Book Review

Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Model. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999, 373 pp., paper. ISBN: 0-8028-4449-9. $22.00.

In his book, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Model, Professor Sidney Greidanus of Calvin Theological Seminary sets for himself the primary task of providing "seminary students and preachers with a responsible, contemporary method of preaching Christ from the Old Testament" (xii). Greidanus states that he wrote the book because, upon his return to his alma mater to teach after a twenty-five year absence, he was unable to locate for his students a suitable textbook from which to teach Old Testament Christocentric preaching. Greidanus advocates what he calls the "redemptive-historical Christocentric method." Greidanus maintains that this method "complements the theocentric method of interpreting the Old Testament by seeking to do justice to the fact that God's story of bringing his Kingdom on earth is centered in Christ: Christ the center of redemptive history, Christ the center of the Scriptures" (227). Thus, not only in preaching from the New Testament, but also in preaching from the Old Testament, one must understand the Scriptural message in the light of Christ. However, despite this key redemptive insight, and many other useful contributions which appear within the book, a question remains whether the book is not flawed to some degree by a misdirected or inconsistent hope.

Greidanus begins with an apology for the necessity of preaching Christ, and the necessity of preaching Christ from the Old Testament (1- 67). He next moves to a survey of the history of preaching Christ from the Old Testament, followed by a presentation of New Testament principles for preaching Christ from the Old Testament, and then to a detailed description of the Christocentric method (69-277). The concluding chapters of the book aim to be practical as they cover the steps from Old Testament text to Christocentric sermon and provide an example to the reader of the employment of the Christocentric method (279-350).

Greidanus sets the stage by identifying what he believes to be the problem for the contemporary exegete in preaching Christ from the Old Testament. He states, "we are not at all clear on what it means to 'preach Christ'" (3). In addition to the confusion of many in preaching Christ, there is added the difficulty involved in dealing with the Old Testament text. How does one "preach the incarnate Christ from a book that predates his incarnation by many centuries?" (54). Is God-centered preaching of the Old Testament adequate, or should preachers aim for explicitly Christ-centered sermons? (xiii). Further, "what puzzles scholars is not that the NT writers frequently use the OT but how they use it" (185).

In attempting to answer these questions and many others, the book is to be applauded for its strong commitment to redemptive-historical, Christocentric exegesis and preaching of the Word of God. In this respect, Greidanus is relentless. Chapter after chapter, he emphasizes the fact that Jesus Christ is the link between the Old Testament and the New Testament and that the mighty acts of God in the Old Testament reach a climax in the New Testament when God sends his Son. Greidanus believes, therefore, that one can "preach a Christian sermon from the Old Testament because its whole history leads to Christ and finds fulfillment in him" (237). Greidanus further states: "the conviction that Jesus inaugurated the messianic age enables the NT writers to preach Christ from the OT, for this presupposition means that God's redemptive-history reaches its climax in Jesus. In him all the OT promises come to fulfillment" (196). From the bedrock of redemptive-historical exegesis, Greidanus 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).

To his credit, Greidanus states that the "whole Old Testament throbs with a strong eschatological beat" (237) and that it can only be read as a book of ever increasing anticipation (47). Consequently, the Old Testament is open to the future and inherently points beyond itself and its own experience to the coming of the Christ (208).

Having supplied the reader with what he believes are the biblical bases for preaching a Christocentric sermon from the Old Testament, Greidanus ends his book with a helpful section entitled, "Steps from Old Testament Test to Christocentric Sermon" (279-318). According to Greidanus, the preacher should take special notice of the sequence of the steps and not their number. He writes: "the number of steps is not as important as their sequence, for putting questions to the text in the wrong sequence is asking for hermeneutical and homiletical trouble" (280). The steps, along with comments that the reviewer found to be helpful, are as follows:

1) Select a Textual Unit with an Eye to Congregational Needs.

2) Read and Reread the Text in its Literary Context. Greidanus here urges the preacher to become engaged with the text before consulting commentaries. Greidanus is not anti-commentary, he just wants to make sure that the commentary is the servant and not the master in relationship to the text as the preacher develops the sermon.

3) Outline the Structure of the Text. In this step, Greidanus suggests that the preacher work with the original Hebrew to chart the literary structure of the text with greater precision.

4) Interpret the Text in its Own Historical Setting. This step involves distinguishing between the interrelated strands of literary, historical, and theological analysis. Literary interpretation seeks to answer the questions, "how does it mean?" and "what did it mean in the context of this book?" Historical interpretation seeks to answer the questions, "what was the author's intended meaning for his original hearers?" and "what needs of the hearers did the author seek to address?" Theological interpretation seeks to find out what the text reveals about God, his redemptive acts, covenant, grace and will for his chosen people.

5) Formulate the Text's Theme and Goal. In formulating the textual theme, the preacher attempts to answer the question, 'what is the biblical author saying in this passage?'

6) Understand the Message in the Contexts of Canon and Redemptive History. At this stage, literary interpretation becomes canonical interpretation, historical interpretation becomes redemptive-historical interpretation, and theocentric interpretation becomes Christocentric interpretation. First, literary interpretation becomes canonical interpretation as an answer is sought to what the text means in the context of the entire Bible. Second, historical interpretation becomes redemptive-historical interpretation as the passage is placed in the context of God's all-encompassing story from creation to new creation. Third, theological interpretation becomes Christocentric interpretation when one asks how the passage means in light of Jesus Christ.

7) Formulate the Sermon Theme and Goal. The sermon theme is a single assertion of the textual theme while the sermon goal is a succinct statement of what the preacher seeks to do in preaching this sermon.

8) Select a Suitable Sermon Form. Greidanus advises a sermon form that both respects the form of the text and achieves the goal of the sermon.

9) Prepare the Sermon Outline. Although Greidanus recognizes that there must be a certain amount of flexibility in organizing a sermon outline, he believes that a good outline is marked by unity, symmetry, and movement to a climax.

10) Write the Sermon in Oral Style. According to Greidanus, following this last step, especially during the first ten years of one's pastorate, enhances precision of expression, insures economy of words, and generally improves one's style.

Now, despite these and other positive contributions that can be found in the book, the question remains whether Greidanus's redemptive-historical Christological approach is as eschatological as it should be. Greidanus states that the blueprint of all redemptive-history is found in the Old Testament four-fold pattern of creation-fall-redemption-new creation (194). This is an advance from his strong advocacy of a three-fold estate of creation-fall-redemption in his earlier book, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text1. However, it appears that while Greidanus pronounces his adherence to a four-fold estate theoretically, practically he is much more at home with a paradigm that blurs the lines between the three-fold and four-fold estate positions. In this sense, Greidanus can appear to promote both a restorational view and a new creation view. Whether this 'blend' is intentional or unintentional, the result is the promotion of an eschatological hope which is inconsistent. At times, Greidanus flattens the vertical aspect of God's eschatological intrusion and sees the recapturing of the earth as the goal set before man; at other times he sees life with God in Glory as the goal. It appears at times that Greidanus overreacts against a consistent four-fold estate position because he is afraid that it leaves the believer in a socially irresponsible position. Preaching from a heavenly perspective does not contain a call to be socially responsible, and that would be a cardinal sin—for preaching must be culturally relevant if anything. Where Greidanus does not succumb to such fears and his "blend" which flattens the vertical aspect of God's eschatological intrusion, the book is very helpful to the biblical-theological preacher.

Still, for those who seek to follow the biblical-theological insights of Geerhardus Vos, the inconsistency Greidanus evidences is problematic. As Vos argued in such books as his Biblical Theology and The Pauline Eschatology, the Scriptural goal put before Adam in the garden was confirmation and transformation to a fuller communion with God on a higher plane of existence.2 Thus, despite the many outstanding contributions of Greidanus's book which sets it apart from virtually every other book in its field, the question still remains whether the book is not flawed to some degree by a misdirected or inconsistent hope. How important is the hope of Glory in preaching, even preaching from the Old Testament? Should every sermon end with the translational hope of Glory which has been realized in Jesus Christ?—no, but neither should it be totally excluded from the scope of Christocentric preaching. Greidanus seems to equate preaching which is prominent with the hope of heaven with gnosticism, a view which promotes escapism and a rejection of the body (31f). Vos would thoroughly agree, as we should, with Greidanus' rejection of gnosticism. But is heavenly-minded preaching which appreciates the four-fold estate of man gnosticism? To proclaim the hope of heaven to be achieved through the coming work of the Messiah is not a violation of the historical nature of the Old Testament biblical text.

Greidanus has also continued his disturbing trend of lumping together theologians of completely different commitments (see Charles Dennison's Kerux 4/3 [1989] review of Greidanus's The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text). It still remains inconceivable to this reviewer that Greidanus can more than once appeal positively to doctrinal statements of Vatican II, while never mentioning any of the Old Testament exegetical insights of Meredith G. Kline.

Also troubling is Greidanus's lack of consideration for the covenant of works. In preaching Christ from the Old Testament, it would appear that an explanation, dismissal or defense of the covenant of works would be in order. Does Greidanus believe, for example, that eschatology precedes soteriology?

It also must be asked what connection there is for Greidanus between the church and preaching. Can the historia salutis be divorced from the ecclesia salutis? For instance, can redemptive-historical Christocentric preaching take place in a church which has forsaken both the authority and historicity of the Word of God? Greidanus does not ask nor answer the question.

Has Sidney Greidanus produced a work that is truly helpful in preaching Christ from the Old Testament? I believe that he has. In fact, I believe that it is the best book of its kind, but that is not the same as saying that it is the book that it should be. If one is to preach Christ faithfully from the Old Testament, then there must be the self-conscious awareness that biblical religion is thoroughly eschatological. Greidanus asserts the necessity of such an understanding, but throughout Preaching Christ from the Old Testament it is readily apparent that what he considers to be "thoroughly eschatological" does not have the hope of glory permeating it. Geerhardus Vos believed that biblical-theological preaching yields the highest fruit of practical theology because it points the believer to his life with God in Glory. Vos had an appreciation of the eschatological goal of the Old Testament; we must ask if the same can be said of Greidanus.

In the last section of the book, Greidanus attempts to show concretely how to exegete and preach redemptive-historical Christological sermons from select texts. As a test case, Greidanus applies his 'Steps from OT text to Christocentric Sermon' to Genesis 22 (292-318).

It is Greidanus's extended look at Genesis 22 which provides a good picture of why the book is both helpful and lacking at the same time. In good redemptive-historical fashion, Greidanus sees the conflict as God's asking Abraham to offer up the son of promise. This conflict is resolved when the Lord intervenes and provides a substitute. The Lord provides his only Son as a sacrificial Lamb so that his people may live. There is encouragement then to trust God for our salvation for he will provide.

We are thankful for what Greidanus points out in Genesis 22, but we are left asking if Greidanus's sermon has missed a central element in the text, namely, the faith of Abraham. Geerhardus Vos, for example, believed "the climax of the training of Abraham in faith came, when God asked [Abraham] to sacrifice Isaac, his son." (Biblical Theology, 84). Will Abraham give up that which he loves most in this creation for the One who is in heaven? Will Abraham learn to possess the promises of God in the promising God alone? Vos maintained that both Romans 4:17-23 and Hebrews 11:17-19 present Abraham's faith "as rising to the height of trusting the omnipotence of God for the raising of Isaac from the dead, after the divine command to surrender him should have been executed. Here the two poles of negation of self-resource and of affirmation of divine omnipotence are represented by faith and resurrection" (Biblical Theology, 85). In Vos's opinion then, the Genesis 22 text speaks to the believer about true faith which begins and ends with God.

It is apparent that something is slightly different in Vos's understanding of the text and Greidanus's understanding. I would suggest that part of this difference is accounted for by Vos's consistent commitment to the four-fold estate of man. In looking at Abraham in Genesis 22, Vos understands the crisis put before Abraham in light of the four-fold estate. Abraham's hope was to be heavenly, not earthly, and that hope was to drive him in his faith. Further, the standard set forth for Abraham's covenantal response is God himself. Abraham's faith will be patterned after the faith of that One to whom he is joined in covenant relation. The Father in Heaven will give up that which he loves most in heaven for his chosen on the earth. In the covenant, life will flow into life, and as God condescends and gives himself to his people, his people in return give themselves to him.

The debate over whether the Bible teaches a three-fold estate (creation-fall-redemption) or a four-fold estate (creation-fall-redemption-glory) is not just a superficial intramural debate among Reformed biblical-theologians which leaves preaching unaffected. The believer is always called to be faithful in the provisional (the third estate) for the sake of the final (the fourth estate). Inevitably, preaching which rests upon a three-fold estate foundation will focus on pilgrimage at the expense of destination. Preaching that rests upon a four-fold estate foundation, however, does justice to both journey and goal. The goal of communion with God in Glory impacts and directs the believer's walk in this life. Preaching which does not acknowledge communion with God in the final estate as the goal set before man negatively affects biblical piety, the very thing that those who preach from a three-fold model want to protect.

My suggestion is to use Greidanus's Preaching Christ from the Old Testament much the way one might use S. G. DeGraaf's Promise and Deliverance or C. Trimp's Preaching and the History of Salvation. Rejoice in the helpful Christocentric insights which can be found in this book, but be aware that Greidanus, like DeGraaf and Trimp, does not consistently see eschatology as preceding soteriology or communion with God in Glory as the goal set before man. The hope put before the first man was that of confirmation and transformation to a higher plane of existence in which he as the creature would enter into a partaking of the eternal glory of God the Creator. Redemptive-historical, Christocentric preaching from the Old Testament never loses sight of that eschatological hope set before Adam and realized in the work of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.

Danny E. Olinger

Johnstown, Pennsylvania


1 Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988. Noting his reliance upon Albert M. Wolters' Creation Regained, Greidanus writes, "…we can say that a central, all-encompassing theme of Scripture is Creation-Fall-Redemption" (98).

2 This is a constant point that Vos emphasized in his writings. For example, in the Pauline Eschatology, he wrote, ". . . the eschatological process is intended not only to put man back at the point where he stood before the invasion of sin and death, but to carry him higher to a plane of life, not attained before the probation . . ." (72).