This important little book comes with the endorsement of leading reformed Evangelicals such as Al Mohler, Tim Keller, Bryan Chappell and Wayne Grudem. Deservedly, for Ed Clowney is passionately concerned that in preaching we set forth ‘the full drama of redemption and its realisation in Christ’.
In the first two chapters he outlines how we can do so, while subsequent chapters give preached examples of what he means from both Testaments. These are rich ‘spiritual food for the soul’ but they also repay careful study. For in seeing how he models what he teaches, the thoughtful preacher will learn how to make Christ the ‘high point’ of every message – without becoming repetitive and predictable.
Clowney puts his finger on a real problem, namely, that the preacher can easily ‘move’ from an Old Testament text straight to the moral and spiritual lessons found in the text. For example, a sermon on Joseph’s endurance of unjust suffering can easily be ‘translated’ into a general exhortation to bear with our own difficult circumstances.
The problem with all such moralising, explains the author, is that ‘It presents a truth apart from the history of redemption and, therefore, apart from the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, the Lordship of Christ. It unconsciously assumes that we can go back to the Father apart from the Son’.
Clowney helpfully explains and models how Christ is the ‘hero’ of every text. So he is the ‘ultimate Joseph’ in bearing unjust suffering, even to death for us. He is the ‘ultimate David’ who defeats the ‘giants’ that threaten to overwhelm God’s people. We share the fruits of his victory simply because he is our Captain.
Christ is the ultimate meaning of every Old Testament saint and symbol. It is only as we take the principle enshrined in an Old Testament hero’s life, or in some symbol, onwards to the Lord Jesus Christ – and then through him to us – that we preach truly ‘Christian’ sermons. Only then will people be transformed into his likeness and not just become moral and religious.
Clowney is careful to point out what this does not mean. ‘We do not ignore the specific message of the text, nor will it do to write an all-purpose Christocentric sermon finale and tag it for weekly use. You must preach Christ as the text presents him’ [emphasis added].
The largest section of the book is where he exemplifies all this – taking texts from Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, 2 Samuel, the Psalms and the Gospels, plus three ‘topical’ sermons in which he interweaves biblical themes around a common idea.
It would have been helpful to have some messages from the epistles, especially the sections of moral exhortation, to see what they look like with his insights. But what we have are great and very helpful.
This book, and others on a similar theme (such as Clowney’s own The unfolding mystery, and Graeme Goldsworthy’s Preaching the whole Bible as Christian Scripture), have really helped me.
Looking back, I have preached too many well-intentioned ‘moral lesson’ sermons and ‘here is tonight’s ancient history lesson’ sermons. Taking on board what Clowney says – so that it actually changes how you preach – will make your hearers feel more often, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked and opened the Scriptures to us?’