What is our aim in preaching? What should it be?
This is a debated question among preachers who share many of the same evangelical convictions—namely, the authority and sufficiency of Christ. Some argue for a “text-driven approach,” which gives pride of place to timeless truths of the text discovered through a rigorous grammatical-historical approach to the text. Others call for an “apostolic” or “redemptive-historical” approach, where the methods of the apostles are imitated.
Often the former critiques the latter of reading into the text, appealing too much to typology, even straying into allegory. (Full disclosure: I think this argument is a red herring. It applies to some who advocate a figural approach to Scripture. But it falls flat against interpreters like Richard Gaffin and G.K. Beale). By contrast, those who read with an eye to the redemptive-historical nature of Scripture, worry that exegesis which only reads passages at the textual level and makes direct application (e.g., drawing ethical principles from Boaz’s treatment of Ruth) misses the Christological aims of Scripture—not to mention, the way any passage fits into the context of the whole Bible (what is known as the “canonical context”).
Space doesn’t permit a full discussion here. Two helpful books that engage this subject are the edited volume by G.K. Beale, The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Text? Essays on the New Testament Use of the Old, and the multi-perspective book Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views. These books will show the turning points in the debate. For now, let me put forward a mediating approach which takes the best of both positions, one historically modeled by John Calvin. Continue reading