I believe that redemptive historical preaching from the Old Testament is important and central to how we should use the New Testament in the church. Yet, there is a right way and a wrong way, I believe, to apply redemptive historical preaching.
Redemptive historical preaching is not:
1. A hermeneutical "Where's Waldo" where you magically find Jesus. The redemptive historical nature of the sermon should arise from the text of Scripture itself. Scripture in it ultimate context of the whole Bible points to Jesus as the fulfillment of the revelation of various types, genres and places given through the Old Testament.
2. It is not an add-on to the sermon. It is not something that you just through in as if "oh, by the way: Jesus." Rather it takes the nature of the text seriously.
3. It is not opposed to giving prescriptions and underlying morals sometimes called "Law." By 'Law' I do not mean more narrowly the Torah or the genre but more theologically when the Reformers, for example talked about any and all moral prescriptions as "law, not gospel." Gospel centered preaching (e.g. redemptive historical preaching) is not opposed to the so-called 'third use of the law' in the life of the believer.
Redemptive Historical preaching is:
1. An effort to ground all moral exhortation that may arise from the text, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This means that when the text (for example a narrative) gives the people clear imperatives (they should/not live like this) the preacher will preach the imperatives but ground them in the ultimate context of the indicative: those things that Jesus Christ has accomplished.
2. An effort to see all of Scripture as God's Word and for all of God's people. Thus the Old Testament can serve as an "as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). See my thoughts here. Redemptive historical preaching recognizes the value the Old Testament because the whole Bible is God's covenant revelation to his one people comprised of Old Testament and New Testament saints. Thus to say that Christ is the center of Biblical revelation and this revelation culminates in Christ as the fulfillment of Scriptures, is not to say that there are secondary and tertiary applications that we make to the people of God.
3. Redemptive historical preaching finds Christ as the culmination of the Biblical text. This means we recognize the eschatology of the Bible that for the believer in the New Covenant we are those "on whom the end of the ages has come." This changes our location in God's economy from that of the Old Testament saint. Namely, we live in an inaugurated eschaton of the 'already/not yet.' As we let Scripture interpret Scripture, we must allow for the fullness of God's revelation in Christ to have bearing on the text. In other words, our applications of the text will not always take the same form as those of the Old Covenant saints, in the same way that for example the importance of the ceremonial law does not take the same form in the Old Covenant as it does in the New Covenant.
I am not saying the Word of God is different or that it changes. Rather, we must recognize how redemptive history unfolds and moves to a climax.
This can be difficult to describe and difficult to practice. Every sermon should center on Jesus, the gospel and the Kingdom that has come--yet this is not to say that we make getting to Christ as something we treat as mundane or repetitive. For example, preaching through an Old Testament book does not mean every sermon points to Jesus in the same repetitive way. If this is the case the preacher becomes no better than the caricature we make of preacher who just "tack an altar call on" at the end of the message whether it fits or not.
This are challenges that, I think, once the basic framework of hermeneutics and exposition is laid out to the preacher in his training, he just has to get his hands "dirty" in the text.
Interestingly over at Reformation21, Carl Trueman gives a fine illustration of this tension and how to do it well.
Preaching on Judges 19, one could moralise and make the application `Do not dismember people,' but that would seem rather pointless in most congregations; alternatively, one could apply redemptive historical categories and point from the failure of the judges to Christ. But then how does one avoid preaching basically the same sermon each week? `Well, ladies and gentlemen, this judge failed; so lets spend the last 34 of our 35 sermon minutes talking about Jesus.....' No doubt that would be a true sermon, but after thirty weeks it would be unutterably boring and raise serious questions in the mind of the congregation about why they were paying their minister, when he only seemed to have the one sermon.
He then illustrates how he handled the text:
The general keys I have tried to use in order to overcome these two temptations are, first, a constant reflection on the fact that the book is about the decline and fall of the people of God. It is not a paradigm of how the world goes to the dogs; it is a sorry tale of how God's people go to the dogs. Second, (and for this insight I am indebted to my colleague, Greg Beale), a careful examination of the different kinds of failure exhibited by the people of God, in order to enrich our contemporary understanding of the different ways God's people can fall.
He provides more detail on some of his specific points.
Two things should be said:
1. Redemptive historical preaching is Biblical. I would encourage pastors to consult some of the better works that give instruction on it for using the Old Testament.
2. Yet, I would encourage pastors who are committed to Redemptive historical preaching: do the hard work of studying the text. We are not to be like parents microwaving macaroni and cheese every night, in a sort of vain repetition to 'feed our kids.' We are feeding people the Word of God--and that means soaking in the riches of the text and wrestling with our studies so that it is evident that all Scripture is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," (2 Tim 3:16). In other words, don't be lazy and just tack Jesus on at the end because its "obligatory." And don't be prideful thinking you can dazzle God's people with your intelligence. You don't want your people to walk away thinking your smart because "wow, Jesus wasn't there but our pastor found him." Use the text, and the text will point to Christ and the myriad of applications that flow God's Word that will correct, rebuke, exhort and train God's people.