Preaching from the Wisdom Literature for an extended period of time is something I have yet to do. I’m not necessarily afraid of doing it, as I find difficult texts or genres challenging, but the opportunity hasn’t yet presented itself. But if I did work through this genre, I know that my preparation time would at least double. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Solomon are obviously the Word of God (I’m an Evangelical, duh!), but connecting these books to present day application just seems really difficult, a daunting task, to say the least. My main concern would be to connect the dots from the author’s intention to the gospel application and what it reveals about Christ. This kind of begs questions related to hermeneutics and contextualization and issues related to sensus plenior (the alleged “fuller meaning” of a text). That’s a conversation for a different time. I’ll simply suggest that I think Christian preaching is distinct from other monotheistic religions in that it connects all texts in the OT and the NT in light of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. So Christological questions and applications, in my opinion, should be normative for Christian preaching.
But how to connect those dots and where to see/find them and when to do it are all difficult. Seriously, I’m so afraid of reading something into the text that I could end up missing some pretty big things.
Douglas Sean O’Donnell, pastor of New Covenant Church, has recently written The Beginning and End of Wisdom: Preaching Christ from the First and Last Chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Here, O’Donnell seeks to address this subject and provide some examples of how to connect the dots, where to connect the dots, and when to connect the dots.
When I previously wrote about preaching Christ in the OT, I mentioned that it’s important to realize that Christ is all over the OT. Sure, the words “Jesus of Nazareth” might not appear in the OT text, but there’s plenty of texts that either apply directly to Christ or give us the seedbed for what is revealed in the NT. But we need good examples of preaching Christ from the Wisdom Literature, right?
The Beginning and End of Wisdom is a medium sized book, coming in at 235 pages. It’s not a scholarly book on homiletics or an exegetical commentary that analyzes the Hebrew text and interacts with the scholarly literature on the subject. Rather, O’Donnell provides six examples of preaching Christ from the Wisdom Literature, a chapter on how to preach from the Wisdom Literature, two appendixes, and some helpful tables.
The sermon chapters are just that – chapters that are sermons. I’m not really sure how to review sermons, but I will say that the gospel emphasis is great in each that O’Donnell provides and I also enjoyed the creativity, illustrations, and gospel connections. They are good sermons from this genre.
What was most helpful for me was the seventh chapter, “How Shall Wisdom Be Preached?”, a short summary on how to approach these books and preach from them Christologically. O’Donnell gives us five tips related to (1) Gospel Ethics, (2) Gospel Types, (3) Gospel Teaching, (4) Gospel Illustration, and (5) Gospel Awe. For those who labor in preaching, this chapter is really worth purchasing this book. The sermon examples are great, but this “how to” is essentially the most helpful for you to recreate this Christological interaction with the Wisdom Literature. In the fifth tip, O’Donnell writes,
“When tempted to sin, I often repeat to myself two truths: holiness brings happiness, and purity brings power. The first motto is personal. With it I’m admonishing myself, “Remember, sin brings only temporary pleasure. In the end it leads to shame and guilt. It severs the joy of your salvation. But to follow in God’s ways always brings true satisfaction and happiness. So choose holiness.” The second motto is corporate; that is, it relates more directly to my congregation and their reception of the Sunday-morning sermon. The idea is this: I tell myself, “Your people can sense if you believe what you’re preaching. They can sense if you’re walking your talk. So, if you want this sermon to be powerful – then walk in the Spirit and give no foothold to the flesh.” I share that to say this: there is usually a correlation between receptive ears and the preacher’s godliness. So, ethics, we might say, builds ethos, but so too does awe.” (p. 137-8)
This is the type of writing that is found in O’Donnell.
I really benefited from this book. There are certain connections that I might view differently, but much of that is just related to our theological convictions (e.g., Covenant vs. New Covenant theology, etc.). Those issues are minor. The areas where I was challenged, trained, and encouraged were so numerous, to not recommend this book would be to withhold a fantastic resource from the hands of people who would equally benefit from it.