Evaluating Sidney Greidanus’s Approach to Christ-Centered Preaching

[Editors Note: This post provides a summary and evaluation of Sidney Greidanus’s approach to Christ-centered preaching. If you are already familiar with Greidanus’s method you could skip ahead to the evaluation.]

Sidney Greidanus is professor emeritus of preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Greidanus’s doctoral dissertation, Sola Scriptura: Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical Texts, was published in 1970. In the volume, Greidanus examined the “exemplary-redemptive-historical controversy” that raged in the reformed churches in the Netherlands in the 1930s and early 1940s and presented contemporary principles for preaching historical texts (Sola Scriptura, 1). In 1988, Greidanus’ second volume, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature, built on and expanded the discussion of his earlier work to include principles for preaching all biblical literary genres.

In his first two books, Greidanus argues that moralistic and exemplary approaches to preaching are unacceptable. He contends instead for Christocentricity. His call for Christocentric preaching climaxes in Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Model, published in 1999. The book grew out of a popular elective course Greidanus taught on Christocentric preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary. The work aims “to provide seminary students and preachers with a responsible, contemporary model for preaching Christ from the Old Testament” and “to challenge Old Testament scholars to broaden their focus and to understand the Old Testament not only in its own historical context but also in the context of the New Testament” (Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, xii). In 2007, Greidanus published Preaching Christ from Genesis: Foundations for Expository Sermons, which seeks comprehensively to apply his Christocentic method to the Genesis narratives and he has since done the same for Ecclesiastes and Daniel. This discussion will focus on his magnum opus, Preaching Christ in the Old Testament (hereafter this article will simply cite page numbers for this book).


The first four chapters of Preaching Christ in the Old Testament are theological and historical; the last four are methodological. Greidanus opens the book by arguing for the necessity of preaching both Christ and the Old Testament (1-32). The author acknowledges the difficulty of defining what it means to preach Christ and suggests that examining the New Testament on the subject is more valuable than offering another definition (3). Greidanus notes that “the heart of apostolic preaching is Jesus Christ” and that preaching Christ means “preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God” (4, 8). Ultimately, he defines preaching Christ as proclaiming “some facet of the person, work, or teaching of Jesus of Nazareth so that people may believe him, trust him, love him, and obey him” (8).

Greidanus bemoans the lack of preaching from the Old Testament. Even when a sermon finds its way into the Old Testmanet, Greidanus notes, it frequently ignores Christ (15).

While acknowledging the difficulties of preaching the Old Testament, Greidanus offers compelling reasons for preaching from both Testaments. He asserts: it is part of the Christian canon, it discloses the history of redemption leading to Christ, it proclaims truths not found in the New Testament, it helps us to understand the New Testament, it prevents misunderstanding the New Testament, and it provides a fuller understanding of Christ (22-32).

Greidanus clarifies that he is not simply arguing “for the general category of God-centered preaching but for the more specific category of explicitly Christ-centered preaching” (37). He emphasizes that “the Old Testament must be interpreted not only in its own context but also in the context of the New Testament” (51). Moreover, Greidanus roots his argument in an awareness of the progressiveness of redemptive history: “The arrival of Jesus in the ‘fullness of time’ and God’s final revelation in him calls for reading the Old Testament from the perspective of this final revelation” (52).

Greidanus summarizes the history of preaching Christ from the Old Testament, “[examining] this history primarily in terms of methods of interpretation and to let the original authors speak for themselves as much as feasible” (69). He discusses the influence of allegorical, typological, and fourfold interpretation, analyzing what he perceives to be the strengths and shortcomings of each (70-110). Greidanus spends a great deal of space explaining Luther’s Christological method of interpretation and Calvin’s theocentric method (111-151). Comparing Luther’s approach to Calvin’s Greidanus writes,

In spite of broad agreement, however, Calvin’s hermeneutical approach is quite different from Luther’s. Luther was concerned mainly about the issue of salvation and focused on justification by faith in Christ. Consequently, finding Christ in the Old Testament became Luther’s priority. Calvin, though affirming justification by faith in Christ has a broader viewpoint, namely, the sovereignty and glory of God. The broader perspective enables Calvin to be satisfied with biblical messages about God, God’s redemptive history, and God’s covenant without necessarily focusing these messages on Jesus Christ” (127).

Griedanus concludes his survey with the modern Christological hermeneutics of Charles Spurgeon and Wilhelm Vischer (151-176). Greidanus is critical of Spurgeon for virtually ignoring the cosmic, Kingdom implications of the gospel in his Christocentric approach. He writes,

Although his Metropolitan Tabernacle did start many different philanthropic organizations—from an orphanage to a Pastor’s College and from almshouses to mission halls—it cannot be denied that in his preaching Spurgeon considerably narrowed the scope of the gospel from the immense view of the coming kingdom of God to the salvation of the individual through the substitutionary atonement of Christ” (162).

Following the 1930s, Greidanus summarizes, there was a half-century long “virtual silence on the topic of preaching Christ from the Old Testament” (176).

Chapter 5 transitions to methodological concerns. Greidanus warns against the Christomonism he finds in Wilhelm Vischer and others, maintaining that “the first New Testament principle to remember is that Christ is not to be separated from God but was sent by God, accomplished the work of God, and sought the glory of God” (179). But Greidanus’s primary concern among his contemporary readers is the opposite danger: “preaching the Old Testament in a God-centered way without relating it to God’s ultimate revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ” (182).

The heart of Greidanus’s project is his assertion that “many roads lead from the Old Testament to Christ.” He outlines seven of these roads: redemptive-historical progression, promise-fulfillment, typology, analogy, longitudinal themes, contrast, and New Testament reference (203, 203-224, 234, 269, also “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament,” Bib Sac 161 (2004): 3-13.). According to Greidanus, the interpreter should consider the way of New Testament reference “either last or at the end of the five ways of continuity, just before the way of contrast” so that “the New Testament references can confirm our findings, correct our insights and oversights, or provide new angles” (234).

Greidanus acknowledges that these paths are interdependent and frequently intertwine (203). He labels his approach a “redemptive-historical Christocentric method” that seeks to understand an Old Testament text “first in its own historical-cultural context” and then in the “broad contexts of the whole canon and the whole of redemptive history” (228). Greidanus discusses each of the roads that lead from the Old Testament to Christ and provides examples of how to apply them to particular sections of Scripture. But Greidanus, warns that “our concern should not be whether we have stuck to the precise parameters of a particular way. Our concern should rather be: Does this sermon preach Christ?” (276).

Greidanus lists ten steps for the construction of Christocentric sermons from Old Testament texts (279-280). He provides lengthy examples from Genesis 22, exploring each of the seven ways which could lead to Jesus Christ (279-318). He desires “to clarify further the use of this Christocentric method and to make questioning the text about its witness to Jesus Christ an ingrained habit” (319). Of particular concern to Greidanus is the contrast between the redemptive-historical Christocentric method and an allegorical one. The following are the Old Testament texts Greidanus uses to contrast his Christocentric approach to an allegorical one: Gen 6:9-8:22; Ex 15:22-27, 17:8-16; Num 19; and Josh 2 and 6.

Greidanus has been one of the most prominent advocates of Christ-centered preaching, and Preaching Christ from the Old Testament is his most significant contribution. Brian D. Nolder reviews it enthusiastically: “Sidney Greidanus’ new book may be the most important book to be published on preaching since . . . his last book on preaching” (Review of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, Reformation and Revival Journal 9 (2000): 181-189). The work has garnered much attention; and, while most reviewers are more tempered than Nolder, they almost universally predict its continued influence in the classroom and pulpit. As Donald R. Glenn avers, “It should be recommended reading for all pastors and exegetes working with the Old Testament text and with the New Testament use of the Old” (Bib Sac 160 (2003): 384).


Nevertheless, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament possesses some notable deficiencies. Greidanus’s presentation of seven ways of preaching Christ seems formulaic and does not adequately reflect their dynamic relationship. As David Peterson says, “The problem with Greidanus’ approach is determining which ‘way’ to follow and deciding which line of interpretation should take priority. He does not show the link between these perspectives, other than to say they center on Christ” (Christ and His People in the Book of Isaiah, 19). Goldsworthy echoes the concern:

My one concern with the excellent analysis proposed by Sidney Greidanus is that his proposal of some eight ways of linking the Old and New Testaments can give the impression that these are largely unconnected approaches which must be chosen to suit the particular instances under review (Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Biblical-Theological Foundations and Principles, 248).

Greidanus mentions that the whole Old Testament throbs with a strong eschatological beat, but his method does not consistently point to the overarching goal of the cosmos, the eschatological consummation of the Kingdom of Christ. His Christocentric method is more horizontal than vertical and methodologically does not adequately reckon with the most foundational connection between Old Testament and New, that all things are eschatologically summed up in Christ (Eph 1:10).

Commenting on the dangers of a formulaic approach to preaching Christ Sinclair Ferguson writes,

It is likely to produce preaching that is wooden and insensitive to the rich contours of biblical theology. Its artificiality would lie in our going through the motions of exegeting and expounding the Old Testament and then, remembering the formula, tidying our notes in order to align them with it. The net result over an extended period of time might be akin to that produced by children’s sermons in which the intelligent child soon recognizes that the answer to the minister’s questions will always be one of: 1. God; 2. Jesus; 3. Sin; 4. Bible; 5. Be Good! Of course we need to work with general principles as we develop as preachers; but it is a far greater desideratum that we develop an instinctive mindset and, corresponding to that, such a passion for Jesus Christ himself, that we will find our way to him in a natural and realistic way rather than a merely formulaic one (“Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: Developing a Christ-centered Instinct,” A Proclamation Trust Media Paper 2, 2002, 5).

Although Ferguson is not targeting Greidanus specifically, the criticism applies. The Christ-centered instinct that Ferguson mentions is an excellent description of what one finds in apostolic preaching. Formerly vacillating, fearful disciples did not transform into bold preachers of the truth via technical study of hermeneutical formulae. Rather, after the resurrection, these men began to understand that they were already a part of a new age in Christ, an eschatological kingdom-community, and that “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:2). Their transformation was the result of an instinctual apprehension of a particular hermeneutic. They now read their Bibles with new eyes, believing that all Scripture testified of Christ and his kingdom (Luke 24:27; 44-45; John 5:39; Acts 1:3). In drawing preaching guidelines from Acts David Peterson writes, “So Paul’s preaching of Christ and the facts of the gospel was set within the wider theological framework of proclaiming the kingdom” (Christ and His People in the Book of Isaiah, 24-25).

Greidanus’s ways of preaching Christ from the Old Testament would be more useful if they were driven and connected by a larger Christocentric eschatological vision of the kingdom. As Ferguson remarks, drawing connections to Christ is not enough because “many sermons from the Gospels—where the focus is explicitly on the person of Jesus—never mind the Old Testament, are far from Christ centered.” Further he contends that many faithful Christ-centered preachers could not explain in detail their method “because what they have developed is an instinct; preaching biblically has become their native language. They are able to use the language of biblical theology, without reflecting on what part of speech they are using. (“Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: Developing a Christ-centered Instinct,” A Proclamation Trust Media Paper 2, 2002, 5-6). It is important to note that, like Greidanus, Ferguson does provide a list of principles for preaching Christ in the Old Testament but the difference lies in how these principles are put forth. Ferguson offers these principles as support information for a larger Christocentric Kingdom vision.

Sidney Greidanus’s seven ways for preaching Christ from the Old Testament presupposes a commitment to the unity of the Bible and an awareness of the importance of inner-textual connections. Yet, for Greidanus’s approach to be effective, the preacher must saturate himself with Scripture such that the identification of the various ways to Christ from a passage becomes instinctual. The preacher must not mechanize his preparation so that the various ways become the focal point. In other words, the proper starting point for preparation needs to be Christ and his kingdom, not particular hermeneutical formulae. David Peterson is correct when he critiques Greidanus for an overcomplexity in approach that tends to focus the exegete on method itself. Peterson notes Christ as the starting point in interpretation and application when he writes, “First we must ask how the text applies to the person and work of Christ. Then we can begin to see how it applies to Christians through Christ or because of Christ” (Christ and His People in the Book of Isaiah, 16).

Edmund Clowney explains,

While Greidanus might have drawn together his separate ‘ways’ to advantage, he opens the doors to textual interpretation that focuses on the meaning of the text to Israel, the original hearers. Even this commitment to original meaning cannot be made supreme in application to the Word of God. The prophetic richness of the Old Testament Christology goes beyond any grounding in the address to Israel. There was much that even David the king did not understand in his own writings. The witness of the Scriptures to Christ is the reason they were written—and of him and through him and to him are all things (Rom. 11:36). Greidanus rightly insists on careful literary explanation, but concerning Jesus Christ, as I am sure Greidanus realizes more than I, there is a fullness that can never be comprehended” (Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, 44).

Greidanus lists Christocentric interpretation as a component of the sixth of nine steps for getting from Old Testament text to Christocentric sermon (307). This tight, formulaic approach is at odds with what one finds in apostolic preaching. In Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, Richard Longenecker notes that apostolic sermons do not express a standardized formula; rather, “What these preachers were conscious of, however, was interpreting the Scriptures from a Christocentric perspective, in conformity with the exegetical teaching and example of Jesus, and along christological lines” (Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 86-87).  The preacher’s methodological starting point must not be found in tracing lines to Christ but with Christ himself, and with the biblical presupposition that all reality is summed up in him.

By |February 4th, 2015|Categories: Blog|

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About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today