Preaching Christ from Genesis: Foundations for Expository Sermons By Sidney Greidanus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007)

Preaching Christ from Genesis (Paperback)
by Sidney Greidanus

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Sidney Greidanus is professor emeritus of preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary and author of several notable works on the art and science of homiletics. What Greidanus has accomplished in this work is what homileticians long for in a handbook for preaching: the detailed, but accessible, examination of individual pericopes of a biblical book with a view to producing sermons from those passages. This is a compendium worthy of note, chockfull of exegetical material, backed by comprehensive bibliographic detail. Greidanus’ style is commendable: he has produced a “thinking-out-loud” kind of commentary wherein the reader is allowed a peek into the author’s mind, even as the latter refines his ideas as he proceeds. Hopefully we will see more of this ilk covering many, if not all, of the books of the Bible.

Structurally, after an introduction to Greidanus’ method of preaching Christ from Genesis, twenty-three pericopes from this opening book of Scripture are dealt with, one in each chapter, addressing text and context of the passage, its literary features, plot line, theocentric interpretation, textual theme/goal, ways to preach Christ from that text, a possible sermonic theme/goal and form, and a “sermon exposition” of that pericope. Unfortunately, not all of the Genesis text is covered, presumably to keep the dimensions of the book within reasonable limits. The resulting loss to the expositor attempting to preach through Genesis is considerable; missing from the Abrahamic saga, for instance, are the accounts of Abraham’s abandonment of his wife to Pharaoh (and, later, to Abimelech), the patriarch’s parting of ways with Lot, the covenant of Gen 15, the birth of Ishmael, and the dismissal of this child and his mother.

The goal of the book is to “demonstrate and reinforce the redemptive-historical Christocentric method” (xii). Greidanus gives two reasons for his modus operandi of preaching Christ from the Old Testament. The first reason is primarily the contemporary inapplicability of certain time- and context-bound biblical imperatives. While granting this assessment, it does not necessarily mandate an explicit movement to Christ in every sermon. May not one discern a level of theology that is more specific for, and closer to, the textual details? And could not one make the move to application from that conceptual locus, rather than aiming for a broad and general Christocentric theological approach that does not appear to be driven by the specifics of the text? The second reason for Greidanus’ approach is “the requirement that Christian preachers preach Jesus Christ,” particularly to distinguish Christian preaching from Jewish preaching (2). Of course, that depends on whether one wants to carefully discriminate every sermon from every potential non-Christian exposition of the Bible. Surely the sermon is in the context of an explicitly Christological worship service, which, in turn, is situated in the context of explicitly Christ-centered proclamatory and pastoral activity for the remainder of the week. In the opinion of this reviewer, sometimes, if not often, the attempt to preach Christ from every narrative, as Greidanus attempts, seems rather strained. On the other hand, if application is derived from each pericope of Scripture for the purpose of moving the congregation towards Christlikeness, then every biblical pericope is Christ-oriented. The demand of God from any passage of Scripture is fulfilled absolutely and perfectly only by that one Man; thus, sermons grounded upon such an understanding of application are surely also preaching Christ. 

Invariably, Greidanus’ seven ways of preaching Christ from the Old Testament results in straying from the particular text being considered. To clarify what might otherwise be incomprehensible, one might seek recourse in other biblical texts but, from a preaching standpoint, this stratagem tends to drown listeners in the theological cascades of the canon, rendering them incapable of quenching their thirst from the specific stream of the particular text being preached. Greidanus’ “Redemptive-Historical Progression” for Gen 1:1–2:3, for instance, dives into Mark, Luke, Matthew, Ephesians, and Revelation; “Longitudinal Themes” for the same text are sustained from Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Psalms, Matthew, Colossians, 2 Corinthians, Exodus, Mark, Hebrews, and Revelation (49–51). It doesn’t help that Greidanus also advocates surfing after “New Testament References” to this pericope (51) (quite surprisingly, Greidanus does not note the New Testament development of the concept of Sabbath rest in his treatment of Gen 1:1–2:3).

“Moralizing” is taboo for Greidanus; any attempt to draw parallels between characters in the story and the believers today is “superficial and moralistic” (106). Allen Ross is faulted for seeing Laban’s deception of Jacob (the substitution of Leah for Rachel) as a lesson to believers that God potentially disciplines them for unresolved sins (296). This is an unfair criticism; the text itself reinforces for its readers the very lesson(s) Jacob was being taught. Consider the narrative art as the story pointedly affirms that Jacob was deceived in almost exactly the same way he deceived his father, Isaac: the Hebrew cognate of “deceived” gets repeated in both accounts (Gen 27:35; 29:25); in both instances there is an exchange of siblings; on both occasions the deception is successful because of the blindness of those deceived—Isaac because of an ophthalmic impairment, Jacob because of darkness at nighttime. Such narrated parallels indicate an intentionality of design on the part of the inspired author—Jacob’s deception by Laban is undoubtedly the heel-grabber’s payback for his own earlier misdoings. The theology of the pericope warns that God may allow those who engage is such transgressions to reap what they sow. As the nation Israel is ostensibly receiving this text as she prepares to enter the Promised Land, this specific warning of how (not) to conduct oneself in community is apropos. Indeed, so it is for the church, as well.

At the general level at which Greidanus is operating as he seeks a move to Christ from each pericope, it is not surprising that there is significant duplication of “Sermon Goals.” A few examples: The Sermon Goal of Gen 28:10–22: To comfort God’s people with his promise that he will be with his people wherever they go (288), is no different from the goal of Gen 46:1–47:31: To assure God’s people that God goes with them wherever they go (441), and resembles that of Gen 39:1–23: To assure God’s people of his presence with them in times of prosperity as well as times of adversity (386). The Sermon Goal of Gen 37:2–36: To comfort the church with the knowledge that God can use even evil human deeds to fulfill his plan of salvation (347) was spotted earlier in Gen 29:1–35: To encourage God’s people with the message that their sovereign God can fulfill his promises even through human deceit (306); it crops up again with Gen 38:1–30: To assure God’s people that God can accomplish his plan of salvation even through human disobedience and deception (368), and with Gen 43:1–45:28: To comfort the hearers with the message that the sovereign God is able to use even evil human deeds to accomplish salvation (420–1). The preacher going through the book of Genesis on a weekly basis and employing Greidanus’ sermon goals is in danger of being trapped in tedious repetition. To this reviewer, such duplication indicates that the theology of those individual pericopes—theology that reflects textual details more closely—has not been isolated with adequate specificity.

In summary, this work by Greidanus is an exemplar of a preaching manual in its approach to the text and its arrangement of matter. The author’s acumen for assimilation is evident in his consolidation of material on Genesis from a wide variety of sources; the product is a bonanza for all serious students of Scripture. Nevertheless, preachers leading their congregation through Genesis pericope by pericope, seeking theological bases in individual passages for sermonic application, will be disappointed. The broad canonical move to Christ that Greidanus undertakes has not, at least to this reviewer, proven to be particularly profitable for most of the passages in Genesis scrutinized in this book. A homiletical (and hermeneutical) need, however, has been poignantly raised by the issues discussed here—the need for a subspecies of theology that is pericopal, discovered primarily from the textual details of any given passage, and correlated, only as necessary, with the more broader species of canonical and biblical theology.

Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 8 (2008): 137–140

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