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Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes – A Review by Douglas Kuiper

Category Book Reviews
Date January 21, 2011

Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Sermons

Sidney Greidanus
Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010
xvii + 340 pages, softcover, $26.00
ISBN: 978 0 80286 535 9

This is the third ‘Preaching Christ’ book written by Sidney Greidanus, professor emeritus of preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary. His other works are entitled Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method and Preaching Christ from Genesis: Foundations for Expository Sermons.

Summary

In his introductory chapter, Greidanus treats the value of preaching from Ecclesiastes; the difficulty in interpreting this book (in which he treats the customary introductory matters of the book’s genre, author, recipients, date, purpose, and structure); and the difficulty of preaching from this book (selecting a text, formulating one theme for that text, and preaching Christ from the book).

Greidanus divides the book of Ecclesiastes into fifteen sermon texts, treating one each in chapters 2 through 16. In each, he notes the text’s context, literary features, structure, theocentric interpretation, and theme and goal. Then, helping the reader move from exegesis to sermon, he suggests ways in which the preacher could preach Christ from the text, sets forth a sermon theme and goal, and gives a sermon exposition.

The longest sections in each chapter are usually the sermon exposition, which often runs eight to twelve pages, and the section regarding preaching Christ.

Already in the introductory chapter, Greidanus sets forth various ways in which one might preach Christ from Ecclesiastes, which he terms 1) redemptive-historical progression, 2) promise-fulfillment, 3) typology, 4) analogy, 5) longitudinal themes, New Testament references, and contrast. That the promise-fulfillment approach will not work for any text in the book, he notes immediately. Using the six other approaches, he investigates how the preacher could preach Christ from each text. He usually finds more than one possible way to preach Christ from each text, and at the same time shows why one or more of the six possible ways will not work for that particular text. Not to be overlooked is the fact that Greidanus rejects any attempt to preach Christ by allegory.

Four appendices, a select bibliography, and four indexes conclude the book. The appendices treat 1) ten steps from text to sermon, 2) an expository sermon model, 3) a meditation on Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, and 4) a sermon on Ecclesiastes 9:1-12.

Value

For any preacher desiring to preach on the book of Ecclesiastes, this book has value.

Some value might be found in Greidanus’ exegesis of each text. By treating the context, literary features, and structure of each text, and by providing an exposition of each text, Greidanus does provide exegetical helps. Whether or not the exegesis is in all instances accurate, I leave the reader to judge for himself. But this exegesis is basic, both because of the length of the text selections, and because of the nature of the book itself. The preacher would certainly want to do more exegetical work than this book does for him.

Especially, the value of the book is to help the preacher get from exegesis to sermon, and to preach Christ from the book. In light of the indisputable fact that the book of Ecclesiastes is more difficult than others from which to preach, and especially on which to preach a series, this book is an invaluable tool.

Weaknesses

Limiting the value, however, are the weaknesses of this book.

First, the fifteen texts into which Greidanus divides the book are simply too long to be manageable. Greidanus argues that each text should be a literary unit (23). Without question, each text should be a unit, and each text will consist of several verses “” but if treating each text as a literary unit means that some texts are a whole chapter long or even longer, then the preacher ought to take smaller units as his text. The challenges of preaching on this book notwithstanding, the preacher ought seriously to consider preaching more than 15 sermons to do justice to this book.

Yet, to divide Ecclesiastes into other texts is to lessen the value of Greidanus’ book. The preacher could still learn from and apply the guidelines regarding preaching Christ, but would find Greidanus’ textual theme and sermon exposition to be only partially helpful.

Second, the reader must read Greidanus’ introductory remarks with discernment. Greidanus denies that Solomon was the inspired writer of Ecclesiastes, and he conjectures that the book was written during the intertestamentary period. That Solomon is the inspired writer is a fixed point in my mind. Without actually naming the writer, the book gives some biographical information about him: he was the son of David, he was king in Jerusalem, and he was king over Israel (Eccles. 1:1, 12). This data is sufficient to dispute Greidanus’ theory that the book was written during the intertestamentary period. No son of David sat on the throne in Jerusalem during that time. In fact, Solomon is the only one who was at the same time the son of David, and king over Israel in Jerusalem; after the division of the kingdom, David’s royal sons reigned only over Judah in Jerusalem. Greidanus illustrates the error of his own position when he says that in 1:12-2:26, the Teacher ‘pretends to be Solomon in order to give his important message greater impact’ (59).

Third, in one crucial respect the book fails to achieve its own stated purpose, that of helping the preacher preach Christ from this book. Following Greidanus’ approach, one preaches Christ by finding how Christ taught the same truths as are set forth in Ecclesiastes “” how the Old Testament teacher taught the same as the Great Prophet himself. This is to bring Christ into the sermon, but is not the same as preaching Christ as crucified and risen Saviour.

To preach Christ from Ecclesiastes, in addition to all that Greidanus writes, is to note from the book our need for Christ: Ecclesiastes exposes the folly of man by nature as he strives to serve himself by pursuing earthly goals and pleasures. To see the vanity of this, we need Christ to give us proper spiritual understanding! Then we need to see that Christ is the one who bestows true, heavenly wisdom on us by his faith-giving, sanctifying power. The preacher preaches Christ, as he exhorts God’s people to manifest true wisdom by devoting all our work, possessions, and pleasures to God, and using them in his service. This wisdom comes from above, bestowed by God’s sovereign and irresistible grace, which we must seek from him.

This fundamental way of preaching Christ, Greidanus not only does not mention, but appears specifically to reject: ‘Preachers cannot simply proclaim Old Testament wisdom as “gospel” in the Christian church . . . Old Testament wisdom has to be confirmed by the New Testament before it can be proclaimed as “gospel”‘ (24). But why? Were the words of the Preacher not the gospel to those who heard or read them already in the Old Testament? Did not Christ speak through the Preacher to his church in the Old Testament, and did not Christ in this way convey grace to his saints then?

If the Preacher in Ecclesiastes is divinely inspired (something Greidanus neither questions nor asserts), then we expect that his teachings will be confirmed by God’s Word elsewhere. But to preach Christ is to do more than this. It is to impress on the congregation that Christ is speaking to us in that very book itself, and that only in the power of Christ can we understand the message of the book. It is also to lead them to Christ to find that power. And it is to set forth the positive message of the book as being the way in which we will live, showing our gratitude to God for his grace.

Then Christ is preached, God is glorified, and the church is edified.


Taken with permission from the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, Volume 44, November 2010, Number 1.

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