Monday, June 20, 2011

Him We Proclaim...

If there was only one book that a pastor had to read on preaching from the pulpit, my enthusiastic recommendation would be Him We Proclaim - Preaching Christ From All The Scriptures by  Dr. Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Calif.  But not only pastors... this is a valuable resource for any Christian who wants to understand how to read the Scriptures in order to strengthen faith and hold fast the hope of the gospel.

Early on in my Christian life I was exposed, like many, to the understanding that the purpose of preaching was to present Christ to the listeners.  Depending on one's template that can mean different things.  Is the purpose of preaching to edify believers? to lead them into a mystical experience of Christ? to encourage Christians to live as Jesus did by the Spirit's power?  to heal hurts and correct dysfunctional living?   Dr. Johnson addresses this question and more as he clearly sets forth the Christ to be preached as the Christ of the gospel of grace as revealed throughout God's redemptive history in the Bible - a proclamation sufficient for both our justification and sanctification.  To paraphrase the Westminster Shorter Catechism, sinners effectually convinced and converted by the Word through the Spirit of God are, by that very same Word, built up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation; faith that continues to grow as it is nourished by and relies upon the gospel of grace found in the finished work of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

At The White Horse Inn Michael Horton conducts an excellent interview with Dr. Johnson on the topic of the book.  Please listen, it is really worth the time.

To give the reader a taste of  Dr. Johnson's book, below are some excerpts from early parts of the book.

Dr. Johnson provides this helpful quote of Jay Adam's to set the stage:
"I am convinced that the purpose is of such vital importance to all a preacher does that it ought to control his thinking and actions from start to finish in the preparation and delivery of sermons." (p. 25)

Regarding the purpose of preaching:
"Second, one's understanding of the purpose of preaching is controlled by one's theology proper, theological anthropology, and soteriology... A particular diagnosis of our human malady and corresponding prescription of divine cure will produce one sort of sermon rather than another, and will seek one sort of response from the hearers rather than another." (p.26)

Dr. Johnson highlights Tim Keller's view:
"Christians are constantly tempted to relapse into legalistic attitudes in their pursuit of sanctification, so we never out grow our need to hear the good news of God's free and sovereign grace in Christ.  Sanctification, no less than justification must come by grace alone, through faith alone - we grow more like Christ only growing more consistent in trusting Christ alone, thinking, feeling, acting in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14).  From this grace alone can flow true sanctification, motivated by gratitude and empowered by the Spirit.  We need to repent not only of our sins but also of our righteousness - our efforts at self-atonement in lieu of surrender to the all-sufficient grace of Christ... Keller insists that the same gospel that introduces people into the family of God is the power that transforms them as children of God... The gospel is not just the A-B-C's but the A to Z of Christianity [footnote 71]" (pp. 55-56, 59)

Dr. Johnson:
"We cannot evaluate our own strengths and weaknesses in preaching, nor our progress in strengthening strengths and minimizing weaknesses, unless we know what preaching is suppose to do, what purpose it is to accomplish." (p. 63)

"Preaching is God's instrument to elicit faith, thereby uniting us to Christ and his community." (p.67)

"Therefore, the same gospel that initially called us to faith is the means that perfects us in faith.  As surely as Christ's obedience, death, and resurrection constitute the all-sufficient, once-for-all ground of our justification by faith, so also Christ's righteous life, sacrificial death, and vindication in resurrection power are the fount from which flows our sanctification by faith as we now grow in grace.  The preaching that matures and edifies, no less than the preaching that evangelizes and converts, calls believers not beyond the gospel to deeper mysteries (as some were promising the Colossian Christians - Col. 2:16-23) but more deeply into the gospel and its implications for our attitudes, affections, motivations, and actions... [see Col. 2:6-7, Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him...]... The Christian walk follows the path already laid out in the gospel by which Christ was first received, namely the path of faith, with thanksgiving for amazing grace." (pp 68-69)

"Apostolic preaching addresses human needs in all their diversity and depth.  It does not just apply bandages to felt needs, which are symptoms of secret infection.  When God does the diagnosis through his whole Word, he pierces through the surface symptoms all the way to the heart, with the radical cure of God's holy truth exposing our infection n all its ugliness and applying Christ's amazing grace in all its sweetness and strength." (p.71)

"Paul preached nothing but Christ because he knew Jesus to be the supreme revealer of God the Creator and the only reconciler of God's people." (p. 75)

"... Paul's single, Christocentric message:  redemptive history and grace... Preaching Christ is preaching the fulfillment of God's redemptive plan for history."  (p. 78)

"Preaching Christ is preaching grace... Preaching Christ as Paul preached Christ, however, is preaching grace as the sole source and rationale of salvation and transformation from start to finish:  grace that imparts life to the spiritually dead, grace that imputes righteousness to the guilty, grace that instills the Spirit's power in those otherwise impotent to want or to do good, grace that holds fast the feeble and fainting, securing pilgrim's arrival at the destination in glory.  Grace points hearers to the sovereign, saving initiative and intervention of God to do for guilty and paralyzed sinners what we could never do for ourselves, not even with heavenly help" (p. 81)

Get Him We Proclaim here and read it!


  1. I had the tremendous pleasure of having a one on one with Dr. Dennis Johnson at the last Westminister conference. He helped me to understand the place of the true church in the Christian's life. Importantly, he helped me to understand the distinction between a true church and the counter part. All that, and in 10 minutes. Brilliant!
    I will be reading this book. Thank you for your review and recommendation.

    BTW- I am visiting C and S this weekend. So looking forward to it.


  2. Hi Ginger,

    Sorry it took so long to "moderate" your comment. I just started doing that and had forgotten to check if there were any comments needing to be OK-d.

    Johnson is quite a gift to the church. Lucky you to have that one-on-one.

    And I know you will enjoy being with Carrie and Stephen (and kids). Best to you and God's continued blessings...