Any book which includes “Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures” in its title instantly grabs my attention. How Christ is revealed in the Old Testament, and how the Old Testament foreshadows New Covenant realities has been a theological interest of mine for some time. So when P & R Publishing agreed to let me review Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures, I was thrilled with the opportunity. I hadn’t known of Dennis Johnson, but I did recognize Westminster Seminary California where he is Academic Dean and Professor of Practical Theology. So with P & R as publishers, and the Westminster connection, I trusted it would be a good book.
I was wrong. It was a phenomenally good book. In every way it exceeded my expectations. 500 pages is quite a bit of ground, and with that space Johnson covers an awful lot of territory. Even still, by the end of the book, I was eager for more.
The book is part hermeneutic manual, homiletic textbook, and preaching guide. It’s a polemic for apostolic preaching (that which recognizes the Christological bent of all of Scripture) even as it is an explanation for how to be exegetically careful in handling Old Testament texts. As I said it covers a lot of ground.
The book is divided into two parts: first Johnson makes the case for apostolic, Christocentric preaching. He then he fleshes out the practice of that preaching. Johnson contends that:
Christians need to be shown how to read each Scripture, first in the context of its original redemptive-historical epoch, and then in terms of the focal point and climactic “horizon” toward which the particulars of God’s plan always pointed, namely Jesus the Messiah, who is the second and last Adam, seed of Abraham, true Israel, royal descendant of David, and obedient and suffering Servant of the Lord.(pg. 49)
Such preaching today is not all that common. Johnson traces the history of how the Church has interpreted, and preached the Scripture. Behind the preaching of today’s “twenty-first century evangelicals”, lies both “the Reformation’s hermeneutic restraint and the Enlightenment’s faith in scientific methodology as part of our almost invisible but virtually inevitable mental framework” (pg. 126-127).
As an antidote, the major portion of the book focuses on a positive treatment of how to preach Christologically. Johnson focuses on Hebrews as an example of an extended Apostolic sermon, and goes on to carefully model his approach to preaching in five or six passages from each testament. The exegesis is very sound, and only with great care does Johnson run from the OT text to Jesus. But he does run to Jesus, and he shows us how to find the Biblical path to Jesus from most any Scriptural text.
It is not only the Scriptural promises of the Messiah that point to Jesus, “What God said in the words of the prophets as they pointed Israel’s faith toward the future in the imagery of the past and present, God had also said through his design of the events of the history of Adam, Noah, Abraham and the patriarchs, Moses, Israel and David.” (pg. 226) Johnson shows how not just from the Old to the New, but often from older revelation to newer revelation in the Old Testament itself, God makes use of foreshadowings and types. The prophets use the imagery of the Exodus and the wilderness wanderings as they pronounce judgment or promise future blessing for Israel. Johnson’s emphasis on how the Old Testament uses the Old Testament is extremely helpful and not something I’ve encountered before in the whole discussion of the NT use of the OT.
With this background, Johnson can argue,
Because of the occasional character of the New Testament, however, we should not conclude prematurely that Old Testament texts that are not explicitly interpreted typologically by a New Testament writer cannot be read in the context of Christ’s climactic work as Lord and Servant of the covenant, and as prophet, priest and king. Rather, we must seek to relate particular texts to the broader structures and institutions that provide the framework for God’s relation to his people throughout the history of redemption. (pg. 279)
Such an approach, Johnson admits, “requires a more comprehensive hermeneutic perspective.” He proceeds to provide just such a perspective. He argues that Christ’s role as the Mediator, and his threefold offices, Prophet, Priest and King, provide overarching themes by which to find Christ in the Old Testament revelation. He shows how to preach the promises in the Old Testament, and how to then preach the Promise Keeper in how we handle the New Testament. Showing how the NT passages interpret and fill up the OT provides a unified view of God’s redemptive work which truly ministers to the believing soul.
This work doesn’t stop with theory and theology. Johnson provides numerous discussions of texts in the book, working through the passages step by step. After exegetical discussion, he provides simple outline with application points for the passage at hand. He then offers an appendix with two sample sermons that are more filled out. After reading all the sermon outlines, and seeing how the theory comes to life, one will certainly be impatient to try out this method of preaching for himself.
I can’t think of another similar book that rivals Him We Proclaim. If you are looking for a book to help revolutionize your preaching, or something to challenge your perspective of the Old Testament, look no further. For anyone interested in theology or aiming for a better understanding of how all of Scripture fits together, this book will be exceedingly helpful. I’m proud to be able to recommend such a great resource as this.
You can order a copy of this book at Amazon.com or support one of these fine Christian book sellers: Westminster Bookstore or Monergism Books. You can also preview the table of contents and chapter 1 at Westminster’s product page.
This review is also available in pdf format at CrossFocusedReviews.com.