Friday, May 20, 2011

Allegory and Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

Fantastic piece by Jared Wilson on preaching Christ from the Old Testament. Great stuff here about getting to Christ through the Old Testament stories and symbols while not losing the original context of those real, historical events. Longer post, so I won't link the whole thing, but VERY much worth the whole read.
One of the first things we ought to do is ditch the language of "allegory." What we mean is that Jesus is symbolized by Old Testament types, but while allegory is a form of symbolism, they are not synonymous any more than animal and dog are. We armchair exegetes make this mistake all the time, referring to a literary work as allegorical when it is no such thing. The Narnia stories are the most common modern victim. We tend to do to "allegory" what we've done to the word "ironic." (No, Alanis, it's not ironic that you got a bunch of spoons when all you wanted was a knife. Just unfortunate. And weird.)

According to the classical definition, allegory occurs when the original symbol exists primarily as a vehicle for what is symbolized and maintains little to no intent of its own, and/or when what is tangible symbolizes something intangible. Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory because his characters correspond to intangible virtues like courage and the like. But Aslan is not allegorical because he does not symbolize an intangible virtue like sacrifice or nobility but is meant to be Jesus, albeit in that other world.

We ought not use the language of allegory in referring to the Old Testament for these two main reasons:

1. It diminishes the original text, treating it as merely a vehicle to something real, rather than real itself. There is a danger in that of turning the Old Testament into folk stories, fables, and myths rather than a history of real people doing real things. Even when Paul interprets Sarai and Hagar "allegorically" in Galatians 4, he is not saying Sarai and Hagar weren't real people. He is using them as an illustration. This is typically not what we do when we begin allegorizing the Old Testament stories.

2. It demonstrates a misunderstanding of the way the Old Testament is the shadow of the things to come (Heb. 10:1). If the shadows correspond to Jesus, then they are not allegorical, because Jesus is not an intangible idea but a very tangible Person.

How then ought we to navigate these brilliant shadows and see Christ in them?
Read the rest of the post.

Jared also links to a post from Erik Raymond called "Fight the Text Before You Flee to Christ." Also very good and worth the read.
Our temptation is to jump into the passage with our Christological veins bulging and neglect the original context. We parachute into the passage, take a quick look around, and then search for the quickest vine out of town into the New Testament. And who could criticize this? After all, you are preaching Christ. Right?

Here’s my issue: those passages have a context. They have a context within the overall context of God’s big story. You have real people in real history. You have got to work in and up from the original context faithfully and find the biblical trajectory, as D. A. Carson would say, that points to Jesus. You have got to faithfully fight your way out of the cocoon in order to fly into the garden of the New Testament. Preachers cannot neglect this crucial step.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails