There’s no question that Fred Craddock is one of the greatest orators on the American religious scene in the 20th century.
Putting aside doctrine and denomination, Craddock’s ability to weave a narrative is absolutely unrivaled. For preachers, this sermon is a master class in inductive preaching. In an interview with Ministry Magazine, Craddock argues in favor of inductive preaching, saying that only preaching with a deductive method “… means you leave your listeners in that pitiful box of having only two alter natives of agreeing or disagreeing with you. It is all your work. It is all packaged and delivered and that is it. So you get to say, “I agree with you,” or “I don’t agree with you.” But in inductive preaching, you unroll your idea in such a way that listeners have to work to get it themselves. I think it is a compliment to preaching when listeners don’t quite know whether they thought it themselves or got it from something the preacher said!”
In inductive preaching, the preacher asks one question and through rhetorical devices, narrative, and storytelling to lead listeners to a certain conclusion. Craddock does suggest that preachers who are new to induction begin with inductive methods and then conclude deductively, so that they don’t unintentionally lead people to the wrong conclusion. But this post isn’t to explain induction or doctrine or anything else. It’s merely to share an incredible example of inductive preaching done to perfection. You can see that below, from Dr. Craddock’s 1986 Mullins lecture at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
It doesn’t take long in a conversation about preaching Christ before someone says “Are you just trying to find Jesus under every rock?” Arguably, the bigger problem in Evangelical preaching is finding no Christ where it turns out Christ was the rock (1 Cor 10:4). Nonetheless, it’s a good question at root: how do we preach Christ in the Old Testament? But there’s a bigger problem at stake.
Too many Christ-centered sermons are boring.
It’s not that Christ-centered preaching is boring inherently. Done well, Christ-centered preaching is some of the most thrilling preaching that any Christian can hear. However, Christ-centered, or gospel-centered, preaching can often be formulaic. No matter the text, it ultimately ends up being about sin and the need to forgive. Every sermon is just the prodigal son with new characters. Or, if you’re onto recent trends, every sermon is about the “truer and better Jesus”, to borrow from Tim Keller. Typology takes over. Preachers plug their text into their typology formula and out pops the same sermon week after week, only with a new text.
There are countless ways to preach Christ that protect us from formulas, fads, and unfaithfulness to the original text.
In his book Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes, Sidney Greidanus begins with a really helpful summary of how to preach Christ in 7 different ways. It’s an excellent volume for preachers. Referencing John 5:39-40, Greidanus writes, “We should not just preach the Old Testament scriptures but link them to Christ so that people can have life.” Greidanus says he became convinced that he church fathers were right: “A Christian sermon must preach Christ” (24).
Below I’ll list his 7 ways to preach Christ from the Old Testament and try to provide a short summary of each. Note: not every passage can be preached in every way, but there is no passage from which a preacher cannot or should not preach Christ.
Redemptive-Historical Progression Preach Christ by connecting the Old Testament passage to the plan of redemption: from the Fall, through Israel’s history, to the incarnation and saving work of Christ and then the Second Coming. How does this fit into God’s cosmic work of redemption?
Promise-Fulfillment When the Old Testament makes a direct messianic promise, preachers have a clear path to show how Christ fulfills that promise. Some books, like Ecclesiastes, have no messianic promises.
Typology Redemptive events, persons or institutions can function as types of a greater Antitype: the person and work of Jesus. Typology points to the intentional pattern or implicit claims of New Testament authors to show how Jesus is foreshadowed. Examples are Joseph redeeming Israel, the way Galatians uses the narrative of Ishmael and Isaac, and the temple.
Analogy On occasion, the teaching of the OT will connect to the teaching of Jesus through analogy. For example, Jesus teaches “do not store up treasures for yourself on earth”, where the book of Ecclesiastes shows the vanity of that very thing.
Longitudinal Themes The Bible is rich with themes that run from the Old Testament to the New Testament. These are the themes that cover the arch, or metanarrative of scripture. These themes include fearing God, holiness, wisdom, etc. Christ is wisdom (1 Cor.), wisdom is with God at creation (Prov 8), extoled throughout Scripture as the way of salvation.
New Testament References Oftentimes, an OT passage plays a significant, explicit role in New Testament teaching. In nearly every case, it is done to show how Christ is the culmination or fulfillment of that text. (A great resource on this is Carson and Beale’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.)
Contrast Sometimes, Christ seems utterly absent from a passage. Where is Christ when the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “All is vain (Eccl 1:3)?” Where is Christ in the wickedness of the book of judges, as they divide up a concubine and send it around the nation? Where is Christ is the unfaithfulness of Saul? He is there by contrast. In the face of traps, lies, and death, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
I believe that Greidanus provides a really excellent grid for pastors and preachers to use in preaching Christ. He cautions against allegorical interpretation; the irony is that so much of what he does here is precisely what early church authors would have called allegory: typology, analogy, and thematic readings! Nonetheless, preachers are helped to think about texts in this way.
Greidanus says it this way: “It’s not a matter of trying to find Christ under every rock but it’s a matter of connecting the dots… the dots that run from the periphery of the Old Testament to the center of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.”
For more from Greidanus, here’s an interview he did a while back with Eerdmans for his Preaching Christ in Daniel volume.
In April 2012, Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. gave the E.Y. Mullins Lectures on Christian Preaching at Southern Seminary. His title for the series was “Preaching as Intra-Trinitarian Presence.”
For over 20 years, Dr. Smith has been training preachers at Beeson Divinity School** with the core conviction that the aim of Christian preaching is for the hearers to experience God and see who He is in the Scriptures as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He says in his book on preaching, Doctrine That Dances, “…doctrinal preaching is the escorting of the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation.”
In these three lectures, Smith holds forth on Trinitarian preaching and encourages preachers to recover the art of preaching from the whole Bible. Preachers should “dust for Christological fingerprints” in every text of Scripture.
There are three lectures total:
God of Our Weary Years – Theocentricity
Theology of the HIMbook – Christocentricity
The Neglected God – Pneumacentricity
I hope that these lectures will aid you as you seek to preach all of God from all of the Bible: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
* * I am blessed to have been one of those preaching students at Beeson, and to have a close mentoring relationship with Dr. Smith to this day. Perhaps the greatest compliment that I can give is to say that Dr. Smith’s character far exceeds his talent. Once you’ve seen his talent, that will mean a great deal to you.
Sometimes you just need to hear a great sermon. You may have come to this page through a google search. Maybe you’re a pastor looking to learn from great preaching. Maybe you’re a pastor just tired and in need of the word to be ministered to you. Maybe you’re lost and looking for truth.
I hope you find these sermons encouraging. In my opinion, each of them is an absolutely masterful sermon, given by godly men whom I admire. I hope you are encouraged by them all, not because the preachers are great, but because God’s Word is great.
I have listed them below, in no particular order. Each are wonderful in their own way.
The Glory of the Groan by Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. at Beeson Divinity School
The Gospel by Numbers by Dr. Ligon Duncan at Together For the Gospel
For Such A Slime As This by Dr. Hershael York at Southern Seminary
Shall We Die As A Fool Dies by Dr. R. Albert Mohler at Southern Seminary
How Are Christians Special? by Dr. Mark Dever at Southeastern Seminary
The Glory of the Groan by Dr. Robert Smith, Jr.
The Gospel by Numbers by Dr. Ligon Duncan
For Such A Slime As This by Dr. Hershael York
Shall We Die as a Fool Dies? by Dr. R. Albert Mohler
How Are Christians Special? by Dr. Mark Dever
Let me know in the comments if one of these sermons encouraged you in your walk with Christ!
In 1985, Dr. D.A. Carson gave a series of lectures at Moore College in NSW Australia. During his time there, he gave this lecture on preaching, prayer, and passion. Carson is always so incredibly helpful and clear.
“The remedy…is so to feel the truth so that we preach with passion. In other words, what is needed is preachers on fire, preacher who are anointed, preachers whose logic is eloquent because impassioned.”
This past spring I was honored to interview Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. for a Library Talk at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Smith has been a mentor of mine for nearly 10 years, since we first met on the campus of Southern Seminary in 2012.
Those who have heard him preach before can not help but be moved by his powerful oratory and commitment to the word of God and the gospel. I often tell people, though, that’s he’s even better off stage. I can think of no man I respect more in the world.
I hope this conversation with Dr. Smith benefits and encourages preachers who hear it. In the course of this conversation we discuss sermon preparation, trinitarian preaching, God’s work in the preaching moment, the use of scripture in preaching, suffering in the ministry, and more.