The RH Factor

We have redemptive-historical preaching in OPC circles. That’s what our pastor calls it. The point seems to be that many preachers believe every sermon has to lead to Christ. Every passage, the reasoning goes—not unreasonably either—leads to Christ: he’s what the Bible is about. And what could be more important?

Now my problem is not that I don’t agree with that. It all leads to Christ, it all can be shown to, I believe that. I don’t agree with those who suggest maybe the passage is not teaching about Christ. I happen to think they’re not looking deep enough when they say that, though I haven’t been through every single passage of Scripture yet to check. It is one of the hermeneutical assumptions I make, and in a sense it is one of the hermeneutical hypotheses redemptive-historical preaching sets out to prove in every sermon.

Here’s the problem: is any passage exhausted in one sermon? Even if you could preach everything there and be listened to for as long as you need, could you exhaust a passage in one sermon? Could you do it justice? I think most of us finish a sermon knowing there were things we didn’t touch on that were excluded for various and sundry legitimate reasons.

Christ is at the depths of Scripture—as well as on the surface of many texts, but in the depths of it all. He is what is interesting, in fact, not only in Scripture, but in all of the world. I do not believe there is anything wondrous and deep in creation that does not in some way acquire that from its creator. I think all proper scientific fascination is haunted by the search for the Logos, that what we desire in literature and music has to do with our desire for our Creator; I think that he is what all creation serves to manifest (and that is my aforementioned hermeneutical assumption about Scripture). But we don’t have to go all the way to the depths of the depths to learn something interesting in our study, say, of botany. You can be a pagan or an atheist and know a lot of interesting and true things about a leaf, more than some ignorant Christian who thinks he knows more but has been less fascinated with God’s creation than some pagan or atheist has (and less glorified God in his understanding of leaves).

And we don’t have to go to the depths of every passage in Scripture every time in order to have something profitable, it seems to me, even if I no longer speak as a preacher but as one who only listens to it. It is, of course, a shame if preachers never or only seldom do (they should), but it is not a shame if they don’t every single time. You don’t have to demonstrate with absolute finality that every passage is about Christ every time you touch on it, as long as the congregation understands and believes that that is true. Suggestion is a powerful way sometimes to do things. In fact, it may come across as heavy handed if that’s all you do (and allegorical if you don’t do it well! That was this pastor’s objection; he’s older and he wants to get these younger guys less stuck on doing redemptive-historical attempts all the time. He’s more literary—the most literary pastor I’ve ever had): heavy handed, as if you didn’t really believe it and had to prove it week by week.

And what about the surfaces, and the middle distances, and the wealth of riches mined on the way down to the depths? There’s profit there. Sometimes, it seems to me, those things can be mined without making a great point of showing how they lead to Christ and salvation, and you can still be faithful to the task of preaching Christ. If a good book puts some of the necessary work deftly on the reader, why shouldn’t a sermon do the same?

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