alien righteousness

Taken from T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers.

“When Jesus talks with Peter about whether Peter loves him, he replies: “Feed my lambs…. Tend my sheep…. Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Contextually, I would argue that these are not three different things, but one thing stated in three ways (not that the verb “feed” has both “lambs” and “sheep” as its direct objects, and both verbs, “feed” and “tends” have “sheep” as their object).  That is, the particular “tending” referred to here is the pastoral care that ensures that the flock is fed.  Such nourishment and spiritual sustenance, I would argue, comes from proclaming the  fitness and competence of Christ in his mediatorial work.  When we “feed” God’s flock, we feed their faith.  We nourish the part of them that has the need and capacity to rest on Christ and have confidence in his work of redemption.

This was also John Calvin’s view.  Ordinarily, the relation of Word and sacrament is very strong for Calvin.  Each complements the other and aids the other in fufilling its proper task.  “For we ought to understand the word not as one whispered without meaning and without faith, a mere noise, like a magic incantation, which has the force to consecrate the element.  Rather, it should, when preached, make us understand what the visible sign means.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. McNeill, trans. For Lewis Battles, 4.14.4).  But how can the preaching help us understand what baptism or the Lord’s Supper means, unless the preaching is essentially and profoundly Christological?  As Wallace observes on the above referenced section of Calvin’s Insitutes: “In the use of the sacraments it is of the utmost importance not only that the Word be given but that those who participate attend first to the Word and then relate the sacramental action to the Word that has been spoken, otherwise the sacraments will lose their value.”  Calvin even believed that the entire Old Testament Scriptures were a foreshadowing of Christ.  Unlike so many (culture warrior?) minister today, who view Israel as a type or example of properly ordered societies or as an example of our own trials, Calvin viewed Israel as a type of Christ.  As Wallace summarized Calvin’s view: “The sufferings of the faithful in Israel are adumbrations of the sufferings of Christ.”  And it need hardly be said that this was Martin Luther’s view before Calvin.  Every Lutheran sermon has two basic parts: law and gospel.  In the first, God’s demand on his creature is articulated; and in the second, God’s provision in Christ for the failure to keep his demand is presented.  Thus, every rightly ordered Lutheran sermon has always presented Christ, as the gracious Redeember of the guilty.

Such Christological preaching feeds the soul and builds faith.  Faith is not built by preaching introspectively (constantly challenging people to question whether they have faith); faith is not built by preaching moralistically (which has exactly the opposite effect of focusing attention on the self rather than on Christ, in whom our faith is placed); faith is not built by joining the culture wars and taking potshots at what is wrong with our culture.  Faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ.” (74-76)

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