Dear Church Family,
Two weeks ago, I sought to explain the proper definition of redemptive-historical preaching. I also attempted to explain how this form of preaching is often abused and provided some examples and evidence of the abuse of redemptive-historical preaching to be on the lookout for. You may read part one of “Preaching: The Abuse of Redemptive-Historical Preaching” online here.
By way of a reminder, my contention is not that there is anything wrong with a redemptive-historical interpretation of Scripture and redemptive-historical preaching. In fact, in my opinion, it is the proper way of interpreting and applying the word of God. What I’m attempting to assess and critique, however, is the abuse of redemptive-historical preaching.
In part one, we considered three kinds of evidence of the abuse of redemptive-historical preaching. Here in part two, we consider one more. Next week, in part three, we will consider the fifth and final evidence.
4. Creativity without biblical warrant which borders on allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament – aka “Leprechaun Theology”
Redemptive-historical preaching really comes alive in preaching from the Old Testament. For many people who have become accustomed to dispensational preaching, or just plain moralistic and exemplaristic preaching, when they see Christ in the Old Testament, it’s thrilling – God’s Word comes alive for them as never before. This is a good thing and a benefit of redemptive-historical preaching. To miss the new covenant realities of the story of King David, would be to miss the main point of how Jesus is the son of David and the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises concerning God’s preservation of David’s throne.
Yet, just as the Old Testament Scriptures are not only exemplaristic (which they are, see 1 Corinthians 10:1-15 or Hebrews 11), neither are they only typological (which they are, see Romans 5:14 or John 6:49-51). For example, in preaching from the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50), it is appropriate to see Joseph as a type of Christ – one who literarily foreshadows the Savior of God’s people, as any redemptive-historical preacher should (this is what Stephen did in his sermon (Acts 7:9-18)). However, it is also appropriate to see Joseph as an example for believers as to how to live faithfully and obediently, even and especially in difficult times (this is what the writer of Hebrews does (Hebrews 11:21-22)).
The problem comes in, however, when interpreters and preachers take their typology too far. Some have half-jokingly called this “Leprechaun theology” – seeing Jesus behind every tree and every rock in the Old Testament. Again, as we mentioned in point number one in part one, this causes an inappropriate and dangerous flattening of the Scriptures. It also creates the seductive lure in the sermon to expect the surprise typological leap at the end – “Oh, Jesus is the rod that Moses used to part the Red Sea! I didn’t see that before!” Well, the reason you didn’t see it before is probably because it isn’t there. In some ways, the sermon becomes not unlike the magician’s performance, except at the end of the act instead of a rabbit, the preacher pulls out Jesus to everyone’s surprise.
One of the favorite verses of those who abuse redemptive-historical preaching in this way is Luke 24:27 – “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” Of course, most all believers would readily agree that all of Scripture points to Christ. That’s not the issue. The issue is: does all of Scripture point to Christ in exactly the same way? That is, typologically? The danger here is that if everything in the Old Testament is interpreted and preached typologically, we will begin to lose our guides and rails. As a result, our interpretation will be subject more to our imaginations or “literary acumen” then to the actual interpretive grid of the Scriptures themselves (WCF 1.9).
I have long thought that the form of a good sermon ought to mimic and follow many of the same principles that define a good short story; it seems to me that in many respects, they are similar genres. As such, the ability to be creative in sermon preparation and presentation (homiletics) is very helpful. Yet, creativity in the interpretation of Scripture (hermeneutics) is not usually a good thing.
If, as the Westminster Confession of Faith reminds us, “the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself” (WCF 1.9), then God’s Word itself gives us boundaries and rails to guide us in how to interpret it. Again, there are proper ways to employ a typological interpretation of Scripture for the purposes of redemptive-historical preaching; however, when the preacher makes typological connections that are not explicitly found in Scripture – or by good and necessary consequence, deduced from Scripture (WCF 1.6) – it is very dangerous.
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch