About Colin Adams

Colin Adams is the pastor of Greenview Church in Glasgow, Scotland. (www.greenviewchurch.co.uk). He is married to Nicki and has four children.

Christ in all the Scriptures…but

When it comes to seeing ‘Christ in the Old Testament’, I am definitely not a minimalist. Not just for reasons of principle – but out of my experience – I’m a ‘Christ on every page’ sort of person. I’ve yet to study an Old Testament passage where I couldn’t see a significant connection to Christ. I tend towards the instincts of a Keller than the caution of a Ralph Davis.¹

Yet there are some subtle dangers when it comes to preaching Christ from the Old Testament. 

i) Christ is everywhere in the Old Testament but he’s also the promised one.

God the Son was present in all the history of redemption (John 8:56-57, Hebrews 11:26, Jude 5). He was active in creation, in the exodus and in the time of Israel’s exile. Yet the Old Testament predominantly presents God the Son as the promised one (Genesis 3:15, 49:8-12, Numbers 24:17, 2 Samuel 7). Scripture itself encourages us to see God the Son as anticipated by the Old Covenant. His appearance in the New Covenant era is climactic (Galatians 4:4, 1 John 3:8, Hebrews 1:1-2). Christ is consistently revealed in the Bible, but also increasingly revealed. So don’t rush too quickly from the Old to the New. Don’t imply that it would always have been obvious to Jewish saints that what was happening to them, what they saw and heard, spoke of Christ. Linger for a while in the Hebrew text where things start true but sometimes vague. Then take things forward from the early dawn to the noon-day sun.

ii) Christ is everywhere in the Old Testament but don’t neglect the Trinity.

Sometimes evangelical preachers sound more like Modalists than Trinitarians. When we preach the Old Testament – and even when we bring its teaching forward to the age of fulfilment – we should note that it reveals not just the Son, but the Godhead. Christian writers in recent years have pointed out the dangers of an exclusive focus on the Son. We do not honour Christ when we squeeze the Father and Spirit out of our preaching. Some excellent books have emerged on this topic of lately – including: The Deep Things of God (Sanders), The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son and Spirit (Reeves) and Delighting in the Trinity (Chester).

iii) Christ is everywhere in the Old Testament but there are moral examples too.

Preaching that is heavy on ‘to do’ has been given a bad wrap in some circles.² Detached from Christ, such preaching leads to the hubris of self-help or the despair of self examination. But ‘preaching the law’ so to speak (when properly done) can both lead us to Christ and be a response to his grace. Further, the New Testament sometimes uses the Old Testament to either warn us of sin or give an example of godliness (1 Corinthians 10:1, James 5:17, Hebrews 11, 12:1).

iv) Christ is everywhere in the Old Testament but beware of artificial links.

The five stones that David picked up to slay Goliath do not represent the five books of the Pentateuch… which represent the law that is fulfilled in Christ…which then matches up with the five teaching blocks that are found in Matthew’s gospel. This is an extreme example, but it highlights the dangers of allegorizing and making unlikely links. Only by steeping ourselves in Scripture will we develop a greater instinct for what is a legitimate connection and what is just arbitrary and fanciful.

 


¹ I hasten to add that Dale Ralph Davis is something of a genius. I have gleaned so much from him in understanding OT narrative. However he is undoubtedly cautious: “I am convinced that I do not honour Christ by forcing him into a text where he is not.” (p 138, Word became fresh)

² “The word moralising can be used like a flame-thrower to intimidate people, and it can be used as damagingly. In every real preacher there is an instinct to use the Old Testament in an exemplary way, and I would encourage you to follow this instinct uninhibitedly and unapologetically – in the context, of course, of the history of redemption, linking it to Christ (his life, his cross, his resurrection, his ascension, his Lordship, the coming of his Spirit). This exemplary preaching, for want of a better word, has always been a mark of relevant, searching, applied preaching, and we need not be intimidated away from it as there is ample New Testament warrant for it.” (Ted Donnelly, https://banneroftruth.org/uk/resources/articles/2014/six-principles-preaching-christ-old-testament/)

Where is Christ in the Old Testament?

In at least 7 places: God, sin, offices, events, prophecies, themes and symbols/memorials.

God – We often fail to read the Old Testament in a Trinitarian way. Every reference to Yahweh (“LORD”) – unless we are told otherwise – speaks of the triune God. This means the divine attributes that emerge from the passage can be understood to apply to Jesus Christ. The LORD who creates, speaks, redeems and judges is Lord Jesus Christ.

Sin. Sometimes an Old Testament text is awash with depravity. It is not a misstep to see Christ as the antithesis to this. The saviour from such sin – or the judge if we don’t repent – is Christ.

Offices. This is a biggie. I think we find this almost everywhere in the Old Testament. Many “offices” or roles are fulfilled in Christ, positively or negatively. The prophets, priests and kings are the obvious ones, but don’t fail to notice how a patriarch, one of the judges or even “God’s son” Israel might point us to Christ. Remember too that David’s Psalms are much the richer when we consider that their author is the LORD’s anointed.

Events. Unfolding biblical events often reveal the gospel. This is obvious in major events like the flood, exodus and exile. Any event that illustrates salvation and judgement bring us to those main train-tracks that run all the way to the cross and the new creation. But even smaller events can reveal the character and work of Christ: the LORD passing between the animal pieces (Genesis 15), Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Genesis 28) or Joseph’s rejection of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39) are all Christ-revealing occasions.

Prophecies. This is the most obvious link. Sometimes an Old Testament passage is said by the New Testament to be directly fulfilled in Christ (eg. Psalm 22:1, Micah 5:2).

Themes. For want of a better word, there are some themes that run through the whole of Scripture. Examples: creation, covenant, glory, temple, presence, weakness, resurrection, persecution, cosmic conflict, kingdom, inheritance. These can all be applied in a Christ-centred way.

Objects/memorials. Places that are “named”, altars that are given a title, and even objects in the text can point us to Christ. Examples of objects include: the ark of the covenant, Aaron’s staff, the rock in the wilderness that brought forth water, the manna from heaven.

Postscript: This list is currently hanging on my wall as a little prompt in my preparation. Though I’ve put it in my own words I am hugely indebted to the likes of Clowney, Carson, Keller and Millar/Campbell for helping me see these connections.

Where is Christ in the Old Testament?

In at least 7 places: God, sin, offices, events, prophecies, themes and symbols/memorials.

God – We often fail to read the Old Testament in a Trinitarian way. Every reference to Yahweh (“LORD”) – unless we are told otherwise – speaks of the triune God. This means the divine attributes that emerge from the passage can be understood to apply to Jesus Christ. The LORD who creates, speaks, redeems and judges is Lord Jesus Christ.

Sin. Sometimes an Old Testament text is awash with depravity. It is not a misstep to see Christ as the antithesis to this. The saviour from such sin – or the judge if we don’t repent – is Christ.

Offices. This is a biggie. I think we find this almost everywhere in the Old Testament. Many “offices” or roles are fulfilled in Christ, positively or negatively. The prophets, priests and kings are the obvious ones, but don’t fail to notice how a patriarch, one of the judges or even “God’s son” (Israel) might point us to Christ. Remember too that David’s Psalms are much the richer when we consider that their author is the LORD’s anointed.

Events. Unfolding biblical events often reveal the gospel. This is obvious in major events like the flood, exodus and exile. Any event that illustrates salvation and judgement bring us to those main train-tracks that run all the way to the cross and the new creation. But even smaller events can reveal the character and work of Christ: the LORD passing between the animal pieces (Genesis 15), Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Genesis 28) or Joseph’s rejection of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39) are all Christ-revealing occasions.

Prophecies. This is the most obvious link. Sometimes an Old Testament passage is said by the New Testament to be directly fulfilled in Christ (eg. Psalm 22:1, Micah 5:2).

Themes. For want of a better word, there are some themes that run through the whole of Scripture. Examples: creation, covenant, glory, temple, presence, weakness, resurrection, persecution, cosmic conflict, kingdom, inheritance. These can all be applied in a Christ-centred way.

Objects/memorials. Places that are “named”, altars that are given a title, and even objects in the text can point us to Christ. Examples of objects include: the ark of the covenant, Aaron’s staff, the rock in the wilderness that brought forth water, the manna from heaven.

Postscript: This list is currently hanging on my wall as a little prompt in my preparation. Though I’ve put it in my own words I am hugely indebted to the likes of Clowney, Carson, Keller and Millar/Campbell for helping me see these connections.

FRANKIN GRAHAM EVENT & THE GLASGOW HYDRO ARENA

(This is a letter I happily put my name to a few days ago. It has been sent to MSPs, local councillors and newspapers)

4 February 2020

The cancellation by the SSE Hydro in Glasgow of the Franklin Graham event is a deeply disturbing decision that is antithetical to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and to true democratic values.  

Franklin Graham is being discriminated against for having on occasions expressed mainstream Judaeo-Christian views on sexuality. His views in this area are not religiously extreme, indeed they simply reflect the historic and orthodox teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and countless other denominational groups. Like all mainstream Christian leaders Franklin Graham believes that every human being is a precious soul made in the image of God, and thus should be loved and treated with respect accordingly.

The planned event is one in a rich tradition of such Christian activity going back centuries in both Glasgow and the country at large. As Rev. Graham has expressed himself his mission is not political but to make known the good news about Jesus Christ to every person regardless of their sexuality or any other characteristic.

As the leaders representing evangelical churches in the West of Scotland Gospel Partnership, we want to express our consternation and deep-seated fears at this discriminatory act against a faith group that has faithfully served the civic good of our city for generations.   

Christians disagree about many things, but Christians all agree that respect for religious freedom and freedom of speech is fundamental to a free society. Therefore, we ask that the SSE Hydro management, and those political leaders who have influence in such matters, reverse this decision.

A failure to do so would be an ominous move towards a less free society and one that will in time have serious repercussions for the civic liberties of all.

On behalf the West of Scotland Gospel Partnership,

Rev. Colin Adams (Greenview Church, Glasgow)

Rev. Dr William Philip (The Tron Church, Glasgow)

Rev. Alan McKnight (Harper Church, Glasgow)

Rev. John MacKinnon (Calderwood Baptist Church, East Kilbride)

Rev. Dr Andrew Gemmill (Cornhill Training Scotland)

Rev. Craig Dyer (Christianity Explored Ministries)

Rev. Andrew Hunter (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches).

Something You Could Pray For Preachers

Heavenly Father,

I pray for those who preach your Word regularly. Thank you for calling them to yourself and by your mercy giving them this ministry.

Enable them to live with Christ-like integrity, so that their conduct doesn’t make a mockery of the things they preach. Help them set an example in every respect: in the words they say, the actions they choose, the love the show, the purity they display.

Grant them the sure conviction that all of the Scriptures are God-breathed and useful. Guard them from pride on the one hand and complacency on the other. May they fan their gift into flame, diligently using it and not neglecting it.

In the study, inspire them to labour. Open their eyes to see those very wonderful things that are in your Word. Give them clarity of thought that will help them understand both the burden of the message and how to convey it.

When they come to preach, give them boldness. May they not cower before men but be as fearless as untamed lions. Help them not to rely on eloquence but to lean on your Word and Spirit as their true wisdom and power.

Would all their speech in the pulpit be seasoned with salt. May they be like Christ and his apostles that followed: feeding the flock, building up the church and doing the work of the evangelist.

May they preach the Word, nothing else! May they exalt Christ, not themselves!

I ask all these things for the glory of your name and the extension of your kingdom.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

The Eleven Commandments For Long Winded Preachers

Eleven… because these are not divinely inspired, but I hope they point in the general direction of wisdom.

  1. Thou shalt not be uncertain about the burden of your message. Sermons run over when the preacher doesn’t know what the sermon is about. What is the thrust of the message? Can you summarise the message in 15 words or less? If not, then you’ve probably got a commentary not a sermon.
  2. Thou shalt not be overly long in your introductions. This is a frequent flaw in many preachers: we take too long to really get started. I agree with the wisdom that suggests most intros should be a paragraph or two, tops. So cut down the details of that opening illustration. Don’t spend too long in recapping the book. If you’re taking 15 minutes on sermon-intros, don’t wonder where all your time is going!
  3. Thou shalt not be overly repetitive. Since preaching is oral communication, it demands a degree of repetition. The congregation aren’t reading a book. They cannot return to that previous paragraph and revisit what was just said. Clear, compelling preaching will often re-iterate key ideas and phrases. The danger is in overdoing it. At some point repetition becomes tedious and starts to insult the intelligence of the congregation.
  4. Thou shalt not go off piste (and if you do… factor that in). Some preacher’s manuscripts hardly resemble the sermon they preach. The glasses come off, the pulpit is departed and off they go. If this is part of our preaching DNA, then fair enough; but it is not conducive to timeliness. So if you are ‘prone to wander’ factor that extra 20 percent into your word count.
  5. Thou shalt not ignore the clock. This can be all too easy, especially if (as in my church) the clock is on the side wall! If time is of the essence, consider putting your watch on the pulpit. Recently when I was under particular time-pressure I actually had a stop watch running in front of me. It helped.
  6. Thou shalt not become besotted with one particular idea. This is a slightly controversial one, but a Bible teachers’ excitement about a textual discovery can cause them to camp on a particular idea. We especially need to be wary that it isn’t just a hobby horse we’re riding. Ten minutes of a sermon gallops away when we’re on the back of one of those!
  7. Thou shalt not give all the detail (but a few “deep dives” are actually helpful). Some preachers love to say everything about everything. Worse, they feel they are not properly teaching the text unless they discuss, quite exhaustively, every phrase and word. But let’s be clear about this. Even if we preached for an hour, we would only scratch the surface of any text. That being said, I would personally recommend a few “deep dives” here and there in every sermon. Why not pick two or three things in the sermon that you’ll go into more detail about? Detail makes a sermon engaging.
  8. Thou shalt not do subpoints.
  9. Thou shalt not neglect the practice of summarising. This is the key to preaching more briefly. Learn the art of summing up and speaking in broader strokes.
  10. Thou shalt not be overly wordy. This is similar to the previous point but here I am emphasising the discipline of reducing the number of words we use in sentences. I’m reminded of the counsel of JC Ryle who said “preach as though you have asthma.” Ie. keep the sentences short.
  11. Thou shalt not fail to land the sermon on the first attempt. This is not an encouragement to rush the ending. Not a few sermons suffer from the jolt of an unexpected landing. When we ‘bring the sermon in’, there should be a moderately paced descent, followed by a definitive landing. If knowing how we’ll begin is vital, perhaps as important is knowing how we’ll conclude. Be it with a poigniant question, a powerful story, or a penetrating last line, know where you’re setting things down.

Deciding The Diet

Devising a church’s yearly preaching schedule is deceptively tricky and invariably daunting. I have learned, by painful experience I’ll add, that I must start cogitating by the start of September at least. The process of pondering continues, on and off, till early December; at which point the hard thinking, long-praying and mutual conversing will hopefully have given birth to like a plan.

Most of this creative process happens somewhat intuitively. But if I sit down to think about it, the procedure isn’t nearly as random as it first may seem. A handful of important factors carry great weight in the ‘calls’ that are made.

History. I start with the obvious question: ‘what has been preached recently’? In fact, we are even more forensic than this in our church. Thanks to the record keeping of an assiduous elder, we have kept accurate sermon records for the last twenty years. There is also another spreadsheet that is constantly updated: where we tick off, systematically, all 66 books of Holy writ. Quite recently we finished a ’round’ of the New Testament, and are down to a handful of books in the Old. We then simply restart the cycle over again. What has ‘yet to be preached’ doesn’t always dictate our choices, but we take seriously a commitment to teaching Scripture from cover to cover.

Genre. Something I nabbed from Mark Dever (about a decade ago) was the idea of ‘rotating’ through biblical genres. Though we don’t adhere to a strict order, we are cognisant of the need to balance the literature types we are covering. In 2020, for example, we are covering the genres of narrative, gospel, wisdom and apocalyptic.

Old and New. By conviction and experience I am committed to the joyful task of preaching the Old Testament. We have one Bible, not two. The Old is as full of Christ as the New, even if there is a certain subtlety at times to the pre-incarnate revelation. We will almost always try to balance our diet of Old and New throughout the year.

Desire. Needless to say, this is subjective… but there is the matter of what I want to preach. In the face of competing options I will often just opt for the book that most interests me. It might be a book I’ve never preached on before, a book I feel I don’t much understand, or it may be something that has piqued my interest in the regular round of Bible readings.

Relevance. Though I don’t put a great amount of stock in this, there is at least some thought given to the timeliness of a book. I won’t go overboard with this consideration, since I’m convinced that all Scripture is relevant all the time. Sometimes the things we think are relevant cause us to neglect other truths that we need just as much. I’ve also discovered that God by his Spirit is quite able to create a certain “timeliness” as to when a certain passage “happens” to be preached.

Space. There is sometimes the sheer practical issue of how many sermon slots are available in the calendar. If I’m sitting with 8 slots, I can’t preach that 20 week series that I’m desperate to unfold. It will need to wait till another year.

2020 Foresight

One of my admittedly few goals for 2020 (I’m not a big resolutions guy, but that’s another story) is to blog a fair bit more. Over the past three months, in a number of unsolicited conversations with pastors, I have been reminded of the blog and urged strongly to get myself writing more frequently.

Feeling suitably chastised, here I am.

A quirky problem I have is that I prefer to produce more substantial posts. But in the busyness of life and ministry, this can lead, unsurprisingly, to an inevitable outcome: not much blogging. So my thought this year is to produce briefer, less well crafted pieces, that will nonetheless seek to get the point across.

Some topics of interest to me just now include :

  • the practicalities of preaching Christ in every sermon
  • improving my interpretation and application of narratives
  • how to address controversial matters in sermons
  • the place of passion and how to cultivate it authentically
  • moving our sermons from Sunday only events to pervading the church week
  • dealing with distractions in the moment of preaching.

I’d love to hear (either in the comments or by personal dm) what topics you’d like to see me blog about in 2020?

What are we all wrestling with in our preaching at the moment?

That Might Preach, But…

I once preached a sermon on the Magi where I dazzled the congregation. I walked them through the Magi’s gifts and explained their deeper meaning. Gold, of course, represented Jesus’ royalty. Incense his deity; and myrrh the looming spectre of his death.

It ‘preached’ pretty well but I remember feeling uneasy. Was this really what I should have been preaching from that text?

Many Christmas puddings later I now have an inkling why I felt that way. The message was exegetically unstable. Or put another way: I am now far less certain that Matthew or the Holy Spirit intended us to see these deeper meanings.

In his writings on Matthew, Don Carson expressed the same view with more dogmatism:

Commentators old and modern have found symbolic value in the three gifts… This interpretation demands too much insight from the Magi. The three gifts were simply expensive and not uncommon presents and may have helped finance the trip to Egypt.

Oh well, then.

(cue sound of sermon notes being scrumpled)

I strongly suspect that Carson is right, but what I’m really interested in is a wider problem. In our desire to make Scripture ‘preachable’ we import uncertain meanings into the text, while ignoring glorious truths that are actually there.

Take the Magi and Matthew 2 for instance. In this famous Christmas passage there are least six emphases nearer to the forefront of Matthew’s mind.

1.Promises of the coming Davidic King are now being fulfilled. Note the significance of Jesus’ birthplace and the allusion to a messianic prophecy (Numbers 24).

2. The contrast between Jewish and pagan responses to Christ’s birth. There is hostility and apathy on the one hand; fascination and worship on the other.

3. Gentile inclusion in the promises of God. This is also suggested in the genealogy of chapter 1 and is a concluding emphasis in Matthew’s gospel (go make disciples of all nations).

4. The Messiah is worshiped. The pagans were unlikely to have viewed Jesus as divine, but they “worshiped better than they knew.” (Carson)

5. There is an echo of Pharaoh’s attempt in Exodus to destroy Hebrew male children and the line of promise. There is, like that occasion, divine preservation. But the Bethlehem persecution anticipates the later plot to kill Jesus as a man.

6. A new exodus is underway. The star goes before the Magi like the cloud went before the Israelites. Jesus will be taken to Egypt like Joseph was in the book of Genesis. He will come out of Egypt, go through water, endure a wilderness before coming to a mountain (Matthew 5).

We’ve only scratched the surface of the Magi and Matthew 2. But the point I wanted to make has hopefully been demonstrated. In stressing ideas that are tenuous at best, we are in danger of missing out on meanings that are there.

We must preach the Word, not conjecture. And there’s no holiday from that, even at Christmas.

So What? A Seminar On Application (MP3)

Here is the recent seminar I ran on application with some of the guys at church. Listen or download here.

Some of what we covered:

  • 1:07 – Few helps in application
  • 3:20 – No conscious method
  • 5:39 – Application is a ‘confrontational act’
  • 7:33 – Why application is essential (a reflection on 2 Timothy 3:15-17 – what has God designed the Bible to do?)
  • 12:42 – A brief analysis of Jonty Allcock’s introduction to Luke 5:1-11 (EMA 2016).
  • 15:02 – The “explanation focused” sermon vs the “application focused” sermon.
  • 21:23 – Principle 1: The better the interpretation, the better the application
  • 27:11 – Principle 2: Apply to the whole person.
  • 29:32 – Principle 3: Apply to a wide range of people and situations (Application grid/ don’t just preach to yourself).
  • 32:30 – Principle 4: Know the difference between a clear principle and a general ideal.
  • 35:35 – Principle 5: Preach against your natural tendency.
  • 37: 15 – Quick fire suggestions (Put application into your sermon headings / Frontload the application / Consider ‘minor aps’/ Illustrations can be the application/ Questions are powerful / Leave your notes / Listen to those who apply well).