This article shows the way exemplary preaching does injustice to scripture by discussing its use under liberation theology, theology of revolution, and feminism. The author shows that redemptive historical preaching is what should be emulated by pastors, since it is preaching that truly seeks to do justice to God's revelation throughout history.

Source: Diakonia, 1989. 15 pages.

Redemptive-Historical Preaching Over Against Various Forms of Modern Exemplarism


To preach the Word of God is not an indifferent matter. It does not belong to the so-called "adiaphora". Scripture itself gave the command, "Preach the Word, be urgent in season and out of season..." (2 Timothy 4:2)

To preach the Word of God is a very important mandate for the church and its ministers: "The primary task of the church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God."1

It is no wonder that from the very beginning of the Christian church, preaching was considered the main part of public worship. "For preaching is the focal point of God's speaking with His people and the speaking of His people with God."2

But the manner of preaching is also important. The pure preaching of the gospel is called the first mark by which the true church is to be recognized. The responsibility of preaching in the right way is also stressed when we confess that the preaching of the holy gospel belongs to the keys of the kingdom of heaven by which this kingdom is opened to believers and closed to unbelievers.

That means that the ministers of the church have to proclaim the one gospel, to preach the one Saviour, to disclose the one kingdom and to unveil the unity of the one history of salvation. Preaching must allow God to speak.

The Old Exemplary Method🔗

For almost half a century, not much attention has been paid to the subject known as the "history of redemption" or the "history of salvation" in the Bible. Even then it was not a new topic, because it was demanded by Scripture itself. This method gained prominence as a Scripturally based protest against a biblical explanation method which hin­dered a good understanding and use of Scripture.

The redemptive-historical method, which is required by Scripture itself, stands opposed to the so-called exemplary method. What exactly was the exemplary method? Briefly, it was a method of considering the meaning of all kinds of moments in Biblical history in such a way that we as believers receive an example of how we are or are not to act. Especially persons in biblical history were consid­ered as examples for later generations.

In the early 1930's K. Schilder stimulated an approach to Scripture quite different from the exemplary approach. He wrote, for example,

Here and there we still encounter Lenten ser­mons in which the figures around Christ receive the primary attention. There is the talk of Judas, Peter, Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin, Mary, etc... (their inner conflict, their comfort, their harden­ing hearts), while the first and foremost question is forgotten, namely what Christ has done, what God has let his Son experience, what the Son has experienced in and through the actions of those figures around him.3

B. Holwerda also mentioned several illustra­tions of the exemplary method. For instance, Abraham's temptation of Genesis 22, the offering of Isaac, is an example for our struggle of faith. The purpose of Elijah's prayer is that we have to learn to pray in the same way. A sermon on John 20:24-29 concern­ing Thomas must be a sermon on doubt, and so on.4

While Schilder and Holwerda protested against the exemplary method they did not deny that this method could make true remarks: pointing to cer­tain texts can lead to an explanation or affirmation of what Scripture teaches us in other texts. But the question was and still is whether the exemplary method did full justice to a text by demonstrating the place, significance, the function of that specific text within the complete revelation of salvation in Jesus Christ? Clearly it did not. Too often, God's work or redemption in Jesus Christ was not the focal point, but men, pious men, doubting men, Christian men, with all their problems and troubles were in the centre. The Lord Jesus Christ was not being preached as Saviour and Redeemer, but persons in the Bible were being portrayed as examples for us.

Many sermons and meditations of the past half century underline the weakness and impoverished nature of the exemplary method. Look at the follow­ing two examples. Jesus Christ's attendance at the wedding feast at Cana was often used for wedding ceremonies in this way: young couples today ought to invite Jesus to their wedding party. He ought to be present at our marriage feasts. His presence ought to influence our behaviour at a convocation of family and friends. Another example is that of the two men on the road to Emmaus after the resurrec­tion of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:13-35). An exemplary ser­mon would go something along these lines: our heart must be burning in the same way as the hearts of the men of Emmaus. That is possible when Christ accompanies us on our way. Sometimes two of you may be walking along just like these men. If Jesus came, would you be ashamed of your conversation? For that matter, when you are alone, are you thinking about Jesus? The problem with such an exemplary approach is that the specific moment in the history of salvation and redemption is neglected. The result is a loss of depth and a generalization of the very special and specific point with which the Holy Spirit wants to touch and to move us. Therefore, there was actually a plea for the redemptive‑historical method in the time of Schilder and Holwerda, over against the exemplary approach.5

Two Forms🔗

J.J. Arnold rightly pointed to the fact that the old exemplary method actually had two different forms. We can speak of mere exemplarism and synthetic exemplarism. The first method totally neglects the history of salvation and redemption because each story is treated as an independent story. The second method acknowledges, at least theoretically, the significance of the redemptive-historical moment, but when it comes to the practical application of the relevant passage of Scripture, it turns again to delivering general examples. It tries to combine two contradic­tory methods, which is impossible.

An example of mere exemplarism can be taken from a sermon on Mark 6:46b. He went up on the mountain to pray. The sermon does not speak about what Christ is doing for us, but what we have to do and how well behaved our life ought to be.

 The theme of the sermon is 'solitude' and the three points are:

  1.   The fact that solitude must be sought;
  2.   The place where solitude must be sought;
  3.   The reason why solitude must be sought.

An example of synthetic exemplarism can be taken from a sermon on Daniel 5:25-28. Mene, mene, tekel, parsin. First this ser­mon speaks about the struggle be­tween God and Satan, between Christ and the devil. However, after the preacher has said some good things from the text, he jumps suddenly to a state­ment such as,

The highest God is our Judge as well. He will judge us.

Then comes another jump,

He will judge us as Reformed Churches; let us not be careless and self-sufficient!

 Then follows yet an­other jump,

What about us, if God's judgment comes to us personally? You may see it or not, my hearer, but the fingers of a man's hand appeared in your life and wrote on the plaster of the wall of your home. Who would not be alarmed? Those in whom God works renewal of life! They say by themselves: numbered and brought to an end!6

Synthetic exemplarism is still very much alive. We discover it in all kinds of Biblicism today, especially in fundamentalism, originating in the U.S.A. Of course, we cheer on the struggle of the fundamental­ists against liberalism, but unfortunately so many fundamentalists have no eye for the progress of God's revelation, and do not see the development of redemptive history. A fundamentalist may preach on a certain text, try to understand that text in its historical framework and background, but then suddenly jump to the present situation.

The Present Time🔗

Careful attention ought to be directed to the fact that there is a new type of exemplarism, born in recent years and taking off in a different direction from former exemplarism. This new type of exemplarism uses the Bible for all kinds of revolution, and leads to the theology of revolution. This was evident already twenty years ago in the W.C.C. reports of Uppsala in 1966. Young people who wanted to disturb the es­tablished order and structures of society and said: "We follow Jesus, the great revolutionary; he over­turned the tables of the money-chargers and pigeon-sellers (Matthew 21:12) and he spoke so sharply against the highly esteemed Jewish leaders!" This Jesus is their great example for subversive actions and impertinent demonstrations! They point also to the prophets. Did not the prophet Amos condemn very sharply the capitalistic man of Samaria? Did not Isaiah and Zephaniah condemn esteemed men and women who filled their houses with blood and fraud? Furthermore, do not the Psalms complain of the oppression of the underdog? Do not the impre­catory Psalms receive renewed impetus, when fighting against the oppression of minorities, against colonialists and against rich industrialists?7

Of course, the interpretations of the new breed of exemplarism are easily refuted. Jesus Christ purified the temple in order to restore it to what it had to be: a house of prayer – a house of God. Christ's actions were not revolutionary but Reformatoral. Similarly, the prophets of the Old Testament did not lead a class-struggle and did not plead for a policy of division of incomes, but warned the people of all levels, high and low, against apostasy within God's covenant in social, cultural and political life. As for the Psalms, their references to the poor must be seen in the light of those who are 'miserable' and 'humble' before God, while the arrogant oppressors and per­secutors are those who neglect and misjudge the covenant of the LORD. Everything in Scripture must be placed within the framework of God's covenant with his people. There is no mention of this in the mouths of the revolutionary youths who quote the above texts. So clear is all of this to those who follow the redemptive-historical method that this new breed of exemplarism is not taken very seriously.


Is there a great difference between modern exem­plarism and that which has been delivered in sermons for a long time? Did revolutionary young people derive their method from preaching which they heard as they were growing up? Just think of the Negro spirituals which are not readily connected with contemporary revolutionary doctrine and prac­tice. Negro spirituals often articulated the black understanding of Jahweh, Moses, Jesus Christ and many other persons of the Bible. They sang about the Jordan River, Elijah's ascension, Daniel's rescue from the lion's den, the rescue of Daniel's friends from the fire, the rescue of Paul and Silas from prison, and many other similar stories of the Bible. Such songs were entitled, "Go Down, Moses", "Deep River", "O Freedom Over Me", "Mary Had a Baby", "Were You There?" and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen". They have been sung already for decades. These spirituals were often applied to situations of slavery and redemption from slavery. This was not the only point in these songs. There is an eye for the redemp­tive-historical place which certain events have in the Bible. Many Negro songs speak also of redemption of sinners by the blood of Jesus Christ.

However, exemplarism is clearly manifest in Negro spirituals. This is due to the influence of white preachers. I give the following quotation concerning these songs:

It must be the most directly appealing passages of the Scripture, which were related to their own situation, which had been picked up and worked out. The slavery of the Israelites, the promised land, the difficulties in the desert were also to the white people of the frontier areas gripping and understandable subjects, which found expres­sion in countless songs.8

Keep in mind that this author speaks about white people. But this is connected with the intricate investigation of the origin of Negro spirituals. Most of the white preachers were Methodists. That means their influence on the Negroes was of a strongly pietistic and Arminian nature, where men, with their doubts and struggles, received an unscriptural place. Consequently the Negro spirituals were satu­rated with an exemplaric use of the Scriptures. In fact, often a direct equation was made between the bondage of Israel and the miseries of Negro slavery in America.

That is very clear from a spiritual like When Israel was in Egypt's land. Especially the refrain, Let my people go is to be applied to the black slaves who passionately sigh for liberation. I quote a part of this rather long spiritual.

When Israel was in Egypt's land:
Let my people go,
Oppress'd so hard they could not stand,
Let my people go.
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land,
Tell ole Pharaoh, let my people go.

O let us all from bondage flee,
Let my people go,
And let us all in Christ be free,
Let my people go.

We need not always weep and moan,
Let my people go,
And wear those slavery chains forlorn,
Let my people go.

What a beautiful morning that will be,
When time breaks up in eternity.

I'll tell you what I like the best,
It is the shouting Methodist
I do believe without a doubt,
That a Christian has the right to shout.

Three things are very clear in this song. First, that it clearly shows exemplarism. Second, that it even defends violence. Third, that Methodism is involved. So we disagree completely with the idea that this spiritual can be call redemptive-historical.9

On the contrary, it is really exemplaric and it is remarkable that actually Negro spirituals originate from the newer Methodist hymns of John Wesley.10 On the background of the Negro songs we have to see Methodist preaching, especially that of the South­ern states in the U.S.A.

In recent years there has been a marked revival of interest in the Negro spirituals by those who use Scripture for revolutionary purposes. So there is definitely a connection between modern exemplarism and what young revolutionaries have been hearing from the pulpits. The connection between the two is quite clear. The struggle against racism often has a revolutionary character. In this struggle the Bible plays an important role. Think of the familiar prophetic text of Isaiah 40 verses 4 and 5:

Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. These and similar pas­sages receive an important place in the demonstra­tions of black people.

Think of a famous speech of Martin Luther King who interpreted these words of Isaiah as his "dream", his perspective of peace be­tween black and white people and complete equal­ity between them. The passage of Isaiah is treated in an exemplaric fashion as the element of liberation is lifted out. In fact, the liberation and redemption of sinners and their gathering as the people of the Lord is taken as an example of the liberation of black people. It totally disregards the fact that Isaiah speaks of a liberation from God's judgment; instead the text is made into a liberation from oppression of other people. The redemptive-historical salvation of the Church is transformed into a liberation of groups of men at different points in history.11

Liberation Theology🔗

We usually speak about "liberation theology". We could also speak about it in the plural "liberation theologies" or even "philosophies", because there is such a variety. Often they bring into focus the theme of Exodus. In that respect they have much in com­mon.

Liberation theology at best offers an example of a moralistic interpretation of the Exodus deliv­erance. It fails to appreciate the significance of the Exodus in the history of redemption. In­deed, it dismisses the orthodox interpretation as individualistic pietism that does not recognize that politics is God's work in the world. Pietism has been guilty of individualism and of ignoring the corporate view of the people of God that the symbolism of the exodus presents. But pietism nevertheless recognized the gospel and the centrality of Jesus Christ in whom our Exodus is accomplished.12

Nevertheless, Pietism went too easily into an exem­plaric direction instead of into the redemptive-his­torical direction. In that respect there is always a connection between Pietism and Methodism.

Theology of Revolution🔗

The theology of revolution is a very large and broad field of study. This theology wishes to speak about more than the examples of Jesus, Amos and Isaiah. It wishes to comprehend the whole Bible, the whole development of culture and the whole history of all ages in one single group. One could object that this is no longer exemplarism because it separates the one case from historical biblical connections. But we have to maintain that this is even a very bad form of exemplarism.13

However, it involves more than just pious men as examples. It is a comparison of the changes in history, in which we live together as citizens of the world with social and structural revolution and historical, stimulating powers. The present world is changing very quickly. It is a world in which every­thing is going to be unsettled and must be unsettled. This is accompanied by spiritual crises which are obviously very hard on the older generation which is used to familiar patterns. However, it is also very hard on the younger generation, which sees itself standing before a chaos with no way out. In such a situation of despair, young and old alike are looking for help.

Therefore, just as in earlier days when people tried to struggle with certain problems in their life by finding examples in Scripture of people who were confronted with similar struggles, so today, espe­cially the youth use exactly the same method when confronted by the great emptiness and despair all around them. Today's problems are numerous and they are universal. Therefore, in the chaos of a transition to a new and unknown world, people appeal to the Bible for help in a way that is similar to previous generations. A modern theologian might say: "Let the people of Israel be our example. Ac­cording to the Scriptures, Israel was always enroute to something new and better. Israel was called to go out, towards an unknown future, without the famili­arity of trustworthy patterns, leaving behind the familiar religious, social and political structure. Israel traveled on to an unknown country." Thus people are urged to believe in a God who is not bound to one place but is mobile and teaches one to be mobile.14

Harvey Cox🔗

Harvey Cox is typical of the radical new American theologians. He wrote The Secular City, Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective. This book was followed by The Feast of Fools: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy. Harvey Cox called the first book more Apollonian and the second more Di­onysian. In the first book he wrote:

The starting point for any theology of the church today must be a theology of social change ... The Symbol of the secular city provides the starting point ... Secularization denotes the removal of juvenile dependence from every level of a soci­ety; urbanization designates the fashioning of new patterns of human reciprocity.15

In the second book Harvey Cox does not revoke his earlier work. "This book is intended as a companion piece to the earlier work, not as a recantation. Politi­cally, for example, I have become considerably more radical".16

It is remarkable that Cox often quotes Martin Luther King in his books; there is also a relationship between Cox and Negro spirituals. He writes that God liberates captured people from eco­nomic and political slavery. He did not liberate them into a certain form of inward tolerance or spiritual liberation. It is not enough to say: "Inward, in my soul, I am free." Instead, liberation opens for them the way for a new political and economic existence in the world. For instance, the exodus of Moses' day when the Israelites were freed from their slavery to Pharaoh and led out of Egypt is a blue print, an example, for every kind of exodus thereafter. The whole treatise of Biblical data must be subtracted by the vision of the mobile God who demands mobility of his people, to break up the old structures by revolution, and to realize a new society in a world made by man – the secular city.

It has been said that Harvey Cox professed a form of conversion during the 1980's in his book, Religion in the Secular City. Now he says that the technopolis as the hope of the future has failed. Now he denounces modern theology. It appears to be a conversion but that is not really so. His new religion is 'post-modernist.' He draws attention to the cul­tural dimensions of theology and how man's beliefs are to be translated into actions. But in spite of his talk of post-modernism, he is still a modernist, only the emphasis is on action. The theology of Harvey Cox is really an extension of liberation theology.17

Cox's and others' use of Old Testament data is so appealing because they seem to break with exem­plarism. But it still remains exemplaric to the extent that it is more seductive and destructive than former exemplarism. We may say, generally speaking, that the old exemplarism did not want to be involved in any form of criticism on the Bible. Yet, it opened the door to a more refined form in our times; an exem­plarism which is clothed in a seemingly redemptive-historical garment.18

Dorothee Solle🔗

There has been a remarkable development in mod­ern theology over the last few decades. Those who started off as liberals, raising the slogans of the French Revolution, not so surprisingly arrived at communism. Many theologians such as Harvey Cox traveled via liberal theology to the "Entmythologisi­erung" of Rudolf Bultmann who said God presents himself in the encounter with our neighbour. They traveled via the 'God is dead' theology of J.A.T. Robinson who said, God is the predicate of love, he is to be known in the neighbour and the neighbour is to be known in God. They traveled via the ideas of Paul Van Buren who said, only those pronouncements of the Bible are credible, which could be verified in the practice of co-humanity. They traveled via the theology of revolu­tion and liberation to what is essentially nothing other than a politicized neo-Marxist philosophy, which is critical of society. When Harvey Cox now says that only the action counts, his intention is to base his post-modern theology not on the Scriptures but on the poor, and thus, not the poor of the church but the poor of the world. The poor must be at the centre of attention and the theology which focuses on them will be characterized by sacralism and radicalism.19

It is remarkable that the expression of Harvey Cox, Only action counts, was also used by the revolu­tionary Dorothee Solle. She dared to say things like, God is not dead, but God is red, and we meet God in our neighbour. As for preaching, Dorothee Solle is of the opinion that ministers must not preach to people but inform them. Information must be given as to the deeper background of what ails this society. There must be an analysis of the real state of this society. There must be a protest against existing relation­ships, and a plan of action to change those relation­ships thoroughly, to change the present structures of society. Dorothee Solle started her Politisches Nachtgebet in 1968 in Cologne. After reading Mat­thew 25:42-44 her translation of it was: Jesus said: I was hungry; you chemically destroyed the harvest of my land! I was hungry for self-determination; you colonized my country! I was a stranger in my own country; you bombarded my country! The conclusion was: I bled to death; you simply watched it happen on TV! This form of exemplarism does not wish to unclose the Bible but 'translate' it for today.20

Dorothee Solle, applauded for her address to the W.C.C. in Vancouver, 1983, and now a professor at Union Seminary in New York, has developed her own confession as follows:

I believe in god (not with a capital! KD) who did not make the world into a finished product as something which had to remain the same, who does not govern according to eternal laws which are unchangeably fixed and not according to natural ordinances.

Wherein rich and poor present people who know everything and people who don't know anything people who rule and others who have been subjected to rulers.

I believe in a god who wants the resistance of the living and the change of all situations by means of our politics.

I believe in Jesus Christ who is resurrected in our lives to make us free of prejudice and high-handedness of fear and hatred so that we will continue his revolution on the road to his kingdom.

Thus Jesus Christ is the great example. He chose to side with the outsiders, atheists, the rejectors of society and the victims of exploitation. Therefore, those who want to meet Christ, will meet him in the suffering neighbour of today. But this is the only place where they will meet Christ. Man does not need preaching, only the meditations of the Bible applied to the contemporary situation.


Obviously, it does not come as a big surprise that feminism should pick up on exemplary meditations. In a meditation about the song of Mary, Dorothee Solle shows how Mary is an example for the modern woman.

It has been written that Mary said:

He has shown strength with his arm,
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree.
We say it now in this way:
We shall expropriate our owners and laugh at those who claim to know the female being,
The leadership of male over female will come to an end!
It has been written that Mary said:
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.
He has remembered his servant Israel,
In remembrance of his mercy.
We say it now in this way:
Women will travel to the moon and will make decisions in parliament,
Their desire of self-determination will be satisfied,
The hunger for power will be nourished,
Every ground of their anxiety will disappear,
They will not be exploited any longer!

This is an example of how feminism uses Scripture in an exemplary fashion. Feminists insist that critical women are to read the books of Exodus and those that follow with their own eyes. Then they will be conscious of the disobedience of women to authori­ties and that Moses liberated his people from Egypt. Moses' sister exhorted Pharaoh's daughter to adopt Moses as her own child. Pharaoh's daughter was disobedient to him. Miriam went in front of the revo­lution according to Numbers 12. These creative and disobedient women are stimulating examples, as well as Deborah, Hulda and many other women of the Old and New Testament (cf. Arnold, 1984:84).

'Christian Rock'🔗

Sometimes, instead of using special persons in the Bible as examples, certain expressions or images are extrapolated in an exemplaric fashion. This is done for instance by young rock — and — roll performers who call themselves Christian.

One example is the group U2, formed in the late seventies in Dublin, Ireland. They pretend to have a Christian message in their songs. The main song of their latest album is:

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
But yes I'm still running
You broke the bonds
You loosed the chains
You carried the cross
And my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

One member of the group said, "To me truth is between there and there. So I look for images, not lines." Another one added, "God forbid if we ever found what we were looking for. What a horrible experience that would be!"

This is not Biblical Christianity, but the false modern concept promoted by liberal theologians that truth is always evolving and never constant. It sounds humble, but is in reality a very haughty stand over against God who 'has spoken to us by a Son' (He­brews 1:2) and completed His revelation to His people. If we cannot find it today, we never will indeed! Despite all its Biblical imagery and poignant appeals, U2 does not bring the joyous message of sal­vation in Jesus Christ as it has been revealed in the Scriptures. True faith is a sure knowledge and a firm confidence that the Word of God is trustworthy and that Christ has indeed died for us on the cross. This jubilant certainty which must characterize Christian music is not found with U2.21

New and Old🔗

The new breed of exemplarism is gaining popularity all over the world. It is often defiant and revolution­ary: God and men marching together; God is in movement and man is in movement and the Church is in movement; here is the meaning of "God with us". There is an inflammatory and an even poetic-prophetic element to this exemplarism. It may seem to be completely different from the exemplarism of half a century ago, but that is not so. Indeed, they are totally different with respect to acknowledging the Scriptures as the Word of God, nevertheless, they are similar in their methodology. Biblical persons and events are only examples. They are separated from their redemptive-historical context and isolated from the continuing revelation of God's covenant. Just look at the consequences. Those who are faithful to the Scriptures and those who are very critical can both reject infant baptism with the same fragmented appeal to Mark 16:16. Both can appeal to Matthew 25:40, 45: the one to help men in need and the other to help rebels. On both sides there is an arbitrary and improper use of the Scriptures.

Proof or Appeal?🔗

Both kinds of exemplarism occur not only in Europe and America, but also in South Africa. One finds pietistic-methodistic exemplarism there, but also the exemplarism of the theology of liberation in order to justify a revolutionary movement.

Both kinds of exemplarism appeal in very arbi­trary and selective fashion to Scripture. Apartheid is allegedly proven by Genesis 9:25: Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be held to his brothers, and by Joshua 9:27: But Joshua made the inhabitants of Gideon that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD. On the other hand, the advocates of the theology of liberation will use the Exodus story to teach that God is at the side of the oppressed people, and he punishes the op­pressor with military violence. Both kinds of exemplarism arbitrarily take a passage from Scripture, removing it completely from its context and use it as an example to make their point.22

What is now the proper response to both forms of exemplarism? Deist replies that one has to discern between proof of Scripture and appeal to Scripture. Proof of Scripture points to the Bible as being the truth. To support dogma one cites some verses of the Bible as 'proof texts'. This kind of use of the Bible can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism according to Deist. But an appeal to Scripture is totally different. An appeal does not look to Scripture for authorita­tive proof, but as a reference point: one makes a declaration on his own responsibility, and in doing so, looks to Scripture to find those who came to the same conclusion in former days in their own circumstances. The proof of Scripture points to an imper­fect faith, a faith which does not stand on what one believes. It needs authority from outside. But an ap­peal to Scripture has its starting point based on one's own responsibility. One makes up his own mind in his circumstances, and then points afterwards to Jesus, Paul, Peter, or whoever wrestled in their circumstances and in their culture to do God's will.23

Now Deist himself also comes to a selection of the Bible with an appeal to Scripture. He claims to make up his mind on his own responsibility and goes back to a Biblical testimony in order to explain why one witness of the Bible is here more relevant than another, according to my opinion. But that is also an arbitrary use of the Bible. By rejecting both forms of exemplarism, Deist introduced a new form. It is an exemplarism also found in the Netherlands and used by someone like H.M. Kuitert who advocates that an appeal to Scripture is relevant in order to pro­vide a certain point of view with the authority of Scriptures; that happens then, not beforehand, but afterwards; the theological considerations follow positions which have already been taken. This is an exemplaric use of the Bible. It is not the exemplarism of the historical equation mark, such as the exemplarism of pietism-methodism or of the theology of revolution, but a new form. It can be labelled as the exemplarism of the co-searcher who intends to go in the line of former Biblical searchers and afterwards quotes persons in the Bible in order to underline what he did on his own responsibility. But also in this method, the one history of salvation has been split into many stories, which have little or no connections with each other. They are only models and one model is more relevant than another.24

The One Response🔗

It should be clear that rejecting old and new exemplarism by replacing them with a third kind is not suitable. There is only one suitable response to exemplarism and that is the response of the Reformed confession of the Scriptures as a unity, as the one revelation of redemption, given in a redemptive-historical way. Already half a century ago, men like K. Schilder, B. Holwerda, M.B. Van't Veer, J. Kapteyn and others demonstrated this in their preaching and in their writings.

It was indeed a reformation in preaching. In his dissertation, Sidney Greydanus especially criticized the exemplaric method but also made some remarks on the redemptive-historical method. He has at least four criticisms of the redemptive-historical approach: generally speaking, this method falls short in appli­cation; especially K. Schilder's sermons were objec­tive, schematic and logical treatises; there is a specu­lative element in these sermons; finally, Holwerda wrongly identified fact and text.25 In the same year of the publication of this dissertation, C. Trimp denied these objections extensively.26

Two remarks of H. J. Schilder should be added. In the first place the living redemptive-historical preaching is for the congregation. The bread that does not pass away, but that nourishes unto eternal life, suffers a loss by the emphatic and expressive 'drawing of lines'. Not that the redemptive histori­cal line (or lines) is (are) unimportant. On the con­trary, the preacher must try to recognize these care­fully and show the congregation the special moment of the history of the event. Of course it can happen that he sometimes uses the term 'line', but it may not become a shibboleth in order to characterize solid redemptive-historical preaching. It is actually (al­though in itself an 'image') more a working term than one in the sermon, more a terminus technicus, a term of methodology of the subject. The congrega­tion does not live from 'lines' of whatever methodi­cal data, but from the gospel which shows her place on the way of salvation throughout the ages. There­fore, she must know where she stands, how far she has pursued her way, how the way of salvation was guided by her LORD from then to now and into the future. But she will scarcely or needlessly or pain­fully learn that, if she is going to be nourished by drawing of lines and such.

In the second place, and closely connected with this, the congregation must see before her eyes her riches in the incarnated and now exalted and return­ing Saviour; besides that also her poverty in com­parison with the salvation which no eye has yet seen (cf. Lord's Day 22, answer 58, Heidelberg Cate­chism). The congregation must also become con­scious of her present riches in relation with the still preliminary revelation to the fathers and to the people of Israel in the old dispensation. In connection with this, the sermon has to point to what the people of God did not have at that time, but now do have. A text like 1 Peter 1:10f demands this teaching and also a comprehensive answer like Lord's Day 6 (answer 19) delivers no less than that one text. At the same time the matter of 'not yet' can receive its own necessary accent and elaboration. But a term like that — such as, for instance, the contrast 'poor-rich' — must not become a passe partout and the data not a ruling motive. For that would happen at the cost of the salvation in Christ, which was already present in the Old Testament in the promise of the Gospel. It was there revealed, given and enjoyed. The text from Peter speaks about that and the answer of the Catechism points clearly to that as well. And then we have not even mentioned yet the emphasis of the apostle Paul on the revelation of and the living from the Gospel of the justification by faith (especially Romans 4 and Galatians 3). Besides that, the prefigu­ration had been stressed in the Old Testament; but prefiguration already presents Messianic wealth so that an over-accentuation of the 'not yet' motive would come in conflict with the clear language of Scriptures. So both of these one-sided emphasis must be prevented.27


True and careful redemptive-historical preaching is the only response to all kinds of exemplaric preach­ing. It is necessary to preach Jesus Christ as Saviour, as chief Prophet and Teacher, as High Priest and Eternal King, and then the congregation will learn about their service as living members of Christ. This will lead to true Christological preaching. Some­times it may be difficult to discover how Christ is central to the preaching, and yet, preaching must be Theocentric, not Anthropocentric. No man, not even a pious or faithful man, may be at the centre, but God with His virtues and mighty deeds.

If we consider things in this way, we do not see any contrast between Theocentric and Christocentric (or Christological) preaching. He who is reading Scriptures, rejects the dilemma Christocentric or Theo­centric as a wrong dilemma, because Christocentric is at the same time also Theocentric.28

Furthermore, if Christological preaching is con­sidered in the right way, then it is also clearly Pneumatological preaching, for the work of God the Holy Spirit is very closely connected with the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.


We have already heard the objection that redemp­tive-historical preaching leads to schematism, specu­lation and objectivism. C. Trimp rejected this criti­cism completely. But recently he said that by stress­ing the history of salvation, the order of salvation (ordo salutis) is neglected. He said that partially in connection with Holwerda's speech of 1942,29 which is considered more or less as the program of redemp­tive-historical preaching.30

I think Trimp is right when he regards Holwerda's speech as a new beginning. However, when reading Holwerda we come to the conclusion that he pointed precisely to the fact that in Philo's allegorical way of exegesis, he had already shifted very easily from the history of salvation to 'the order of salvation'. And that is exactly the danger of the exemplaric preacher, for exemplarism isolates one fact from its historical Biblical context. The principal lesson of history became moral instruction. In his own way he loses sight of the history of redemption. He reads into each story that which God did do in every individual soul and then he draws a parallel with what God does for his soul. Holwerda warned against this method and showed the danger of old and modern exemplarism! However, it was espe­cially in the published sermons of Holwerda that it became clear that his preaching was not only Chris­tological, but also Theological, and last but not least, also Pneumatological. He paid full attention to the work of the Triune God, stressing the fact that the Holy Spirit works in our hearts with the Word of God. Reading these sermons, as well as those of K. Schilder and M.B. van't Veer, demonstrates that neither the Trinitarian aspect nor the order of salva­tion is neglected. Therefore, true Trinitarian preach­ing is the only response to exemplaric preaching.

But the objections continue. H. Krabbendam quotes the applications of two redemptive-historical sermons (without mentioning where they are pub­lished) and comes then to the conclusion that this method is to be rejected:

The text functions somewhat as a 'window' through which the phases and facts of Christ's march through history are witnessed. It is hardly surprising that the text as text, therefore, is fre­quently curtailed in its scope, ignored in its purpose, or even violated in its nature, as it is ultimately made to serve the cause of what may be described as 'aesthetic contemplation'. In­deed, preaching in the redemptive historical tradition is often comparable to a ride in a Boeing 747 high above the landscape with its hot deserts, its snow-peaked mountains, its dense forests, its open prairies, its craggy hills and its deep lakes. The view is panoramic, majestic, impressive, breathtaking, and always comfort­able. But there is one problem. The Christian is not above things. He is in the middle of things.31

He pleads then for a so-called "covenantal-his­torical methodology, which honours God not only in His trinitarian self-disclosure, but also in His three­fold objective of regeneration, justification and sanctification".32

How does one respond to this? In the first place, it is not fair to jump from (possible) wrong application to the method as such. In the second place, it is not true that the redemptive-historical method places men above things on earth. God's people today are addressed by the messages of God's Word. They are encouraged, comforted, but also admonished and warned by the great deeds of God in redemptive-history.

It is therefore, not true that redemptive-histori­cal preaching as such does not respond to the many needs and problems of people today. When exem­plarism was attacked in the 1930's it was said that without such preaching the preacher does not go into the real sorrows and needs of the wrestling believer. In the same way, one could say today that without such exemplaric preaching modern man is left all alone with his despairs.

The answer is consistent. The Christian in all his troubles of faith is only really helped, when he is addressed by the redemptive-historical revelation of the Scriptures. Modern man can only be addressed in the midst of chaos when the minister preaches to him with the command to repent and believe (Canons of Dort, II 5) which is given in the infallible Word of God and unfolded in the course of the revealed history of salvation. Thus, ministers have the rich task to preach the only Mediator, Jesus Christ, who redeems his people from their sins and places his people as a blessing for the world. He is known only from the Holy Gospel.

As far as Krabbendam's 'solution' is concerned, he does not do justice to history. For history is then actually limited to the history of individual examples of regeneration, justification and sanctification. But that is no history anymore, let alone redemptive history. In this way the ordo salutis takes the place of redemptive history. Although Krabbendam rejects the exemplaric method, he actually works it into his 'methodology', which goes in a soteriological way, instead of a way in which the LORD is centred.

Krabbendam's essay has the title Hermeneutics and Preaching. This title indeed raises an important matter. For hermeneutics is essential to this discussion. We may even say that the cardinal question is indeed a hermeneutic one. Is there a recognition of the unity of the Scripture and history of salvation? Sadly, in today's theological world this idea of her­meneutics is clearly lacking. The notion of God's one, redemptive history as a whole is disappearing more and more. In connection with this, the confes­sion that the Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit is virtually obsolete. Eugene A. Nida writes:

Exegesis may be described as the process of recon­structing the communication event by determining its meaning (or meanings) for the participants in the communication. Hermeneutics, on the other hand, may be described as pointing out parallels between the biblical message and present day events and determining the extent of relevance and the appro­priate response for the believer.33

So on the basis of the proper type of hermeneutics, preachers must note parallels in modern life. Not one word is said about redemptive-history. Not one word is said about the inspiration of Holy Scripture by the Holy Spirit. The preacher's task is to lead the congrega­tion in finding relevant parallels in modern life. In spite of the variety in modern exemplarism, there is an obvious unity among them.


May we say that the whole matter of examples in the Bible is excluded? N.H. Gootjes pointed to the fact that indeed examples are used in Scriptures, but always in connection with the great deeds of the LORD. There is sometimes an example in God's way of acting, or in the acting of the Redeemer. However, these examples place God, not men, in the centre. We do not have the task to imitate God (in the sense of trying to do what He did), but to obey Him in the office to which we are called.34

The fact that the Biblical events can be used as examples does not follow from the work of the Holy Spirit in the intercourse with God's people, but from the work of the Holy Spirit in the description of those events.35

I started with the importance of preaching the Word of God. Now at the end I will stress the great responsibility regarding the way of preaching. I maintain the term redemptive historical preaching. We have to administer the Word of God, "Who goes a way in history with His people and Who reveals His wonderful Name on the way in words and works before the eyes of small and weak human beings."36

Unfortunately, the isolation of Reformed preach­ing is a fact. Reformed ministers must be faithful, holding to the true preaching and be continually aware of all kinds of deformation in preaching.


  1. ^ Lloyd-Jones, D.M. , Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1971, page 1
  2. ^ VanderWalt, J.J., Soek die Here in Sy tempel, Potchefstroomse Teologiese Publikasie, Potchefstroom, 1982, page 60.
  3. ^ Schilder, K., "lets over het Gereformeerd Karakter der Lijdensprediking", De Reformatie 10, 1930, p. 204.
  4. ^ Holwerda, B., "De Heilshistorie in de prediking", Begon­nen Hebbende van Mozes, reprinted 1974, Kampen, Van­denBerg (translated into English, Iowa, 1983), p. 12. VanTeer M.B., "Christologische prediking over de historische stof van het Oude Testament", Van den Dienst des Woords, Oosterbaan en Le Cointre, Goes, 1944 (Translated into English, Iowa, 1983), p. 5.
  5. ^ Holwerda, B., "De Heilshistorie in de prediking", Begon­nen Hebbende van Mozes, reprinted 1974, Kampen, Van­denBerg (translated into English, Iowa, 1983), p. 12. VanTeer M.B., "Christologische prediking over de historische stof van het Oude Testament", Van den Dienst des Woords, Oosterbaan en Le Cointre, Goes, 1944 (Translated into English, Iowa, 1983), p. 5.
  6. ^ Arnold, J.J., Op. Cit., p. 82f.
  7. ^ Schilder, H.J., "Modern Exemplarisme", De Reformatie 50,1974, p. 41.
  8. ^ Breman, P., Spirituals (2d ed.). 's Gravenhage, Nijhoff 1959, p. 31.
  9. ^ VanderLeeuw, Beknopte Geschiedens van het Kerklied, Groningen/Batavia, Wolters, 1939 (2nd. ed. 1948), p. 264.
  10. ^ VanderLeeuw, Beknopte Geschiedens van het Kerklied, Groningen/Batavia, Wolters, 1939 (2nd. ed. 1948), p. 264.
  11. ^ VanDam, C., "The Theology of Liberation", Clarion 25, 1984, p. 212 f., p. 234 f. (repr. Lux Mundi II, 2, III, 1, 1983/ 1984)., p. 10f.
  12. ^ Clowney, E.P., "Preaching Christ From All the Scriptures", The Preacher and Preaching, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, Phillipsburg, N.J., 1986, 182f.
  13. ^ Schilder, H.J., Op. Cit., p. 81.
  14. ^ Wielenga, D.K., "Kanttekening bij de Dusgenaamde Theologie der Revolutie", De Akker is de Wereld, Holland, Amsterdam ,1971, p. 163.
  15. ^ Cox, H., The Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective, (4th. ed.) MacMillan Company, New York, 1969, p. 91ff.
  16. ^ Cox, H., The Feast of Fools, A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy, Harper and Row, New York, 1970, p. VIII.
  17. ^ Marsden, G.., "Harvey Cox' Conversion", Reformed Jour­nal, 34, 1984, p. 3f.
  18. ^ Schilder, H.J., "Twee Oraties", De Reformatie 50, 1975, p. 286
  19. ^ Deddens, K., Drost, M.K., Balans van het Oecumenisme, Boersma, Enschede, 1980. p. 52ff.
  20. ^ Seidel, U., Zils, D., Aktion Gottesdienst II, Jugenddienst­Verlag, Wuppertal, 1970, 0. 273f.
  21. ^ Stam C., "Christian Rock", Reformed Perspective 7 (2), 1987, p. 22.
  22. ^ Deist, F.E. , Die Bijbel leef, Van Schaik., Pretoria, 1982, p. a. Arnold, J.J., Op. Cit., p. 85.
  23. ^ Deist, F.E., Op. Cit., p. 286.
  24. ^ Arnold, J.J., Op. Cit., p. 86.
  25. ^ Greidanus, S., Sola Scriptura, Problems and principals in preaching historical texts, Kok, Kampen, 1970, p. 174ff.
  26. ^ Trimp, C., "'Exemplarische' of 'Heilshistorische' Prediking?" De Reformatie 45, p 1970, p. 345ff.
  27. ^ Schilder, HJ., In Sion is Het Woord Nabij, Vuurbaak, Groningen, 1976, p. 170ff.
  28. ^ Kapteyn, J. n.d. Van Hem, Die is, die was en die komt, Oosterbaan en Le Cointre, Goes , p. 244
  29. ^ Holwerda, B., Op. Cit., P. passim.
  30. ^ Trimp, C., Heilsgeschiedenis en Prediking, Van den Berg, Kampen ,1986, p. 93ff.
  31. ^ Krabbendam, H., "Hermeneutics and Preaching" The Preacher and Preaching, Presbyterian and Reformed Pub­lishing, Phillipsburg, N.J., 1986, p. 235.
  32. ^ Krabbendam, H., Op. Cit., p. 234.
  33. ^ Nida, E.A., Reyburn, W.D., Meaning Across Cultures, Orbis Books, Maryknol, 1981, p. 30.
  34. ^ Nida, E.A., Reyburn, W.D., Meaning Across Cultures, Orbis Books, Maryknol, 1981, p. 30.
  35. ^ Gootjes, N.H., Op. Cit., p. 23.
  36. ^ Trimp, C., Op. Cit., 1986, p. 112.


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