More Thoughts on Preaching

A comment in the previous post by Bumble brings up the issue of Christ-centered vs. Moralistic preaching. He asks what Christ-centered preaching really is. In answer I'm going to quote from Brian Chapell. In the preface to the second edition of his book Christ-Centered Preaching, he offers these words of clarification:

"I have sought to indicate in clearer terms what may be right as well as what may be wrong with messages that encourage imitating a biblical character or practice. The "Deadly Be's" (i.e. messages that only exhort believers to be like a biblical character, to be good, or to be more disciplined) possess deadly stings if redemptive contexts are not included.

"I have attempted to clarify the redemptive context of "Christ-centered" messages in two ways. First, by indicating that the term itself is a syndoche - standing not only for references to Christ's incarnation or death on the cross, but for the entire matrix of God's redemptive work, which finds its culminating expression in Christ's person and work. Second, by indicating that a message is Christ-centered not because it makes creative mention of an aspect of Jesus' life or death, but because it discloses an aspect of God's redeeming nature (evident in the text) that is ultimately understood, fulfilled, and/or accomplished in Christ." (page 15)

If I understand Chapell, there are two extremes to be avoided. On one hand, we want to avoid preaching a message that is not grounded in the grace relationship we have with Christ. These kinds of messages are easy to preach. Frankly, I suspect that a lot of topical preaching (though not only topical preaching) can be this way. Moralistic preaching like this is good advice that happens to be found in Scripture, but is not connected to redemption in any way.

The other extreme, though perhaps more difficult to define, might show itself by looking for parallels between a Bible character or story and the person, life or work of Christ. For example, a study in 5 ways Joseph was like Jesus might be interesting, but I am not sure that showing these kinds of parallels are anything more than that. I'm not sure that I have every really understood the "big deal" of that kind of approach.

I tend to avoid topical studies in my preaching. Preaching messages based on a particular text keeps me on solid ground. That doesn't mean that all of my series are book expositions. I did a series two years ago that I will revisit in another year or two on the Core Values of our church. But even in that series, I chose a passage from which the particular core value could be taught. I don't want to proof-text my ideas - I want people to hear God's thinking.

Some object to expository preaching because it (in their minds) fails to address issues that people struggle with today. I would argue against that. In the last year I have been able to deal with a variety of issues that people struggle with. But I've done so as they are introduced in the text. Some object that the "seeker" might be turned off to what seems impractical. But that betrays a view of our role as preachers that is not biblically accurate. I'm the messenger. God delivers the message. If I stick to popular topics, I'll merely perpetuate the kind of shallow Christianity that we currently have. We've had people come, listen and stay because of the teaching. Others may not. So be it.

As I have been preaching through Romans over the last few months, something has been happening in our church. Something has been happening in ME! I have the sense from feedback I am getting that people are being strengthened in their understanding of the Gospel and are learning to look at their relationship with God in a different way. I'll be able to deal with plenty of so-called practical topics when I get into Romans 12-16 sometime after the first of next year. But it will be built on a solid foundation because I've taught the previous 11 chapters. If I had treated the Bible as a collection of life-lessons or as a repository of good advice, this would never happen. And as I see it happen, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Have a great Lord's Day. Our very capable Student Pastor is preaching tomorrow. I've been able to work a far more relaxed week and I've needed that. Next week I start a series in 1 Thessalonians on evidences of spiritual health. Kind of topical, I admit - but the subjects I've chosen are rooted in Paul's text, not my own self-made list.


frostykaiser said...

A nice point Peter. I agree that preaching directly from scripture definitely encourages a fuller understanding of the entire context of God’s message. As you mention, “I’m the messenger. God delivers the message.” We move ourselves out of God’s way when using His own word.

On the other hand, I would hate to dismiss topical teaching entirely, as it can offer a foothold for some to grasp the gospel. The key is to use the topic to focus on Christ and not the reverse.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1cor 1:20-23 NIV)

Without setting our eyes on Christ crucified, we are preaching only foolishness, regardless of mode.

Bumble said...

Good reminder, Peter, (Chapell was one of my homiletics text books). The issue is this: "Can we truely preach Christ expositionally through out the Bible?"

If I were to preach Proverb and expound it as "what the author intended", it won't be Christ-centered! May be God-centered, but not Christ!

Peter Bogert said...

Frostykaiser: I agree that topical preaching has its place, but again, I prefer to preach a topic by choosing a main text to explain and then supporting it, rather than giving a systematic theology-like approach.

Bumble: on my church web page under "What we offer" there are links to a series on Proverbs 1-9 that I did earlier this year. I by no means consider myself an expert, but you can at least get an idea how another person handled that issue.

Peter Bogert said...

Bumble - one more thing. If you don't have Chapell's most recent edition of CSP, I'd suggest it. He has revised the material that relates to the question/issue you raise. The revision came out in March, I believe.

bumble said...

Thx for the pointer to Proverbs. Will study them later.

bumble said...

It's funny. After reading your post on Sunday, I headed to church and heard a sermon about Joseph in Genesis 45. There, he was compared with Jesus for three things Joseph did: provide bread and save the world, forgive, and one more thing which I forgot.

It's not great and not very fulfilling, but at least it's still have some nurtrition values, compared to the other bad sermons. Perhaps that's why I am not too critical with other preachers beside myself.

Well, I am off to study your Proverbs...