David Murray is a prof at Puritan Reformed Seminary who normally blogs at Head, Heart, Hands–a blog I often read and frequently recommend. Yesterday though he posted at Ligonier’s blog, and he gave seven reasons why preachers neglect the OT. Number four on his list was
…cue ominous music…
Now I don’t want to be a knee-jerk dispensationalist-blogger and over-react to a passing comment with undue defense or anything, but I couldn’t help but notice that dispensationalism appeared on his list with some uncouth company. In the case of the missing OT, here are Murray’s suspects, and you should read this list while humming the Sesame Street song, One of these things is not Like the Other:
- Bad Examples
- Christ-less preaching
First, let me say that I love Ligonier’s blog, even though it totally cheats by not having comments. But blogging etiquette aside, that list requires some closer examination. Let’s see…liberalism, ignorance, irrelevance, laziness, Christ-lessness…oh, and dispensationalism.
I’m sure Murray didn’t mean any harm by that. I’m sure he didn’t mean that dispensationalism is at all like liberalism, ignorance, or irrelevance. But putting it in a line-up fitting the usual suspects is not really helpful—and this list does read like its from The Usual Suspects: after all, (minus one, of course) this could pretty much be the same round-up for any of the church’s failings. Liberal denominations? Check (and they weren’t even dispensational, but that’s for another time). The emergent church? Check. How about the missional madness wave sweeping over millennial’s Christianity? Also check. Charismatic chaos? Well, yeah.
But my big beef with the post was that it flies in the face of my own experience (which I’m allowed to use—it may be lazy but if Murray can use anecdotal evidence for the demise of OT preaching, then certainly mine is also admissible).
I got saved in a church pastored by a Dallas Seminary grad. He was preaching from 1 Samuel at the time. I then went to a Calvary Chapel where, as part of their philosophy of ministry, half of the preaching was from the OT. Granted the pastor preached about 4-5 chapters per sermon, but half of his sermons were from the OT. Say what you will about the Calvary Chapel movement, at least they preach the OT.
Then I went to seminary, where I fell in love with the OT. In my first semester I took OT survey and learned what the OT was all about. I learned that Israel is not equal and congruent to the church, and that there were people in the OT who were God’s people, and they had law that was God’s law, and they had kings who were God’s kings. They had prophets sent by God to give them messages about how the kings were messing up God’s law and ruining God’s people, but that he was going to use that to lead the world to the Messiah.
I started preaching Jeremiah at any opportunity. I came home for Christmas, and preached Christmas messages from Jeremiah. I taught one Bible study where the pastor asked me a question that has always stuck with me: “Why is it that first semester students from The Master’s Seminary always want to preach the OT?” My answer: BECAUSE WE FINALLY UNDERSTAND WHY ITS THERE!
You see, dispensationalism turned on the lights. Even though I didn’t even know the word dispensationalism at the time, I learned that the people in the OT were real. Goliath was real, and he was not a metaphor for sin. Israel was real, and they were not a metaphor for the church. In fact, dispensationalism is what made me love the OT, and I carry it to this day. This is why at the church I pastor, I preach from the New Testament for 2 months, then I preach from the OT for a month. Wash, rinse, repeat.
So back to Murray’s point. Is there a dearth of OT preaching? Is it possible that this is true not of dispensational churches, but of the more covenantal ones? It makes just as much sense to blame Driscoll’s series through The Song of Solomon for the death of any semblance of OT preaching as it does to blame dispensationalism.
Regardless, Murray explained that dispensationalism is to blame because: “Although unintended, the dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the Church, and of the individual Christian.”
Which raises this question: Does Murray not see Scripture broken up into different eras? To use the topic at hand, does he see a difference between the OT and the NT? Would he call those different eras? Are Levites still priests, or has something changed? Its kind of funny to me that he thinks dipspensationalists are responsible for seeing a difference between the OT and the NT. Maybe it has more to do with the advent of Christ? Maybe its just because Hebrew is harder to learn than Greek?
I’ll have to take Murray’s word that the waning of OT preaching is real, but it has not been my experience. Even having spent twelve years at John MacArthur’s church, I often heard sermons from the OT. MacArthur frequently says he preaches primarily from the NT because he is a New Covenant minister, yet he has preached through Daniel, Zechariah, Genesis 1-11, much of Psalms, most of Isaiah, and so on. I don’t want to mess up anyone’s narrative, but it seems like dispensational preachers can almost put too much of a focus on the OT.
Now that is a charge that is worth exploring.
I want to reiterate that while I don’t know Professor Murray personally, I have only heard good things about him. It would be a shame if anyone read this as an attack on him. Hardly! I respect him, and am especially thankful for his blog, even when we disagree.