Cover Image: Christ and His People in the Book of Isaiah

Christ and His People in the Book of Isaiah

David Peterson (IVP, 2003)

Blurb Review by Andrew Upton

Review by Andrew Upton

How can the preacher take a Christ-centred approach to the interpretation of the Old Testament? What is valid, what is not valid? Rather than simply telling us, David Peterson has set out in this short book "to offer a model of how (he) would approach a critical part of Isaiah's prophecy" and how he would preach it "as the living word of God to a Christian congregation, while taking proper account of the original context in which the material was first delivered" (7). So this is not mere theory. The book came out of a series of talks in the chapel of Oak Hill Theological College, London and were then subsequently preached in ordinary church situations. You would be wrong however to think that this book is merely a transcript of those sermons. Peterson's aim is "to bridge the gap between commentaries, books about preaching and sermons" (8).

The first chapter, 'Preaching Christ from the Old Testament', is the key to the book. In it, Peterson briefly highlights the problems and critiques warm thoughts and allegorical interpretations, doctrinal theses and Jewish sermons. What he offers instead is a summary of the approaches of Sidney Greidanus and Graeme Goldsworthy. Greidanus "suggests a multiplex, rather than a single method of discerning the Christian significance of Old Testament texts" (13), suggesting seven ways in which Christ can be preached from the Old Testament. Each of these is helpfully listed and then summarised. Goldsworthy's approach is to speak "of different 'epochs' in the progress of salvation history . . . . (he) expounds a typology based on the principle that 'people, events and institutions in the Old Testament correspond to, and foreshadow, other people, events or institutions that come later'" (16). Peterson clearly favours Goldsworthy's approach - "as I've tested various options suggested by Greidanus, I have found myself finally guided by the gospel-driven approach of Goldsworthy" (19). Certainly the strength of this book is that Goldsworthy's approach is demonstrated not just in a chapter here and a chapter there but systematically throughout a section. So why is Greidanus not favoured? It is true that he "offers a more complex and eclectic approach than Goldsworthy, opening up some exciting and varied lines of interpretation" (19). The problem, Peterson suggests, is that Greidanus can be bewildering. You find yourself at a crossroads with a lots of possible paths but uncertain which to take. He also feels that Greidanus is "over-cautious in the matter of typology" (19).

Yet for all that, Greidanus is not totally ignored in the exposition that follows. It feels as if Peterson uses Goldsworthy as his main chisel. It is Goldsworthy's approach that is allowed to give the dominant shape to the passage. Greidanus is the smaller chisel that helps to give the detail and fine texture.

So for example, Peterson refers to Greidanus' 'way of NT references' (35) and by looking at John 12:41 we discover that Isaiah saw Christ's glory in the temple. In assessing Isaiah 6, Peterson uses Greidanus; 'longitudinal theme' to see that 'God has always used his word to achieve his purposes of judgment and salvation.' Later, Peterson looks at Greidanus' 'way of analogy' to see 'the continuity and progression in God's dealings with Israel and, through Christ, with the church' (66)

In Peterson's hands, Goldsworthy and Greidanus make a good combination. He manages to synthesise these two approaches rather well and explain his working as he goes along.

The first chapter continues with an introduction to Isaiah 6-12 and, as you would expect, these chapters are put in their full Biblical context. Peterson is convinced that "systematic exposition of biblical passages is the best way to preach Scripture in the church today" (23) He demonstrates from Acts that Paul's teaching involved 'proclaiming the kingdom' (Acts 15:25) and that is what he then seeks to do in the following eight chapters.

Each exposition from Isaiah is really a stripped down sermon. There is an introduction which is always contemporary and thought provoking. The section of Scripture is divided into main points, with each point given a title. The text is first explained and several commentaries are often referred to including Young, Oswalt, Motyer, Webb and Goldingay. Difficulties are careful explained. In particular, Peterson is always asking what the text meant to the original hearers. A good example of that is found in chapter 7 where the term Immanuel is considered to those who first heard it. Having determined what the text means, Peterson then seeks to apply each section. Here he is not merely seeking to understand the text but also to challenge popular ways of approaching it. This means that (by his own admission) Peterson has "not always taken application as far as (he) might in addressing a congregation" (8).

Despite this frustration, the book is invaluable for anyone wanting to preach a series or lead Bible studies on these passages. Although the temptation to 'lift' material for a sermon will be great, its strength is in helping you to see how the passage proclaims the Kingdom of God and preaches Christ. In that, it outstrips any commentary. You will however want to think of titles that are perhaps a bit more homiletical, and you might want to split the passage up in a different way. Application needs to be closer and made more real. These are minor criticisms. Peterson models for us what it means to preach Christ from the whole Bible.

Review by Andrew Upton

Andrew is Pastor of Knighton Evangelical Free Church in Leicester.

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