by Don Carson
We Christians believe that the Bible is 66 books; we also believe the Bible is but one book. We believe this Bible embraces both the Old and New Testaments; we believe there is but one huge plot, one storyline. Yet those of us who teach and preach the Bible regularly admit that sometimes we do not do a good job showing how the entire Bible hangs together. In particular, we would often like some help on how better to preach the Old Testament. Certain snippets we manage reasonably well—Genesis 12, perhaps, plus 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 23, Isaiah 53, and so forth. But much of the Old Testament we ignore in the pulpit. To compound the challenge, when we observe how the New Testament handles the Old, we sometimes wonder what is going on, and how much of the New Testament handling of the Old ought to be reproducible in our handling of the Old.
Some elements of the challenge are reasonably straightforward. First, there is one God, the same God, entirely self-consistent. However diverse the ways of depicting him—in praise, narrative, apocalyptic imagery, events that vary from terrifying (Sinai) to sheer pathos (Hosea), working above history, disclosing himself in history and supremely in his Son—there is but one God. And second, this one God works all things out across the span of redemptive history in one huge story, for his own glory and for his people’s good. So as we study Scripture, we will be on the right track if we are able to tie things to that one story and to the purposes of this one God.
Nevertheless, although these twin mainstays of what some call “whole Bible biblical theology” are foundational for faithful preaching, there are plenty of challenges along the way. How does one responsibly move from, say, Numbers, or 1 Chronicles, or Psalm 45, or Song of Songs, or Jeremiah, or Obadiah, to Jesus and his gospel, in a way that is credible and without anachronism? We have all heard the dangers of preaching Old Testament narrative and biography in merely moralizing ways (though sometimes even the New Testament observes moral lessons in Old Testament narratives: see 1 Cor 10:1-13; Heb 3:7-19), but how does one leap to Jesus and the new covenant without sounding forced and artificial? All of us can track out some of the trajectories that run through the Bible: themes of priesthood, sacrifice, temple, Jerusalem, Davidic kingship, covenant, election, and more. But how do they work? How do they all converge in Jesus? At what point do they become forward-looking even within the pages of the Old Testament? And from the preacher’s point of view, is there help to be found to show how to herald such themes as these with power and unction, in a culture that has little place for temples, priests, kings, and covenants?
Some of the answers to such questions are found in good books and in courses well taught. We will try to identify some of those books and courses. But some of the answers are best learned by hearing preachers who handle the Word well. That explains why the plenary sessions of the 2011 national conference of The Gospel Coalition will focus on preaching Christ from the Old Testament. It also explains this project, which will continue long after the conference concludes in the hope of strengthening Christ-centered and faithful biblical preaching everywhere.