience
as children of light with a new nature zealous for good deeds.
And all of this done out of a motivation to somehow
promote, affirm, love and glorify Christ.
Motivated now out of the reverent fear of God.
Understanding the grace of God; thus, friends of God.
Privileged to enjoy the things of this world in a new way.
Enabled to trust that even the new nature of our sufferings
direct our eyes to look beyond the earth toward our real home.
Still citizens of this Present Evil Age
but able even now to foretaste life in the Age of Perfect Peace
because of our union with the Prince of Peace, Christ,
who encourages us more and more to prefer breathing only
the same, sweet aroma of heavenly air which he himself breathes.
Yes, a monumental reversal has transpired in the history of redemption. In resurrection-union with Christ, we have entered God's heavenly
3 Romans 5:15-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22
presence and glory even now. And we experience the highest foretaste of heavenly riches and realities when we come together in the pew on the Lord's Day.
The proper "view from the pew," in my mind, flows out of a proper view of the Day itself. I see now that it is an exclusive covenant privilege to be called out of the profane world to gather in the holy assembly on the Lord's Day. I see with the eyes of faith now that we are joining together in that worship service with all the people of God throughout all the ages and participating with them in the life and activities happening in the heavenly places even now.
I never saw going to church on Sunday like this before! We are foretasting the end of the world each week. Biblical theologians have taught me that our week is indeed a Sabbatically-structured week.4 We can rejoice that our week begins in the New Creation. And when we gather on the first day of the week, the biblical-theological minister explicitly exhorts us to come into the pew as participants, and not as mere spectators.5 We are encouraged at every opportunity in the worship service to participate with the holy assembly that is in heaven already. We are encouraged that when we are singing, we are participating with the heavenly choir. When we are interceding with the pastor in the Shepherd's Prayer, we are participating in who Christ is, who intercedes for his people. When we are hearing the faithfully preached Word, we are encountering Christ himself face-to-face.
With this eschatological perspective on the Day, I see in you preachers a most high calling. It is our ultimate hope to actually see God face-to-face, and your preaching is the means of grace by which we can foretaste a personal encounter with God every week. Indeed Christ, our Emmanuel-God, is constantly present with us, but he comes to us in a specific, fuller sense through your preaching. As I see it, the preached Word is the very highlight of our week! Needless to say, if Christ is not preached, we in the pew have the right to be gravely disappointed. But we have come to expect that Vosian redemptive-historical preaching will satisfy the deepest needs of the Eschatological
4 Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (S. Hamilton: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 1993) 51.
I am indebted to Reverend Charlie Dennison for this insighttaken from
a sermon he preached at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, PA, November
Wife who sits in the pew. For it is the deepest thirst and the highest passion of the Wife to truly see, covenantally know and intimately experience her Husband and his satisfying, overflowing, divine love for her. That's what she wants . . . that's what we want . . . .
And that's what we get with redemptive-historical preaching because it is preaching that understands the very nature of Scripture itself: to present to us, first of all, the Person of Jesus Christ and sees the centrality of Christ in Scripture to the extent of teaching us that all things in heaven and earth have their full meaning only in relation to who Christ is. Everything in Scripture gets its meaning and value in the death and resurrection of Christ, doesn't it?
Creation: is about the glorious re-creation inaugurated by Christ's resurrection.
Adam: is about Christ, the Last Adam, whose death and resurrection re- versed the curse upon us.
Circumcision: is about Christ, the True Circumcision, who was cut off from the Father on the cross at Calvary so that we would no longer be cut off.
Exodus: is about the greater, fuller exodus from sin and death through Christ, the Greater Moses.
Wilderness: where Christ journeyed to be tested for us and for the first time in history man beat the Devil.
Conquest: is about Christ, the Greater Joshua, who won the great cosmic battle against our sin and death at his resurrection.
Theocracy: is about the final, transcendent kingdom of Christ, the Greater David.
Vosian redemptive-historical preaching has opened my eyes to see that the Lord Jesus Christ himself is the very embodiment of the history of redemption.6
Temple. Lamb. Fountain. Head. Husband. Family. Church. Wedding: A
James T. Dennison, Jr., "The Exodus: Historical Narrative, Prophetic Hope,
Gospel Fulfillment." Presbyterion 8 (1982): 1-12.
wedding is about anticipating the Great Wedding Feast of Christ and his Church at the end of the Age. Who wouldn't prefer preaching that makes Jesus Christ the focus and meaning of all things in heaven and earth? Preaching that is Christ-centered is the most faithful kind of gospel preaching.
Perhaps what is intriguing about my accolades of biblical-theological preaching is that I did not always like it. Maybe I should not say "like it" but rather that I did not feel as comfortable with it as I do now. I liked it enough to stick with it, and I am glad I did because I learned that biblical-theological preaching, for the most part, is something that you have to break into slowly. That was the reality for me . . . and probably for most people. For me, because I had to radically change the way I listen to a sermon. I had been a Christian for about eight years when I first heard this kind of preaching. I was conditioned to expect certain things in a sermon which are very different from what I expect now.
You know the first thing I'm going to say, don't you? Some of the first questions I asked were, "Why is this strange preacher not giving me any practical applications? Why is he not explicitly making the meaning of this text relevant to the particular situations of our contemporary lives? Isn't the whole objective of studying the Word of God to obey itto apply it to our lives? This is so basic, yet this preacher seemingly won't encourage us this way." I think this is a very popular reaction of people, especially newcomers into the biblical-theological pew. Can you hear it now? Have you said it yourself: "You want me to change the way I listen to a sermon?! I am outta here!" But I have learned that those of us who stay do go on to understand more and more. It begins to click. I know I can only speak for myself, and I will say this: The confusion and frustration are diminishingprobably never completely because I think I will be ever challenged, in a good way, by this kind of in-depth preaching . . . which is meat, not milk.
So why does a Vosian preacher not give "practical applications?" I want to answer this question; I want to share with you what I have learned.
I see it as part of the larger question of why the covenantal view of the gospel is so important to me. If I am to make an intelligent, wise decision about which church I want to attend committedly . . . where I want to be fed spiritually . . . where I want to serve God faithfully, I know now that there are two important questions that need to be answered sufficiently well for me from the pulpit. The first question, in particular, needs to be answered precisely because it has life and death significance. And because the second question is so organically related to the first, you might also think that an imprecise answer to it is just as life-threatening.
You know what I'm
going to say, don't you? The first question must be: How can a sinner be saved?
You can probably guess that I am going to say that the covenantal view gives
the most faithful answer. You can also probably guess, by my brief history which
I gave earlier, how radically and how often the answer has changed in my mind
As a Roman Catholic, I testified that I was going to heaven by being a good person, giving no glory or mention to Christ's merit: A heretical answer in the most damnable way. And then as a Protestant believeran Arminian thinkerI testified that I am saved on the basis that when that altar call was given, I raised my hand, came forward and I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. In testifying this way, I understand now that I was wrongly, ignorantly implying that salvation comes by my own actfrom my inherent faith. But now as a Protestant, Reformed believera CalvinistI testify that I am saved on the basis that Christ lived, died and rose for me. Faith in Christ is a gift from God; salvation comes by God's act entirely (Eph. 2:8-9)
One might say, "Don't be so divisive, Diane. We are all saying the same thing. This is a petty battle of words, just a difference in terminology." Is it just a difference in words? Or is it a difference in mindset?
I accepted Jesus
Christ as my personal Lord and Savior:
"I" is the subject; "Christ" is the object.
Man-centered, self-centered thinking.
Christ lived, died and rose for me:
"Christ" is the subject; "me" is the object.
God-honoring, Christ-centered thinking.
It is frightening to consider that at the end of the Day the difference in words might even be the difference between heaven and hell.
The second most important question that needs to be answered sufficiently well for me from the pulpit is this: Now that we understand that we have been saved by grace, how then should we live? Yes, I think the covenantal, biblical-theological view gives the most faithful answer to this question. I have observed that this question is generally answered from the pulpit in one of two ways: the practical, application-oriented way, or the eschatological, heaven-oriented way.
This question of how we should view and live the Christian life deals directly with a certain theological concept that sooner or later a person in the biblical-theological pew will have to reckon with and want to understand adequately because it answers that question we wonder about: "Why does a biblical-theological preacher seemingly not give applications in his sermons?" I want to answer this popular question today. I want you to hear how a layperson deals with this issue. This means I will have to discuss that theological concept of the indicative-imperative relationship in Scripture. Can you imagine how inadequate I feel right now defining this concept in front of all you pastors and scholars?! Very . . . but I'm going to give it a shot. See if I've got it right: The "indicatives" are the factual statements in Scripture of the way things really are for us nowthe way life really is because of Christ and our resurrection-union with him. The "imperatives" are the commands in Scripture that we are to obey. In light of this, I will now define application-oriented preaching.
We are humbled by Old Testament history. Israel's repeated failures to obey God's commandments drive us to the glory of New Testament revelation. God has acted definitively in Jesus Christ to provide his people with a new ability to obey. The New Israel is called to respond to God's grace in grateful obedience. This is an indisputable biblical truth: We are to obey God. And this is what application-oriented preaching labors to emphasize. I have observed that application-oriented preachers do talk about what Christ has done for us; they do discuss the indicatives. But I have also observed that they emphasize applicationsthe imperativesin their preaching. At this point, let us recognize that God's Word is already filled with imperatives for us to obey. In the Holy Scriptures, there is no lack of applications for every area of life. I only have to refer to Ephesians 5 and 6 to illustrate the point: Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Slaves, be obedient to your earthly masters with fear and trembling in sincerity of heart as to Christ. Masters, give up threatening your servants. And still another example would be: Disciples, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow God.
There are so many wonderful, divinely-inspired applications provided for us in the Bible already. I want to suggest something now that my pastor pointed out to me.7 Application-oriented preachers add their own applications on top of the applications that are already in the Scriptures. They flesh out for us what we must do to obey God; they elaborate for us with great care and detail the imperatives. The applications. The imperatives. Our obedience. This is their concern for us in the pew. This is their message to us: we are to obey God. "We" is the subject; "God" is the object.
At this point, I think it is appropriate and beneficial to offer you another profound insight from Reverend Charlie Dennison:
Dennison is proclaiming Christ from Ephesians 5:22-33.)8
"God in His grace must act if I am to obey at all. The act of God must precede. But having set these things in orderhaving gotten hold of this biblical truth, or better: this truth having gotten hold of us, we still fall short of the full splendor and glory of the New Testament revelation. For it will not simply be that God acts in Christ before we are called to obey: the indicative will precede the imperative. But mar-
7 My pastor is Reverend James Lee of New Life Mission Church in La Jolla, CA.
8 This excerpt is taken from a sermon preached by Reverend Charlie Dennison on September 8, 1996 at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, PA. In this sermon, he gave an excellent excursus on the indicative-imperative relationship in Scripture. I am largely indebted to him for the indicative-imperative principles set forth in this section of my discussion.
vel of marvels, God himself will actually obey in Christ before we are called to obey. . . . It is all of him. God's actions: so marvelous is it. His actionhis indicativeincludes within it our imperative! All of the commands that are laid upon us are already found in him! Here is the fuller, more glorious meaning of Christ's perfect obedience. He is God acting to fulfill God's own laws for us and in us before we can obey. God in Christ obeys for us. He accomplishes it. There is the fullness of the accomplishment. There is nothing left out. You can only enter into it. You can only take advantage of it. It is already done."
Such preaching as this confronts us in the pew with another indisputable biblical truth: God has fully obeyed for us in Jesus Christ. And this is what biblical-theological preaching labors to emphasize! In this emphasis, "God" is the subject; "us" is the object. Recognizing the contrast between these two different kinds of preaching has revolutionized not only how I listen to a sermon, but how I live my daily life.
I was having dinner with a friend one night, and he challenged me to think further on this matter: "Diane, why does Paul make a statement about Christ and then give us applications? How is our union with Christ related to the applications already in the Scriptures?"9 As we talked about it, he helped me to see that you biblical-theological preachers spend your time and efforts in another direction, emphasizing something wholly different. Your high concern for us is the connection between the indicative and the imperative. This is your issue. This is what you labor to flesh out for us in the pew.
Why?! I think I know why now. My pastor once told me, "When my congregation comes into the pew, I presume that you want to be holy. The Holy Spirit is working in your lives. The problem is not what to do because, in fact, the Scriptures are already filled with applications that teach us what to do. What is lacking is the motivation to do it." So I thought a lot about that and have thus concluded: Unlike the application-oriented preacher whose empha-
9 Taken from a conversation with Mr. Tim Lim, who was an intern at my church.
sis is on what we do, the biblical-theological preacher elaborates on the relationship between the indicative and the imperative to make us richly conscious of this: What is our motivation for doing what we do?
The answer: Our motivation is intimate fellowship-communion with our God, who is our obedience! Please follow me on this: God has fully obeyed for us in Jesus Christ. Obedience is our blessing because in being obedient, we are participating in who God is. And in this participation, we are experiencing fellowship-communion with him in the most intimate way. And in this fellowship, we are foretasting our future lifethe life of the Age to Come even now!
Why doesn't the biblical-theological preacher emphasize practical applications in his sermons? Why does he rather spend his time bringing out Christ in the text and emphasizing our new identity in him? I want to quote a young, budding biblical-theological preacher, who was an intern at our church. He preached a very good sermon on Romans 6:1-11, and he mentioned something which answers these questions quite well: "We know what we ought to do, that's not the problem. The problem is getting started, starting your moral engine and getting to it. That fuel which should drive us to be obedientto follow in the way that we ought to dothat's our problem. Why should we be good instead of bad? Knowing what we ought to do, why ought we to do it? Paul in our passage answers by presenting to us Christ and his redemptive benefits. The answer is this: your identity. Since you have been united with Christ by faith, you don't have an independent identity. You are wed to Christ! Just as a woman: as long as she is single, she has her own identity. But once she is married to her husband, she takes on his name and can no longer live as though she was a single woman. To do that would be insulting to her husband and to deny the ordinance of marriage."10
Biblical-theological preaching explicitly calls us to lose our independent identity. Does this offend our modern minds that value rather a strong sense of individuality? Would we say that this kind of preaching calls people to lose their freedom and become robots of a fatalistic God, whofirst of
10 Taken from a sermon on Romans 6:1-11, preached by Mr. Sean Choi at New Life Mission Church, La Jolla, CA, July 27, 1997.
allchose us to belong to him even if we did not want it? What does it mean that our salvation and even our daily lives are all of him? Where do I come in? When I first started thinking about what Calvinists were saying, I asked these questions. And I began to learn somethingnamely, not to have such a high opinion of myself and such a low opinion of God.
The very sinfulness of sin is what I love in my identity apart from God. My freedom apart from God? It is to do only what my wicked nature pleases. But God intervened and called me to lose my wicked identity to enjoy the truest and greatest freedomthe freedom now to partake of the divine nature. Without being God, we are united unto God (2 Pet. 1:4)! A complete reversal in my thinking has occurred. To experience true freedom, I must lose my independent identity! Is this fatalistic? Robotic? By God's grace, my mind is going in another direction: covenant of grace . . . covenant of love . . . covenant of marital union.
The Vosian Perspective: The Eschatological Husband faithfully kept all of the obligations of the covenant to earn the condition of blessings forevermore for his Wifefor us who sit in the pew. And now weshecan only enter in and take full advantage of all the blessings. And her greatest blessing: to fully enjoy the husband she already possesses; to take on his identity more and more; to take on his very thoughts as to know his mind more and more; to take on his very desires as to know his heart more and more. Covenantal Life: Not seeking to attain what she does not yet possess, but living out what she already possesses in him!11
Can you see why I prefer to sit under this kind of gospel preaching and teaching?12 This is how one of my Sunday School teachers, Reverend Jim Dennison, exhorted us to be a disciple: "Only Jesus can take up the cross. Only Jesus can deny himself. Only Jesus can fulfill what it means to follow God and be a disciple. Because he did it, we can. I could never be a disciple unless Jesus Christ had been a disciple for me."
11 I am indebted to Reverend Jim Dennison for this insight.
12 The following sermon "bites" were compiled based on preachings and teachings by the Dennison brothers, Jim and Charlie.
What about being a husband? In the biblical-theological pew, I am hearing the proclamation to men that there is an already full obedience that hus-bands can enter intothe obedience that is found in Jesus Christ and no where else. Godly men love their wives passionately because they themselves taste of passionate intimacy with their Lord. By loving their wives as Christ loves his Wife, men are discovering and living out who they really are.
What about being a wife? I am hearing the proclamation to women that it is Christ alone who embodies and incarnates submission. So in our submission to our heads in the home and in the church, we women are reflecting, experiencing and enjoying the very submission of Christ.
What about being a slavea servant in the workplace? I am hearing that God the Son became the slave for our sake. Christ fulfills everything a servant must be. True servanthood cannot be fulfilled apart from resurrection-union with Jesus Christ, says the biblical-theological preacher.
What about being a father? In my opinion, the most edifying kind of gospel preaching gives primacy to the Triune God even when the topic is about fathers: Fathers know how to be good fathers because they fellowship in the Spirit with the heavenly Father and participate in who he is. They know the heavenly Father because the Only Begotten Son has come and explained the Fatherhood of God to us as never before.
What about being a sona child? Once again, I must quote Reverend Charlie Dennison directly, for I cannot say it any better. As I heartily commend his gospel ministry in this discussion, it is my fervent hope that the hearers _ both laypeople and preachers/teachers alikewill be reminded and stimulated by what he says to glory afresh in our Chief End and in our Chief Delight:
(Here Reverend Dennison is proclaiming the Risen Christ from Ephesians 6:1"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.")
"The obedience that is 'in the Lord' is the obedience found in the Lord himself, who according to the gospel not only obeyed perfectly his earthly parents and while on earth his heavenly Father for usfor us!that obedience was for us! But this One, who is now called the Lord, is alive, raised from the dead, forever living obediently in his Father's glorious presence! And it is this which is placed at your disposal. . . . But the obedience to which you (children) have been called and into which you have entered is the already perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ, who because he is living now continues to be One into whom you may enter by faiththrough whom and by whose gospel his obedience avails for you. And you are impelled because you are in him to obey as he obeys!"13
After a while, the central, essential message of biblical-theological sermons becomes clear: Give up your life so that it might be found in Christ alone. Not only is Jesus Christ everything to us, but he is everything for us. He is our All in All (1 Cor. 15:28). He is, in fact, our Life (Col. 3:3-4). Christ himself is our Greatest Gift, our True Inheritance!
In the second half of my discussion, I have been seeking to answer the question: How has biblical-theological preaching impacted my life? I have been answering it in terms of how biblical-theological preaching has drastically changed the way I listen to a sermon. In my final point, I want to address this: What are these strange notions of "participation in the text," "identification with the text," "living in the text?" I was baffled by this concept for a long time, and now I am here to explain it?! It is a scary thingmaybe even arrogantto presume that I know what this means because even Reformed scholars, church leaders and homiletics experts are baffled by these notions. Perhaps in their case, it is more the criticism of being "too vague to denote a purposeful ethical preaching thrust."
Perhaps tomorrow Doug Clawson will elaborate for us what is a "purposeful ethical preaching thrust." But in this discussion, this layperson simply wants to share how she has been truly blessed by participating in the text. Ironically, it is a simple matter, I think. I remember my pastor saying, "Par-
13 Preached by Reverend Charlie Dennison on November 17, 1996, Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, PA. It is this unforgettable sermon which helped me to see more clearly than ever before what biblical-theological preachers are laboring to do for us, over against application-oriented preachers.
ticipation in the text occurs naturally and universally." His point is that biblical-theological training is not required to identify with the text. I have discovered that this is true. I am learning now to experience a biblical-theological sermon like I experience watching a movie or reading a story in a book. And as I mentioned before, the gospelthe gospel story of salvationis greater than any other story because it was actually written for us in the pew. And what's more, it was written about us!
I want to restate a previous point: Pastors, preachers and teachers of a biblical-theological orientation encourage us to come into the pew as participants, not as mere spectators. This is biblical. They point to the Apostle Paul and what he wrote in Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself up for me." We know that Paul was not even at Christ's crucifixion. However, he speaks about it not only as if he were present at that event but as if he were a very participant with Christ in that event. A past event becomes a present situation for the Apostle Paul. A past eventa seemingly remote historical eventbecomes a present situation for us in the pew, says the biblical-theological preacher.
Such a preacher would also point to the Apostle John, who describes in the last book of the Bible what will happen to us. This is our future: "Behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'" (Rev. 7:9-10). The biblical-theological preacher calls us to live in this text. He exhorts us to see ourselveswith the eyes of faithas being included among those gathered together at that grand assembly before God's glorious throne, wearing garments provided by Christ's righteousness. When we identify with this text, a future event becomes a present situation for us in the pew.
So no longer then can the Bible be a story about ancient people in a faraway land or even about a distant future. But all past and future events on the line of biblical, redemptive history become present situations—a now realityto us, for us, with us and in us . . . in the pew! This is better than a movie! When we are being shown in every portion of Scripture heaven itself intruding the earthly sphere or what is earthly being translated into the heavenly sphere, we are identifying with it; we are experiencing it ourselves. And marvel of marvels, it is not fantasy. It is concrete, historical reality that hopefully, in faith, becomes a present situation to each one in the pew.
This perspective does not make good sense, I think, if the Bible is, first of all, presented as a book of doctrines for us to analyze. But this perspective makes a lot of good sense if we see the Holy Scriptures in the way the Vosian biblical-theological preacher presents it to us: as a progressive unfolding of the story of our salvation.
No application? Not in a traditional sense, I find. But in each and every sermon, I am seeing that an implicit "application" is always there. Implicitly . . . and sometimes I even hear it most explicitlythe preacher asking each one of us perhaps the greatest of identification-application questions: Are we included in this story? In the story of Christ's salvation? In his personal history?
I praise the Lord that I recognize now that my personal history is an inclusion in Christ's personal history; that the story of my pilgrim journey is an inclusion in his pilgrim journey; his exodus is my exodus; his perfect righteousness alone is my righteousness; his death is my death; his resurrection is my resurrection . . . for I have been taught that he is my Life, right?
Am I getting it . . . finally?
Mutuality. Reciprocity. Covenantal Love. Union. Identification. Participation . . . with our Preeminent, Triune God and his Final, Transcendent Kingdom!
On behalf of those who sit with me in the pew, we thank our Covenant Lord for his faithful servantsyou Vosian biblical-theological preachers and teachers: for your labor of love for us; for faithfully teaching us to have our hearts in eternity; for constantly reminding us that we are . . . even now . . . infinitely rich in heavenly places in Christ!