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Preaching Christ

29 August, 2008

Growing up as a boy I was taught to look for some sort of role model. For me, when it came time to get tough, it was John Wayne, or Clint Eastwood. When I was in Little League Baseball I tried to throw like Nolan Ryan (probably not the right pick for a skinny Filipino kid that threw side arm). When surfing took over my life I tried to model my technique after certain heroes like Rabbit Bartholomew or Mark Ochilupo. As an apprentice in the trades I always tried to work for the best carpenter on the job (no matter how mean he was). When I decided to pursue training for the ministry I believed that I would find my best mentors at Westminster Seminary California. While all the profs at the sem are magnificent examples of how to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I have to admit that when I’m struggling to be less like myself and more like Christ, and want to look to an earthly example, two names always come to mind. I tell my wife nearly daily that I want to be the sort of men that Hywel Jones and Dennis Johnson are. During my four years at WSC I scrutinized their character. As leaders in our Lord’s church, and as captains on our campus their character is otherworldly. I don’t mean ‘otherworldly’ in the mystical sense but in the heavenly sense described in Phil 2:1-11. Both men are recognized in the Reformed church for accomplishing more for Christ’s sake than most of us can hope to, however, both men are self-effacing bondservants. Most people that know me know how special Hywel Jones is to me. Today I’d also like to hold up Dennis Johnson who has been another very good influence in my life. One thing I remember is what my good friend Rev. Kevin Daane of New Life Escondido told me. He said Dennis never speaks ill of anyone, not even while joking. None of his humor is at someone else’s expense. He does wordplay jokes. So I watched DJ to see if it was true. It is! I won’t mention the occasions but I did see that when others were getting a laugh at someone else’s expense DJ deliberately did not participate. And he has called me into his office several times for not speaking in a manner worthy of our Lord’s good news. I love our fearless leader. Therefore, it is our great pleasure to give WSC M.Div. candidate and Bonita OPC intern Brian Blake the floor as he reviews Dr. Johnson’s recent publication.

~chaos

Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ From All the Scriptures

Dr. Dennis Johnson

P&R 2007 494pp.

How Do We Proclaim Him?

By Brian P. Blake

I must say – and by the way since this is a blog and not an academic article in any way, shape, or form thus all is unapologetically subjective – that Augustine’s maxim, “The old is in the new revealed, the new is in the old concealed,” is fundamentally true. What I mean is, if you ask a green seminarian to exhort from an Old Testament text, often times the listener is left wondering where in the world is Christ in this text?

In Dennis Johnson’s recent monograph, Him We Proclaim, we learn that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is at the center of the entire canon of Scripture. We learn that Scripture forms a unity and we learn to see it in what we call the organic nature of Scripture. We all know what that is…right? (Maybe). Yet, while we sit through class after class learning more and more about the unfolding drama of redemptive-history we struggle to bring it all together, if we are honest with ourselves, into a meaningful sermon that is faithful to the text. Why? Because inexperienced seminarians don’t know how to preach! Being one I can say that. So, what do we do when it’s time to sit down to actually pen the sermon after having spent so much time doing the exegesis? How do we preach our exegesis? Have no fear DJ is here…I mean Dr. Dennis Johnson (whom Chaos refers to as the “the Great One.”)

Him We Proclaim is a most welcome addition to the would-be preacher’s library. Why? Allow me to illustrate: Say you’re learning how to fly an airplane. There you are as confident as you can be flying around in your Cessna knowing that nothing terrible can happen because you have your flight instructor right there with you. The problem is at some point he is going to get out and you’re going to see what you can or can’t do all by yourself. In a similar way this happens when we finish our academic year and go somewhere to intern. At some point we are alone writing a sermon and stuck trying to figure out how to do it. Well, one thing a flight instructor will do is to relentlessly beat in your head how to straighten up and fly right by yelling at you every time you do something wrong. This serves a good purpose, because when you are flying alone you will hear his voice over and over again in your head and this will serve to remind you how to fly correctly. Again when we’re at it during our summer internship Him We Proclaim will serve, if you pick it up to read, as that voice in your head guiding you in your sermon preparations. Only DJ doesn’t yell but has a gentle, pastoral and encouraging voice.

I found Dr. Johnson’s book to be a tremendous asset during my last two summer internships. With craft he establishes the case for apostolic, Christocentric preaching. However, the second half of his book is where I found the most help. Specifically, chapters 9 and 10 demonstrate how to preach Christ from the Old and New Testaments respectively. When struggling with how to make the Christological connection with an Old Testament text we are taught how to examine the text’s message and purpose. This is articulated at length and serves as a template for us. Thus, you’re not told how to preach your text per se,(that is, the one you happen to working through) but you are guided by biblical principles that will keep you from hurting your listeners and your ministry. Similarly, chapter 10 with its focus on New Testament texts is even more valuable. Just because you’re preaching the New Testament doesn’t mean you will preach Christ appropriately. You may know how to fly your Cessna, but a 747 is another machine all together! Since the New Testament builds off of the unfolding drama begun in the Old, we must learn how the New is a climatic continuation of that story as it blossoms in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Again Dr. Johnson help’s us to see how and why preaching the New is good-news. Again, you will not be told how to preach your text, unless it’s from Hebrews, but you will learn how to stay on course.

Certainly then Him We Proclaim is a most valuable book that will serve as that voice in the back of your head directing you in your sermon preparation. Ultimately, we have to get up there and preach in order to put into practice what we study. Yet, we are not alone in our preparation if we seek Dr. Johnson’s wise counsel. I would strongly recommend reading the second half in great detail before you begin your internship. However, it is also the type of book that you can open up and listen to when you need guidance. How do we proclaim Him? Read DJ’s Him We Proclaim.

~Brian Blake

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One Comment
  1. 6 September, 2008 6:55 am

    How do we proclaim Christ? I think I Corinthians Chapter 2 provides at least part of that answer.

    “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” I Corinthians 2:1-5.

    The above Scripture is a good summary how we proclaim Christ, that is, by the power of God through the Spirit, but the rest of the chapter expands why the power of God and the Spirit of God are needed. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” I Corinthians 2:14.

    We must rely on God to give His Spirit to those whom He elects (“predestined”, verse 7), so they can understand and be receptive to the things of God. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,” I Corinthians 2:12.

    Therefore, we proclaim Christ, focused not on our own eloquence or logic, but rather focused on God’s Spirit and God’s power, trusting God to use our simple but powerful message of “Jesus Christ and, and Him crucified” to draw those whom He elects to save.

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