Preaching Christ in All of Scripture
By Edmund P. Clowney
Reviewed by Dr. Keith Essex
16.2 (Fall 2005) : 332-334
The late Edmund Clowney, who died earlier this year, was a longtime advocate of redemptive-historical preaching. Clowney was ordained to the preaching ministry in 1942. From 1952 to 1984, he served as professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, and was president of that seminary from 1966 to 1982. From his seminary ministry, he influenced two generations of preachers of the “Westminster tradition.” Even in his years of retirement, Clowney maintained an active preaching ministry, finally centered at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is fitting that in the providence of God, this book, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, was his final written work published for the church.
Clowney clearly states the thesis of his book in the preface: “Preachers who ignore the history of redemption in their preaching are ignoring the witness of the Holy Spirit to Jesus in all the Scriptures” (10). For this author, every sermon preached should take into account the full drama of redemption and point to its realization in Christ. Anything less is not a Christian sermon. This book opens with two introductory chapters. The first chapter is the longest in the book and seeks to show that Christ is presented in the OT (11-44). The writer concentrates upon the OT since the NT explicitly speaks of Christ. Chapter two offers help in preparing a sermon that presents Christ (45-58). The following thirteen chapters give examples of actual messages that the author has preached showing how particular biblical texts, seen in their context, do present Christ (59-179). Three of the messages are based on NT texts, eight on OT texts, and the final two are based on multiple biblical texts. A general index (181-84) and a Scripture index (185-89) conclude the book.
As noted above, the author begins this book by seeking to show how Christ is revealed in the OT. Surprisingly, he does not begin with the explicit OT prophecies of Christ like Isa 7:14 or Mic 5:2. Rather, Clowney begins by stating that Christ is the Lord of the Covenant. For him, that covenant is what traditional Reformed theology has termed the “Covenant of Redemption” (16). This covenant between the Father and the Son established God’s plan of redemption. This redemption is revealed in the Bible as progressing through seasons or epochs marked by major events in the unfolding of God’s plan that climaxed in Christ and His death and resurrection. Clowney takes issue with traditional dispensationalism; he interprets it as stating that differing ways of salvation were offered during the different epochs. Rather, he believes that the emphasis should be on the continuity of God’s plan of salvation throughout the ages (16-17). However, this reviewer would aver that traditional dispensationalists have been just as concerned to relate the OT to Christ and the cross as Reformed expositors. Even Clowney admits that present leading dispensational writers clearly teach that all of Scripture teaches salvation by grace (17).
The greater thrust of how Christ is found in the OT is in the author’s discussion of symbolism and typology (20-44). Here, the writer argues that persons, events, and ceremonies found in the OT point to Christ. Clowney described many of these “types” in his earlier book, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1988). In the present volume, he calls the preacher to discover Christ in the OT symbols and types. The author particularly emphasizes Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method by Sidney Greidanus (Eerdmans, 1999) as a further source to aid in this task.
The process of preparing a sermon that presents Christ is given in a quick overview. The foundation of the process is the realization that Bible study leads us into the presence of Christ and the Lord Himself speaks in preaching (46-48). According to Clowney, Christ is Himself both the explanation and application in every sermon. He writes, “Presenting Christ in the message dissolves the problem [i.e., the division between explanation and application in the sermon], for now we present Jesus both in what he says to reveal himself, and what he says and does to direct us” (49). The sermon structure should present Christ in the story of redemption or directly present Christ when preaching from a Gospel. A final challenge is given to practice the presence of the Lord as the preacher seeks to present Jesus.
One example presented by the preacher/author will suffice to demonstrate his model of preaching Christ in all of Scripture (109-16). In his sermon, “Surprised by Devotion,” Clowney describes David’s surprise recorded in 2 Sam 23:13-17 when three of his warriors satisfied David’s desire for water from Bethlehem. David in turn poured out the water to the Lord; he offered to the Lord the devotion his men brought to him. The preacher sees in David a picture of Jesus, the one to whom Christians are to bring devotion. The Lord Jesus not only receives the devotion, He then pours it out before the Father in heaven. But, further, the warriors also picture Christ as the anointed Warrior who breaks through the hosts of darkness to bring believers the cup of the New Covenant in His blood. The reader of Clowney’s message may rightly ask, what biblically allows both David and his warriors to be seen as “types” of Christ in this Scripture. The answer is not clear in the sermon.
Edmund Clowney has provided contemporary expositors with an insightful and challenging book. However, though not denying “typology,” the method can be taken too far in preaching the OT. All preachers should make sure they do not miss preaching Christ, but must also be careful not to force Christ into a context where He may not be present. Thankfully, the reminder of Preaching Christ in All of Scripture is good even when Clowney’s examples of how He is found in certain texts are not always well taken.