christ-centered preaching

Christocentric expository preaching is more than pinning John 3:16 to the tail of the sermon. It is also more than a weekly theological treatise that speaks eloquently of the glories of Jesus Christ but lacks exegetical support rooted in a particular text of Scripture. Both of these approaches are inadequate.

Sermons that simply suffix Jesus lull their hearers into lethargy. Such redundant sermons also undermine the centrality of Jesus Christ in the mind of the listener; he or she cannot help but conclude that the preacher caboosed Jesus on at the end because he could not get him in the sermon in any other way. Likewise, sermons that are fine-sounding lectures on the glories of Christ but are not rooted in a particular text suffer from a lack of credibility and authority. Even though everything the preacher says in a sermon may be true, if the sermon is not latched to the text itself, it lacks divine authority.

Jay Adams noted after years of serving as professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary noted that many students were producing fine-sounding essays but not expository sermons. He recounts,

 When I went to teach practical theology, with an emphasis on preaching, I expected to find that students would spend the lion’s share of their efforts to learn to preach by doing exegesis. To my surprise, and chagrin, that was not the case. Students were regularly engaged in preaching the big picture rather than settling down on a passage of Scripture or two in careful exposition and application. I discovered that the theology inherent in their sermons for the most part was precise and correct, but that their sermons lacked biblical support. Exposition was largely absent. Unlike Christ on the road to Emmaus, they failed to ‘open’ the Scriptures for their listeners” (“Westminster Theology and Homiletics,” in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine: Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Essays in Honor of Robert B. Strimple, ed. David VanDrunen [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004], 262-263).

A sermonic overemphasis on biblical theology and explaining the big picture of Scripture that results in losing the biblical text being preached is a problem but so is atomistic, moralistic preaching that loses the cohesive Gospel message of the biblical canon as a whole when preaching a particular text. The biblical text must not be ignored or abused in preaching. 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. Bryan Chapell writes,

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End, the Author and Finisher of our faith. He is the culminating message of Scripture, but the word about this Eternal Word is also woven throughout the biblical text. Either by prediction, preparation, reflection or result, the redemptive message of God’s provision radiates throughout the Bible, and no portion of it can be properly expounded without disclosing its relationship to His redemptive nature and work. Disclosing this relationship does not require imaginative or allegorical mention of some specific in Christ’s life, but rather insists on exegetical and contextual explanation of how the text furthers the covenant people’s understanding of His person and work (“The Future of Expository Preaching,” Preaching, September-October 2004, 42).

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” (“The Primacy of Expository Preaching,” audiocassette, n.d. Quoted in Fabarez, Preaching that Changes Lives, 116). Preaching Jesus in the Scripture is not like skipping a rock on water: if you keep flipping the pages of your Bible, you will eventually land on another spot where you can find him. To the contrary, it is not that a few verses here and there point to Jesus but rather that all of the Scriptures testify of the kingdom of Christ.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon puts it this way:

 The Holy Ghost will only bless in conformity with His own set purpose. Our Lord explains what that purpose is: ‘He shall glorify Me.’ He has come forth for this grand end, and He will not put up with anything short of it. If then, we do not preach Christ, what is the Holy Ghost to do with our preaching? If we do not make the Lord Jesus glorious; if we do not lift Him high in the esteem of men, if we do not labour to make Him King of kings, and Lord of lords; we shall not have the Holy Spirit with us. Vain will be rhetoric, music, architecture, energy, and social status: if our own design be not to magnify the Lord Jesus, we shall work alone and in vain (The Greatest Fight in the World (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Publications, 1999), 77-78).   

Expository preaching and redemptive-historical preaching (Christocentric preaching) is not an either/or proposition. Sermons must not be atomistic to the neglect of the canonical whole, nor should they be holistic to the neglect of the unique contribution of individual authors. We must avoid the two most common sermonic clichés, the predictable Jesus bit and the predictable morality bit: the first is Christocentric but not expository; the second is expository but not Christocentric. Preaching Christ from all the Scripture is not an addition to expository preaching. Neither should it be viewed as a style or type of preaching but rather the way faithful expository preaching is done.

Ignoring the Christ-centered canonical context of Scripture is no less reductionistic and problematic than ignoring the immediate context of the human author. Failing to account for the fact that the Scriptures are the supernatural word of a sovereign God errs in the same way allegory does: both approaches exclude indispensible context. One excludes the context of the human author; the other excludes that of the divine author. Christocentric preaching does not mean neglecting exegesis in order to slip Christ in the sermon; it is rather the exposing of authorial intent, both human and divine. The problem with many contemporary approaches to expository preaching is that they are simply not expositional enough. One fully exposes the meaning of the text only in light of the biblical storyline that centers on the person and work of Christ and eschatological fulfillment in his kingdom.