Edmund P. Clowney, Preaching Christ in All Scripture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003. 189 pp. Paper. ISBN: 1-58134-452-X. $15.99.
Ed Clowney began teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia the year before I entered the school to study for my B.D. degree. I had him as my teacher for all of my courses in practical theology. He had a profound effect on my thinking, since prior to seminary I had no formal training in the Reformed faith. I was a new Christian and came to Reformed convictions by reading the Bible. What I especially appreciated about Ed's classes was the way he drew his teaching from Scripture and emphasized that the theology that came from the Bible tied the whole message together.
Since Ed was just formulating his courses and we were in a way his guinea pigs, I was very curious to find out what he had to say in this the last of his volumes on preaching. In the course of his maturing thought, what had he learned that could be of benefit to me in my preaching and teaching?
From the first chapter, it was evident that he has maintained his insistence upon the centrality of Christ for the message of the Bible. Jesus is the culmination of what the Old Testament is anticipating. He has come not to restore the old ways, but to bring them to their eschatological fulfillment. He spends a good deal of time showing that the relationship of the Old Testament to Christ is in symbols and types; thus to use allegory or moralistic application violates their teaching. This is a very good chapter and worth the price of the book by itself.
The second chapter is entitled, "Preparing a Sermon That Presents Christ." I must admit that I was expecting a practical presentation about dealing with various texts and molding them into a sermon with Christ at the center. This is not at all what he does. Rather his concern is to present principles that must be observed to have a Christo-centric message. For instance, to avoid having explanation with application at the end of the sermon, or having little sermonettes with application after them and thus dividing up your message without a central theme, by placing Christ as the center of the message, you make him the focus of your explanation and application. Clowney also says, "all presentation of Jesus has a narrative dimension" (p. 50). He then spends the next pages showing how Jesus is involved in the Old Testament narrative and in the New Testament narrative. He then urges us to use direct address when referring to Christ, to preach with much prayer, and to practice the presence of the Lord. I found this chapter to be weak and somewhat scattered.
Following this there are 11 sermons which illustrate how Clowney preached Christ-centered messages. This is followed by two other messages that were delivered on other occasions. One was delivered at Inter-Varsity's Urbana Conference in 1973 and the other does not indicate when it was delivered.
Without question the sermons give excellent evidence of how to preach Christ in all Scripture. They take very important texts and plainly show the centrality of Christ, most of them being in the Old Testament. If you have any questions about preaching Christ in these passages, this is the book to pick up and read.
However, I must confess that I was not a little disappointed. For one thing, he seems to be very enamored of the narrative style of preaching. That is indicated in the quotation made above and also in the sermons that he chose to include in this collection. They are all of the narrative genre. Of course, the Bible has a great deal of narrative in it, but not all of the Bible is narrative. I was hoping that in his later years he could help us with learning how to preach on the wisdom books, for instance. How do you preach Christo-centrically on Job or Proverbs? And what about the variety of Psalms? Not just the 23rd Psalm, but what about the imprecatory Psalms? And then there are the Prophets. What about the passages that deal with the judgment on other nations as well as many other sections?
Another disappointment that I experienced in his sermons was the lack of dealing with the specifics of the text. He emphasized this in the classroom when I was a student. But in the printed sermons, he seemed to be sacrificing the particulars of the text in its context to the flow of the story. Again, he seemed to be falling prey to the modern enthusiasm for narrative sermons. Maybe my problem is that I was looking for too much. But then, having received so much from him years ago, was it wrong to expect even more today?
J. Peter Vosteen