We are to preach Christ from the entire Bible because proper exegesis demands it. The Scripture is not an inspired book of moralisms or a book of virtues; it is, from cover to cover, a book about the glory of God in Jesus Christ through the redemption of his people who will dwell in the kingdom of Christ forever.
Russell D. Moore writes, “Whenever we approach the Bible without focusing on what the Bible is about—Christ Jesus and His Gospel—we are going to wind up with a kind of golden-rule Christianity that doesn’t last a generation, indeed rarely lasts an hour after it is delivered.”1 What Moore describes as “golden-rule Christianity” differs very little functionally from Protestant liberalism that J. Gresham Machen prophetically critiqued,
The liberal preacher is really rejecting the whole basis of Christianity, which is a religion founded not on aspirations, but on facts. Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity—liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to a man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.” Machen critiqued the theological liberals of his day for defining faith by subjective feelings and liberal preachers for moralistic preaching which abandoned a focus on the gospel. These same critiques can be pointed today at many who will gladly sign theologically conservative doctrinal statements and intellectually affirm the inerrancy of the Bible.2
Thomas Schreiner notes the dangerous “trickle down” in theologically conservative churches of preaching ministries that focus on bare moral and ethical truths:
“Moreover, too often our congregations are poorly trained by those of us who preach. We have fed them a steady diet of moralistic preaching, so that they are taught to be kind, forgiving, loving, good husbands and wives (all good things of course!), but the theological foundation for such is completely neglected. We have ample illustrations and stories to support the lifestyle we advocate, and people’s hearts are warmed and even edified. Meanwhile, the wolf is lurking at the door. How could such preaching open the door for heresy? Not because the pastor himself is heretical. He may be fully orthodox and faithful in his own theology, while neglecting to preach to his people that storyline and theology of the Bible. He has assumed theology in all his preaching. So, in the next generation or in two or three generations the congregation may inadvertently and unknowingly call a more liberal pastor. He too preaches that people should be good, kind, and loving. He too emphasizes that we should have good marriages and dynamic relationships. The people in the pew may not even discern the difference. The theology seems to be just like the theology of the conservative pastor who preceded him. And is a sense it is, for the conservative pastor never proclaimed or preached his theology. The conservative pastor believed in the inerrancy of Scripture but not its sufficiency, for he did not proclaim all that the Scriptures teach to his congregation.”3
The difference between preaching the moral truths of the Bible and preaching moralism is whether or not the meaning (not simply the significance) of the truth is contextualized by the gospel of the kingdom. Edmund Clowney writes,
The Scriptures are full of moral instruction and ethical exhortation, but the ground and motivation of all is found in the mercy of Jesus Christ. We are to preach all the riches of Scripture, but unless the center hold all the bits and pieces of our pulpit counseling, of our thundering at social sins, of our positive or negative thinking—all fly off into the Sunday morning air….Let others develop the pulpit fads of the passing seasons. Specialize in preaching Jesus!4
The biblical text must not be ignored or abused in preaching. Michael Horton perceptively writes, “The goal of so much preaching in both liberal and conservative churches is to make good people a bit better, instead of proclaiming from the biblical text the saving acts of God.”5 We are to preach Christ from the entire Bible because proper exegesis demands it. The Scripture is not an inspired book of moralisms or a book of virtues; it is, from cover to cover, a book about the glory of God in Jesus Christ through the redemption of his people who will dwell in the kingdom of Christ forever. D. A. Carson summarizes: “At its best, expository preaching is preaching which, however dependent it may be for its content on the text or texts at hand, draws attention to the inner-canonical connections that inexorably move to Jesus Christ.”6