Practical Problems with Redemptive-Historical Preaching

            When I began writing on the problems of Redemptive-Historical preaching last week, I ran out of time to complete my article due to several factors. I set forth the basic doctrinal problems with Redemptive-Historical preaching, but was unable to deal with the therefores that always follow the doctrinal truths. Today, I would like to complete the thoughts that I started last week.

            I want you to understand that I am objecting to the Redemptive-Historical interpretation of Scripture that finds the meaning of every verse—the one and only meaning—in Christ as the fulfillment of the covenant of grace. Redemptive-Historical preaching teaches that Christ must be found in every verse. I disagree. The great body of Reformed ministers down through the ages would also disagree. It is certainly true that Christ was in the Old Testament as the ‘master workman’ helping His Father in creation (Proverbs 8:30); as the Angel of the Lord; in typology; in the true meaning of all the sacrifices; in various prophecies, such as Psalm 2, 22, 69, 72, etc., Isaiah 7, 9, 11, 40, 53, Zechariah 13, Malachi 3, 4, and numerous other places. The Holy Spirit is also there in the Old Testament. The Father is there as well. And those verses that are primarily about the Father or the Holy Spirit cannot under any circumstance be interpreted as being about Christ without destroying the very fabric of Scripture. So, on that basis alone, the primary position of the Redemptive-Historical preaching proponents is proved to be wrong. It is wrong on prima facie evidence. Yet, there are too many people in the reformed community who are joined at the hip with Redemptive-Historical preaching and we must illustrate the practical problems with this school of preaching in further detail.

            While Jane and I were visiting the widow of my recently departed college and seminary roommate in Georgia last week, I received a beautiful illustration of the problems with the Redemptive-Historical school of preaching. I read an article on the book of Job from the Redemptive-Historical school of thought. Here is how that school of thought interprets the meaning of Job. They look for Christ in every verse and find Him as the true meaning of every book. Thus, Job is not so much about Job, the Gentile contemporary of the patriarchs, but is primarily about Jesus to that school of thought. Since every Scripture verse has one—and only one—true meaning, the real meaning of Job, according to the Redemptive-Historical school, is about the sufferings of Jesus as He fought the temptations of the devil and overcame them all. Such a viewpoint might seem to exalt Christ on first glance, but on second glance it throws a freezing chill over our souls. It is great to view Christ as victorious, but is there nothing that God’s Word says to us as we are going through the trials of this life? Of course there is. Psalm 73 deals with the problems of the suffering of the righteous in a very similar manner as the book of Job and that psalm cannot be interpreted as being primarily about Christ. The psalmist was by his own admission envious (which is a sin by the way since it is a breach of the tenth commandment) and only found relief when he went into the sanctuary of God. Psalm 73 cannot be primarily about Christ because Christ was never covetous nor envious. Neither is Job primarily about Christ because Christ never had a dark night of the soul wherein He cursed the day of His birth like Job did in Job 3:1-26. Moreover, one of the great passages of Job is found in Job 19:25, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last He will take His stand on the earth.”  That verse becomes meaningless and ridiculous if the book of Job is primarily about Christ. Christ is the One who will take His stand on the earth at the last day. Christ is the object of faith—the faith of Job in his Redeemer who is Christ.

            I once heard a minister say that James 5:16, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much,” is fulfilled in Christ who is the righteous Man. There is no question that Christ’s prayers were/are perfect and accomplish much, but is the Scripture shutting us out of that promise to the answer of our prayers? Does that mean that Christ alone is the One being promised an answer to His prayer in Jeremiah 29:12—“Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you”? I reject the interpretation of James 5:16 above and wholeheartedly believe that Jeremiah 29:11-14 is addressed to people—and is not primarily about Christ. In trying to find Christ in every verse, the Redemptive-Historical school of thought leaves barrenness of soul in its wake wherever it predominates. In making every verse about Christ, it leaves none of them as primarily about believers. Application becomes impossible. Sermons cease to be hortatory. They are descriptive of Christ and His glory, but what does that mean to any of us if every verse is about Him and none of them are about us? We might speak in rapture about Christ on the tree and our sins being nailed there, but what difference will that make to those whose eyes are blinded and whose hearts hate Christ? Jehovah Tsidkenu will mean nothing to them, as Robert Murray McCheyne so eloquently described in his poem, “Jehovah Tsidkenu” which means ‘The Lord Our Righteousness.’ Indeed, that phrase itself shows the problem with the Redemptive-Historical school of thought. Christ is ‘the Lord our righteousness’ (Jeremiah 23:6, 33:16). He is the Lord our righteousness. Christ is certainly righteous, but His righteousness was gained in order to be imputed to us. The Scripture everywhere combines Christ with us and us with Christ—if and when we believe. The Scripture is not just about Christ in a descriptive way. It is about Christ in a prescriptive way. He is the fulfillment of the covenant so that we might believe on Him and be saved. The Scripture analyzes our condition as sinners and prescribes Christ as the alone remedy. He alone can save us and we are, therefore, exhorted to flee to Him. True preaching can never stop with simply describing the glory of Christ the way a jeweler would describe the brilliance of a diamond. This diamond, this pearl of great price, must be ours or we are lost. The Scripture is about Christ and it is about us. Both are necessary. Redemptive-Historical preaching fails to do the latter. It describes Christ, but it does not prescribe Him. And that is a deadly failure.

            I realize that some of my readers have likely been trained as Redemptive-Historical preachers. Some will object that they are not guilty of the problems I am describing. Please understand that I am responding to the formal positions of the Redemptive-Historical school of thought. Maybe you were trained in that school, but you still preach according to older methods that you learned much earlier. Well, I have read Jack Nicklaus’ book, Golf My Way, but my game is not like Jack’s game. I play a different game. Just because you were taught the Redemptive-Historical view of preaching does not mean that you are representative of that school of thought. I pray that you are not. And my purpose in this article is to get you to turn away from it completely as a fatally flawed view of preaching.

            This morning I received an email from a retired minister who studied under Ed Clowney at Westminster in Philadelphia. What he described from his first-hand observations is exactly what I am trying to convey. Here is a list of some of the main problems:

            1. A paralyzing fear of preaching in the imperative.

            2. Inability or unwillingness to provide application in sermons.

            3. A fear of using any examples from Scripture to encourage or instruct believers.

            4. An enormous effort to produce polished sermons.

            5. A tendency towards theological and ecclesiastical liberalism.

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery (

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