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Preaching Christ from Psalms by Sidney Greidanus

Iain Duguid

Preaching Christ from Psalms: Foundations for Expository Sermons in the Christian Year, by Sidney Greidanus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016, xx + 595 pages, $40.00, paper.

Resources in biblical exegesis aimed specifically at preachers are an all too rare commodity. Too often, academic commentaries answer all the questions that no preacher is asking and no congregation needs to hear, while so-called homiletical resources are often academically flimsy and theologically lightweight. It is therefore always welcome to see another book from the pen of Greidanus, the author of a well-regarded textbook on preaching Christ from the Old Testament.[1] Alongside his homiletic textbooks, he has now given us volumes on Genesis, Ecclesiastes, Daniel, and the Psalms, allowing us to watch over his shoulder as he crafts Christ-exalting sermons from a variety of Old Testament genres.

The book is comprised of a forty-five-page introductory chapter, “Issues in Preaching Christ from the Psalms,” followed by detailed analysis of twenty-two specific psalms. Because Greidanus has chosen to follow the sequence of the Revised Common Lectionary, these psalms are not in the scriptural order—Psalm 1 is chapter 2 in the book, while Psalm 2 is chapter 10. The book concludes with six appendices, giving brief summaries of the author’s method of expository preaching, sample sermons by the author and his students, and suggestions for sermon series on the Psalms.

In the introductory material, Greidanus defends preaching from the Psalms (as opposed to simply praying or singing the Psalms), and discusses the different genres of the psalms, along with various devices and features of Hebrew poetry. He briefly explores the role of the literary context within the psalter, noting the greater attention paid recently in academic scholarship to the editorial placement of each psalm (unfortunately, he finished his work before the appearance of O. Palmer Robertson’s recent book, The Flow of the Psalms: Discovering Their Structure and Theology (2015), which is an excellent full-scale treatment of the subject). He rightly discourages attempts to reconstruct the supposed historical background from which the psalm comes, which is in many cases elusive. He also has a few general comments about moving from psalm to application: often the pathway lies through an analogy between the psalmist and the congregation, or between Israel and the congregation. At other times, the psalm seeks to address a need that we too share (43–44). Ultimately, the goal is always to preach Christ, and Greidanus believes that the seven methods he has outlined in his earlier works apply equally well here in the Psalter.

This introductory material provides a fair survey of academic scholarship: its brevity means that it serves as a good refresher for those familiar with these topics, though beginners might wish for a bit more detail. One or two suggestions will raise eyebrows in more conservative Reformed circles, such as the idea that the reading of Scripture might be “supported by mime or drama” (44). More seriously, Greidanus argues that modern preachers cannot adopt the apostolic hermeneutic, suggesting that it must be replaced by “a responsible, modern hermeneutic method” (8). Greidanus is far from alone in this assessment of the NT use of the OT, but Dennis Johnson, Gregory Beale, and D. A. Carson have provided a substantive response, defending the apostles from the charge of irresponsible exegesis.[2] Certainly we want to avoid arbitrary eisegesis in our expositions, but I believe that is very far from what the New Testament writers were doing.

I was also surprised to find no substantive help in this book for preaching the imprecatory portions of the Psalms—surely one of the most significant issues for anyone in preaching from the Psalms. There is a very brief mention of Psalm 137 under the preaching method of “Contrast,” which treats this psalm as embodying the exact opposite of Christ’s teaching (interestingly, Greidanus’s discussion of this same psalm is lengthier and more circumspect in his earlier Preaching Christ from the Old Testament[3]), but none of the psalms selected as examples are imprecatory psalms. He says in his preface, “my first inclination was to help preachers with especially difficult psalms such as the imprecatory psalms” (xiii). Unfortunately, although critiquing the Lectionary for omitting Psalm 104:35a (409), and providing a brief exposition of that verse on page 499, he provides little help for the more challenging passages—many of which find an echo in the New Testament, especially in the Book of Revelation, which suggests that they cannot simply be neatly wiped away under the heading of contrast.

The meat of the book, the substantive work that makes this book worthwhile for every preacher to own, lies in its individual expositions. There is a wealth of material here that will repay every reader, distilled from Greidanus’s wide reading and research. Even when you disagree with his application or how he gets to Christ, the process of thinking through your disagreement with him will sharpen your insight into the text. Read this book alongside Edmund Clowney’s classic article “The Singing Savior”[4] and Robertson’s book on the Flow of the Psalms, and it will be astonishing if you are not significantly more motivated, inspired, and equipped to preach Christ from the psalms, which were after all “written about him” (Luke 24:44).

Endnotes

[1] Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).

[2] G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007); G. K. Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012); Dennis Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007).

[3] Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, 275.

[4] Edmund Clowney, “The Singing Savior,” Moody Monthly, July-August 1979, 40. Also available on a number of internet sites.

Iain Duguid is a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and serves as professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant Online, March 2017.

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