Pitfalls in Redemptive-Historical Preaching and Suggested Remedies

This article was originally posted at my site. Only some of my articles are posted on SBC Voices. If you would like access to all of my articles, you can follow my feed here. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

Dane Ortlund, back in 2011 asked several pastors and scholars this question, “What’s the message of the Bible in one sentence?” In other words, “What’s the metanarrative of the Bible?” The metanarrative of Scripture is what redemptive-historical preachers are concerned with, since we believe the grand story of Scripture, as organized by God, is what He’s concerned with as well. Here are a few answers to Ortlund’s question (more answers here):

Dan Block:

God was so covenantally committed to the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him may have eternal life!

Craig Blomberg:

God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result.

Darrell Bock:

The Bible tells how the loving Creator God restored a lost humanity and cosmos through reestablishing his rule through Jesus Christ and the provision of life to His honor.

Mark Dever:

God has made promises to bring His people to Himself and He is fulfilling them all through Christ.

Kevin DeYoung:

A holy God sends his righteous Son to die for unrighteous sinners so we can be holy and live happily with God forever.

John Frame:

God glorifies himself in the redemption of sinners.

Scott Hafemann:

The Triune God is the beginning, middle, and end of everything, ‘for from him (as Creator) and through him (as Sustainer and Redeemer) and to him (as Judge) are all things’ (Rom 11:36).

Paul House:

The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good.

Kent Hughes:

God is redeeming his creation by bringing it under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Andreas Kostenberger:

‘God so loved the world that the gave his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).

Phil Long:

God, who made us and everything else, loves us and gave himself for us that we might live forever with him as new creatures in a new creation—the news is good!

Ray Ortlund:

The Lover of our souls won’t let the romance die, but is rekindling it forever.

Leland Ryken:

The message of the Bible is twofold: to show how people can be saved from their sins through faith in Christ’s atonement AND how to live all of life as a follower of God.

Tom Schreiner:

God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave himself on the cross for our salvation.

Erik Thoennes:

The main message of the Bible is that the one true God is displaying his glory primarily in redeeming and restoring his fallen creation by fulfilling his covenant promises and commands through the glorious person and atoning work of Christ.

Doug Wilson:

Scripture tells us the story of how a Garden is transformed into a Garden City, but only after a dragon had turned that Garden into a howling wilderness, a haunt of owls and jackals, which lasted until an appointed warrior came to slay the dragon, giving up his life in the process, but with his blood effecting the transformation of the wilderness into the Garden City.

In light of these answers, here are some pitfalls to avoid in redemptive-historical preaching:

1. Redemptive-historical preaching often does not emphasize the metanarrative.

The metanarrative, the grand story of Scripture, is the emphasis of redemptive-historical preaching, but often we stop short of the metanarrative. Scripture doesn’t just detail God’s plan of redemption for sinners. It also includes: 1) God’s triune relationship with Himself prior to creation (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1), 2) God’s sinless creation and His relationship with sinless humanity (Gen. 1-2), and 3) God’s coming relationship with sinless creation and sinless humanity (Rev. 21).

2. Redemptive-historical preaching often details a very small portion of history.

The history detailed in Scripture begins with God’s Triune relationship between the three Persons prior to the existence of anything else (eternity past) and proceeds into eternity future in a New Heavens and New Earth. Redemptive-historical preaching details the few thousand years between eternity past and eternity future, even though the Bible speaks of both eternity past and eternity future. I realize most of Scripture details this small portion of history known as redemption history, but what does the redemptive-historical preacher do with the Scripture that details non-redemptive history? We can’t just ignore it, but instead must adjust our redemptive-historical emphasis, the metanarrative, based on this other history.

3. Redemptive-historical preaching often does not explain the purpose of entities who need no redemption.

The angels that did not rebel against God need no redemption, yet they are mentioned numerous times in Scripture. How do they fit into redemptive-historical preaching?  What is their purpose in the redemption of sinners? They serve a real purpose prior to redemption, during redemption, and they will after redemption is fully realized, but redemptive-historical preaching may miss their function due to not accounting for these entities who need no redemption.

4. Redemptive-historical preaching can encourage a lack of application.  

If redemptive-historical preachers aren’t careful, we’ll emphasize Christ’s redeeming work without ever answering the question, “How shall we live?” The Bible doesn’t just describe redemption, but also details how Christians who are citizens of the New Jerusalem should live while still present in this evil world. Whether it’s Old Testament saints living in response to trusting in God’s promise and coming fulfillment, or it’s New Testament saints living in response to Christ’s finished work and the coming completion of redemption, God’s people are still expected to live holy lives. This fact must not be ignored, neglected, or collapsed into the gospel. The gospel makes God’s people positionally holy and progressively holy. In other words, the fruit of the gospel is not only the further sharing of the gospel, but also lives transformed by the gospel. Of course, we never grow beyond our need for the gospel, and the gospel alone saves us.

Suggested Remedies

The remedy for the first three pitfalls is to begin with God’s Triune relationship, and then to fit all of creation and redemptive history under this umbrella. I call this the “history of existence theme.”

God enjoyed perfect fellowship with Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, continually before time and creation existed [History of Existence Theme] (Gen. 1:1, John 1:1). He sought to continue enjoying Himself through freely revealing His Trinitarian holiness and love to and through creation (Gen. 1:26-28). He thus created all things, and allowed sin to temporally hide His holiness and love from sinners. God however set His redemptive plan in motion as detailed in Gen. 3:15. Satan would bruise Christ’s heal, but Jesus would crush his head. As a result of God seeking to continue enjoying Himself, He revealed His holiness and love to sinners by sending His Son to live a perfect life, to die for sins He did not commit, and to rise from the dead to reconcile sinners to Himself [Redemptive History Theme].  One day when Christ completes the redemption of His people we will enjoy God, His  Trinitarian holiness and love, forevermore.

It must be noted that I realize there’s danger is reducing God’s various attributes to “love” and “holiness.” For those who think this is too reductionistic, you could be less specific by not mentioning God’s holiness and love, and instead saying, “He sought to continue enjoying Himself through freely revealing His Trinitarian identity to and through creation.”

I believe this remedy will help redemptive-historical preachers avoid the various pitfalls mentioned above. First, God revealing Himself to and through creation is the metanarrative, and redemption history fits within this metanarrative. Second, God revealing Himself includes His Trinitarian relationship since God is Trinity, thus this small addition includes all of history, from eternity past to eternity future. Third, this remedy answers the issue concerning the purpose of those angels who need no redemption. They serve as part of the creation God is revealing Himself to and through. They serve this purpose now and will forevermore.

Finally, the remedy for a lack of application is to emphasize how Christians should live as a result of the gospel. They must pursue perfection while pleading the blood of Christ alone for their salvation. Due to God revealing Himself to and through creation as evidenced by the crucifixion and resurrection of His Son to forgive me of my sins, I will live a holy life while depending on Christ’s holiness in my stead alone.

What are your thoughts?

This article was originally posted at my site. Only some of my articles are posted on SBC Voices. If you would like access to all of my articles, you can follow my feed here. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

Comments

  1. says

    You’ve explained why you think these answers fall short, but you didn’t answer the question, “What’s the message of the Bible in one sentence?”

    • says

      Andrew, I wasn’t clear then. I don’t think all of these answers fall short. Some of them are exactly right. I think Bock, Frame, Hafemann, Long, Schreiner, and Thoennes all had great answers.

      I consider myself a redemptive-historical preacher. There are some real pitfalls though that must be avoided.

  2. says

    Jared,

    This ought to stretch folks minds that decide to take the challenge and participate. I like Andrew would certainly like to hear your answer as well as his and others. What a refreshing challenge, indeed! I will give this some thought and post my thoughts. Here is a thought to your suggestions as to what you call, “pitfalls to avoid in redemptive-historical preaching.”

    Would it be fair to say that the pitfalls become more viable if one’s definition of the metanarrative is too narrowly defined? It seemed to me your solutions to possible objections might fit that situation as opposed to a well scoped definition itself. Just an observation on your post itself.

    Looking forward to following this one! I hope it generates a LOT of response!

    ><>”

  3. says

    Interesting post Jared.

    Is “Love” God’s nature or an attribute?

    In the vocabulary of redemptive-historical preaching what does redemption include?

    Scot McKnight recently wrote a book attempting to describe the nuances related to your post. He brands his vision as the King Jesus Gospel and would suspect he would describe the responses you post here at a “Soterian” Gospel. The thrust seems to be that we make a part of the metanarrative the whole and call it “The Gospel.”

    Interestingly more would be familiar with N.T. Wright’s voluminous writing not he subject and the ways in which he has been scorned for teasing out this trajectory. Sadly the mere mention of his name makes him more of a “he of whom we should not speak.”

    McKnight has not received the pushback Wright has experienced, so I concluded most Evangelicals will tolerate an Anabaptist more than an Anglican.

    • says

      Todd, what’s the difference in “nature” and an “attribute”? Is it God’s nature is unchanging, but some of His attributes are contingent, flowing from His nature?

      I would say that “God is love” and “God is holy” are both statements about His nature.

      • says

        Jared,
        I would think that nature would be the central essence and attributes would be what flows from that essence. I would say God is love is God’s essence and that God is holy is an attribute of that essence – Love.

        So, in your second question, I would say that God is unchanging love and his holiness flows from his nature. I realize we could play semantic games. But, the preponderance of Scriptures seem to make God as/is love the fulcrum around which all else turns.

        • Christiane says

          “But, the preponderance of Scriptures seem to make God as/is love the fulcrum around which all else turns.”

          Christians have always known this through the gift of grace. Thank you for expressing it so beautifully.

          I think that God as ‘Love’ is the reason why in Job 38, it is recorded that, at the moment of Creation,
          ‘all the sons of God shouted for joy’.

          The meta-narrative is far from ‘words without knowledge’ . . .
          the meta-narrative shows us the Way back to joy.

        • Dave Miller says

          I would say that scripture presents a God with balanced character qualities of holiness and love. He is righteous, just, holy and even a God of wrath – to forget that side of God is to ignore vast amounts of scripture.

          Of course, in his dealings with us, be benefit most from his love, because he satisfied his wrath on Christ.

          So, yes, we experience the love of God in preponderance, but only because Christ satisfied God’s holiness by his sacrifice on our behalf.

          We cannot understand the God of love separate from the holy God who has just wrath against sin.

          To do so would leave us with empty sentimentality, not love.

          In other words, God love is seen best in the extent to which he went to atone for our sins so he could show us his love.

          • says

            “I would say that scripture presents a God with balanced character qualities of holiness and love.”

            At risk of picking nits, I’m not sure that we should speak of God as having balanced qualities. Someone might say, “Yes, God is just, but he is also love – and his love balances out his wrath.” But it doesn’t work like that. God is fully just, and God is truly love. His love does not balance out his justice, but in his justice he accomplishes perfect justice in response to our sin. His justice is not tempered by his love. Instead, in his love he found a different object for his justice, justice was brought against his Son for the sake of his creation whom he loves.

            I think the rest of your comment points to this, so I’m only picking nits with the first sentence. :)

          • says

            Dave,

            We differ on how we understand essence and attributes. I would not make the arrogant move to say, “I am right and you are wrong.” The difference for me is that God acts out of love (essence) and it produces the demands of holiness and justice and a host of other matters of character. (attributes)

            It seems that Jared is want to press us to consider the tendency to narrow how we preach redemptive-historically. To my way of seeing it, as Scot McKnight notes, we run the risk of making Israel un-necessary and the life of Jesus simply the satisfaction of a spot-less sacrifice. Over-playing a narrow narrative guts the love of God displayed in Jesus’ habits/practices/preaching. imo. Or, to put it another way – we truncate the story that Jesus was born, was sinless, died, and rose again. The implications of leaving out the bits about his habits/practices/preaching would result in our chief concern with an eternal bliss and a hopeful presence that becomes a sentimental longing in itself. After all, if we end up with only needing Jesus’ death and resurrection then it seems we get a pass on how our lives are lived so long as we articulate an affirmation of Jesus’ deaf and Resurrection “for me.” again imo.

            I suspect/hope this illustrates how we see the difference between essence and attribute.

            That written, I do not in any way want to come off being read as though I think you or any other on this post intends to lessen the demands of Jesus on our living in the here and now. This is simply how I have come to work out things in my understanding of the Scriptures. I have read too many here who are chiefly concerned that we live out the life of Jesus for the glory of God and the blessing of the world.

          • Dave Miller says

            Christiane, as literally as I can speak. This is the God presented in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.

          • Dave Miller says

            Chris, I like Kennedy’s presentation of this (in EE) where he identifies these as character qualities in tension, only solved by the substitution of Christ.

          • Frank L. says

            Holiness for God is an essence. Holiness in man is an attribute–that’s how I see.

            Otherwise, we would not have a command (twice) to be “holy as God is holy.” We would not need to become what we are, so our holiness, unlike God’s holiness, is not an essence.

            Therefore, I would think this needs to be included in how we preach.

  4. Stuart says

    Todd,

    If you haven’t heard the White Horse Inn episode with McKnight about the book, it’s worth listening to. Iron sharpening iron. Both Horton and McKnight did a great job. Hopefully helped to clear up some misconceptions.

  5. says

    Stuart,

    I will look for the episode. I don’t have any misconceptions of McKnight’s book. I read the book and several interviews. I have also followed the way he has interacted with a variety of books on “The Gospel” and witness there his clarification. I did not have the trouble many did with worrying about how he located personal salvation in his vision of the King Jesus Gospel. In fact, I think he makes important points.

    On a side note – that somehow we think certain branches of the Christian tree somehow serve as an unspoken magisterium over what is the Gospel and who decides is as problematic a matter as the ongoing Calvinist/Non-Calvinist non-sense in the SBC. imo

    • Stuart says

      Todd,

      Sorry. I should have written that more carefully. I was referring to misconceptions (prejudices?) that some in Horton’s regular listening audience may have had about the McKnight book. It was a very helpful interview on several levels.

  6. Greg Harvey says

    I just want to say one thing: I am just as drawn as any other person with a strong intellectual background to discussions of meta-narratives. But framing the presentation of the Gospel in a new set of jargon–whether it’s missional or meta-narrative–doesn’t strike me as helpful for the “common”, “grassroots” believer.

    • says

      Greg, I agree somewhat. One must know his or her audience. I’ve never used the word “metanarrative” from the pulpit or in a Sunday school class. On this forum though, I think most will understand what I’ve said. I may be wrong though.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

    • says

      Greg,

      I did not read Jared’s post the same way. That is, that the question calls for new jargon. Meta-narrative is nothing but asking about the “Big Story” or “Larger Story” into which all other stories find their grounding. We may have a preference as to what phrase we use to highlight the “Big Picture,” but I did not read Jared as inviting new jargon.

      Instead, I immediately thought of the theological move that looked to describe history as “salvation history.” I suspect that “redemptive-historical” is simply a nuanced way of saying the same thing. And, since some theological quarters used such a phrase in ways others might not then Jared’s descriptor may be nothing more than a signal to a conservative vision of such a project. A look at his quotes seems to immediately provide the ditches into which he would not go.

      Not wanting to stir things in another direction, but are we afraid of helping grassroots people think in terms they may be unfamiliar? It seems preaching tends to this on many occasions and so we “illustrate.” Just wondering.

      • Greg Harvey says

        Jared: thanks. I know you understand the perspective because you’ve shown sensitivity to it in the past.

        Todd: Just allergic to jargon in general, i.e. terms that only have meaning in a specific setting and that sometimes come across as delineating the “in crowd” from the “out crowd”. In settings like medicine or chemistry they’re used as very dense memes to encapsulate “thick” concepts so you don’t spend all your time explaining something you both get. In THIS setting, sure.

  7. Christiane says

    The great story of the Christ Event is sometimes called ‘meta-narrative’.

    The emphasis is on the word ‘narrative’ . . . a ‘telling’

  8. says

    Jared,

    Would it be fair to say that there is a difference in the Metanarrative of Scripture as opposed to a statement clarifying God Himself? I do think these would be two very separate issues, thus the discussion for example of the identity of God’s essence and His attributes may become secondary to the metanarrative of the Bible?

    Just a thought out loud?

    ><>”

    • says

      Bob, since the Scriptures are God’s self-revelation, and we have no other special revelation beyond Scripture, the grand story of Scripture is the grand story of God’s self-revelation. I think the two are tied together. In other words, Biblical Theology (metanarrative) informs Systematic Theology (which forms its own categories and organizes the various Scriptures within these categories), but this Systematic Theology also informs Biblical Theology. For example, the Trinity is most clearly expressed in the New Testament, not the old; therefore, to begin with the Trinity revealing Himself is a result of Systematic Theology informing Biblical Theology. Does that make sense?

      The question, “What’s the point of Scripture?” is a question that both Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology seek to answer. Since these two forms of theology are dependent upon one another, they should come up with the same answer.

      • says

        I agree with WHAT you are saying BUT the point still seems to me is that there is a difference in the purpose of the revelation itself that while it is to reflect the character and nature of the revelator it is to speak to the reader!

        ><>”

  9. says

    Here is my statement, on the metanarrative of the Bible:
    “In the beginning God created a world that enjoyed His perfect presence until sin separated man from Him and through God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Jesus the Creator became the created to fulfill the Law, to die on the cross to pay the penalty for sin so that man who is separated from God’s perfect presence might believe in those same promises made to Abraham that were fulfilled in Christ and be once again reconnected to God’s perfect presence and have life and have it more abundantly, both now and forever.”

    ><>”

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