On one side of the question were the proponents of “exemplaristic” preaching. This method of preaching taught that the biblical narratives in general, and the Old Testament stories in particular, were to be preached as examples of how Christians today should (or should not) live their lives. Old Testament believers were held up as examples (or anti-examples, as the case may be) of how we should conduct ourselves.
On the other side of the debate were the advocates of “redemptive-historical” (the term used to translate the Dutch heilshistorisch) preaching. The proponents of this kind of preaching argued that Old Testament narratives are not given – primarily - to us by God to be moral examples, but as revelations of the coming Messiah. The narratives, the stories, of the Old Testament served as types and shadows pointing forward in history to the time when Israel’s Messiah would be revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In support of this view, the advocates of redemptive-historical preaching drew heavily upon the text of Luke 24:27 (where Jesus is teaching the disciples on the road to Emmaus), “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (English Standard Version). Along with this verse, also invoked was v. 44 of the same chapter where Jesus says, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
This approach to preaching has its roots, however, in a movement which preceded the 1940s. The Biblical-Theological movement originated in Germany under the liberal teaching and writing of Johann Philipp Gabler (1753-1826) who emphasized the historical nature of the bible, over against an overly dogmatic reading of it.
Nearly a century later Princeton Theological Seminary inaugurated its first professor of Biblical Theology, Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949). Vos was instrumental in taking the discipline of biblical theology in more conservative direction, using it to vindicate the Reformed faith and historic Christianity over against theological liberalism.
Today, in America at least, the Redemptive-Historical method of preaching has been carried forward through the work of Westminster Theological Seminary, Westminster Seminary California and Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary.
However, it is recognized by both proponents and opponents that the question is over how to do application in preaching, not if we are to do application. Advocates of R-H preaching believe in application, just not the kind of application which applies the characters of the bible as moral examplars directly to the believer of today. All of preaching in the OT must bring into relief the person and work of Jesus Christ as the eschatological fulfillment of which all of the Old Testament is a type and shadow.
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