Reading the OT or Reading Something into the OT?

A colleague, Mark Snoeberger, set off a little fire with a couple of posts related to Christ and the gospel in the OT which you can read here and here. If you look in the comments you can see some pretty strong reaction to it, including a question by me at the head of the most heavily debated post. You might, properly, surmise from my question that I’m not exactly where Mark is on this issue. I guess it is fair to say that my sympathies lie with his view and that while I think his basic point about the abuse of texts like Luke 24:27, 44 is correct, I don’t think he is giving enough consideration to what, for instance, is said in the third chapter of 2 Corinthians. I also think that we do need to make a distinction here between the exegesis of a text and the proclamation of that text as situated within the full canon. IOW, I am sympathetic to the exegetical concern that Mark expresses and to the homiletical/pastoral concern which calls us to show the significance of this text in relationship to Christ and the hearers.

Some of the reactions to Mark’s post, though, seem oblivious to the hermeneutical issues at stake. Or, at the very least, they seem to speak as if resolving the tensions is an easy task. Over the past few years I’ve been hearing more and more talk about Christ-centered or gospel-centered preaching, but I find some of that talk, frankly, frightening because it really calls for a return to allegorization, not exegesis and exposition. Let me illustrate my point from a lecture on Christ-centered preaching from one of the leaders on that front in our day:

For example, look at the story of David and Goliath. What is the meaning of that narrative for us? Without reference to Christ, the story may be (usually is!) preached as: “The bigger they come, the harder they’ll fall, if you just go into your battles with faith in the Lord. You may not be real big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can overcome giants.” But as soon as we ask: “How is David foreshadowing the work of his greater Son”? We begin to see the same features of the story in a different light. The story is telling us that the Israelites cannot go up against Goliath. They can’t do it. They need a substitute. When David goes in on their behalf, he is not a full-grown man, but a vulnerable and weak figure, a mere boy. He goes virtually as a sacrificial lamb. But God uses his apparent weakness as the means to destroy the giant, and David becomes Israel’s champion-redeemer, so that his victory will is imputed to them. They get all the fruit of having fought the battle themselves.

This is a fundamentally different meaning than the one that arises from the non-Christocentric reading. There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story really is about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the ‘giant’ of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example, the story will never help me fight the failure/giant. But if I see David/Jesus as my substitute, whose victory is imputed to me, then I can stand before the failure/giant. As another example, how can I ever fight the ‘giant’ of persecution or criticism? Unless I can see him forgiving me on the cross, I won’t be able to forgive others.

That this is passed off as expositional preaching is stunning to me. It is a combination of allegorization and pop psychology covered in pious frosting. He flat out contradicts the promises given to Israel in Deuteronomy and Joshua that they would be able to drive out the giants of the land. He spiritualizes the giant into felt needs like fear of failure and lack of security (and ends up making the story about me anyway, just gets there more piously). He obliterates the literary craft of the writer in developing the contrast between Saul and David. Seriously, I don’t have time to state all of the problems with this.

Bottom line: if I have to choose between the approach which Mark is advocating or the one being advocated here by Tim Keller (yes, the Tim Keller), give me Mark’s in a heartbeat.


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