What is “Redemptive-Historical” preaching? A Primer

What is “Redemptive-Historical” preaching? A Primer               by Jack Kettler

The “redemptive-historical” is the term used to translate the Dutch word heilshistorisch. The “redemptive-historical” method of preaching originated in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands during the 1940s. The advocates of “redemptive-historical” preaching point out that the Old Testament is filled with many types and shadows, which pointed forward in redemptive history to Christ’s coming. Therefore, its advocates strive to find Christ in each passage.

In support of this view, the advocates of “redemptive-historical” preaching will cite two passages from Luke’s gospel and one from John gospel:

“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges explains this passage well with examples of how the Old Testament foretold of how Christ fulfilled the Scriptures:

“27. beginning at Moses- The promise to Eve (Genesis 3:15); the promise to Abraham (Genesis 22:18); the Paschal Lamb (Exodus 12); the Scapegoat (Leviticus 16:1-34); the brazen serpent (Numbers 21:9); the greater Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15); and the star and sceptre (Numbers 24:17); the smitten rock (Numbers 20:11; 1 Corinthians 10:4), &c.

and all the prophets] Immanuel, Isaiah 7:14. “Unto us a Child is born, &c.” Isaiah 9:6-7. The Good Shepherd, Isaiah 40:10-11. The Meek Sufferer, Isaiah 1:6. He who bore our griefs, Isaiah 53:4-5. The Branch,

Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:14-15. The heir of David, Ezekiel 34:23. The Ruler from Bethlehem, Micah 5:2. The Branch, Zechariah 6:12. The lowly King, Zechariah 9:9. The pierced Victim, Zechariah 12:10. The smitten Shepherd, Zechariah 13:7. The Messenger of the Covenant, Malachi 3:1. The Sun of Righteousness, Malachi 4:2; and many other passages. Dr Davison, in his admirable and standard book on prophecy, pp. 266-287, shews that there is not one of the Prophets without some distinct reference to Christ except Nahum, Jonah (who was himself a type and Prophetic Sign), and Habakkuk, who however uses the memorable words quoted in Romans 1:17. The expression is important, as shewing the prevalently Messianic character of the Old Testament; for of course we cannot suppose that our Lord went through each prophet separately, but only that He pointed out “the tenor of the Old Testament in its ethical and symbolical character.” (1)

 And,

 “And he said unto them, these are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” (Luke 24:44)

 The Pulpit Commentary:

“Verse 44. – And he said unto them, these are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me. The words, “while I was yet with you,” plainly show that, in the Master’s mind, the period of his sojourn with men was, in the human sense of the expression, past. His abode now was elsewhere. This and the next verse (45) probably refer to what the Master said that first Easter evening to the assembled disciples, but the exact fixing the time in the forty days (the time specially mentioned by St. Luke in the Acts as elapsing between the Resurrection and the Ascension, Acts 1:3) is of comparatively small importance. What is, however, of real moment is the weight Jesus showed that he attached to Old Testament words and types and prophecies by this repeated mention. The remarks of Meyer and Van Oosterzee on this subject are well worthy of being quoted: “If the exegete should read the Old Testament Scriptures without knowing to whom and to what they everywhere point, the New Testament clearly directs his understanding, and places him under an obligation, if he would be a sound Christian teacher, to acknowledge its authority and interpret accordingly. Doubt as to the validity of our Lord and of his apostles’ method of expounding, involves necessarily a renunciation of Christianity” (Meyer). “They who consult the teaching of Jesus and his apostles with respect to the prophecies concerning the Messiah, need not grope in uncertainty, but should, nevertheless, remember that the Lord probably directed the attention of the disciples, on this occasion (he is referring to the walk to Emmaus), less to isolated Scriptures than to the whole tenor of the Old Testament in its typical and symbolical character” (Van Oosterzee). Luke 24:44” (2)

 “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39)

 Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on John 5:39:

“39-42. Search the scriptures, &c.— “In the Scriptures ye find your charter of eternal life; go search them then, and you will find that I am the Great Burden of their testimony; yet ye will not come to Me for that life eternal which you profess to find there, and of which they tell you I am the appointed Dispenser.” (Compare Ac 17:11, 12). How touching and gracious are these last words! Observe here (1) The honor which Christ gives to the Scriptures, as a record which all have a right and are bound to search—the reverse of which the Church of Rome teaches; (2) The opposite extreme is, resting in the mere Book without the living Christ, to direct the soul to whom is its main use and chiefest glory.” (3)

 In light of these three passages and comments, the advocates of “redemptive-historical” are on solid Scriptural ground, along with instructions from Christ to “search the scriptures” because they testify of Him. 

 Origins:

 In addition to two early advocates, Klaus Schilder and B. Howerda, Geerhardus Johannes Vos (1862-1949) was a Dutch-American theologian in the tradition of the Protestant Reformation and one of the most distinguished representatives of the Princeton Theology and “redemptive-historical” preaching.

Geerhardus Vos, on the topic of “redemptive-historical” preaching, is one of the best sources. For example, the following books by Vos are relevant:

·         Grace and Glory

·         The Eschatology of the Old Testament

·         The Self-Disclosure of Jesus

·         Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos

Contemporary theologian Charles G. Dennison from  Northwest Theological Seminary is one of the great “redemptive-historical” preachers.

A sample of Charles Dennison’s sermons online:

Also, The Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutic and Preaching (1)by William D. Dennison, Ph. D. presents and explains this method of preaching:

1 This article should be viewed as the third part in a trilogy by the present author. If one wishes to read the previous articles in sequence, I would suggest that one begin with “Reason, History, and Revelation: Biblical Theology and the Enlightenment,” Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary 18/1 (May, 2003): 3-25; and then, one should read, “Biblical Theology and the Issue of Application,” in Reformed Spirituality: Communing with Our Glorious God, eds. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. and J. Andrew Wortman (Taylors, SC: Southern Presbyterian Press, 2003) 119-151. The Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutic and Preaching – William D. Dennison – Kerux 21:1 – May 2006

A common criticism of “redemptive-historical” preaching is that it lacks Biblical application. However, it can be said, not necessarily. If the preacher chooses to, Biblical application can be added to a sermon. The same is true of the “Grammatical-Historical-Theological” method. Thus, both methods can complement each other rather than stand at odds. Another criticism is that “redemptive-historical” preaching can be merely moralistic preaching. In response, it can be said, not necessarily. Any method is only as good as the preacher who utilizes a method.

If you have heard “redemptive-historical” preaching from someone like Charles Dennison, the above criticisms carry little weight. So, the fault may not be with the method per se but with the preacher.

 From Jesus on Every Page Though Out the Old Testament: by David Murray

“The son trudges uphill, bearing wood for his own sacrifice. Is this Isaac on the slope of Mount Moriah, or Jesus on the slope of Mount Calvary? The connection between these two stories is deeper than mere coincidence. Christ is present in the story of Isaac. In Jesus on Every Page, pastor and professor David Murray reveals Christ’s presence throughout the Old Testament—in the Creation, the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Proverbs.”

 Bio: Dr. David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and recently also became Pastor of the Free Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. He was ordained to the ministry in 1995 and pastored two churches in Scotland for 12 years.

 In conclusion:

 “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

 “To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)

 Notes:

 1.      Frederic William Farrar, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, (Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press, 1888), p. 359.

2.      H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Luke, Vol. 16., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 275.

3.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 1038.

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. JackKettler .com

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