What Is Christ-Centered Preaching ?

What did Paul mean when he wrote 1 Corinthians 2:2, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”? It is clear that he wrote in all his epistles about a great deal more than the death of Jesus Christ. It is also clear that the main subject of all his writings is the person and work of Jesus. Yet he also writes about matters concerning his personal life and the lives of his fellow Christians. This particular passage in 1 Corinthians is a useful place to start our investigation, for in it Paul repudiates the worldview of the pagan, the philosopher, and even the jew who attempts to get a handle on reality apart from the truth that is in Christ. “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). The reason for this Christ-centeredness is so that the faith of his readers “might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5). This means that the only appropriate way to respond to God’s revealed power and wisdom is by being focused on the person of Christ. Elsewhere Paul defines the power of God as Christ and his gospel. …

The problem we face as preachers is not a new one. Throughout the ages Christian preachers have struggled with the question of the centrality of Christ and how this affects the way we handle the text of the Bible. It is an obvious problem for the preaching of the Old Testament, but in a more subtle way, it also exists for the preacher of the New Testament. If a passage is not directly about the gospel events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, to what extent are we obliged to make the connection? Would Paul really have us preach sermons in which we end up making the same platitudinous remarks about Jesus dying for our sins? Can the Old Testament speak to us from within itself and without any attempt being made to connect it to the gospel?

There is no doubt that many Christian preachers, in effect, do preach from the Old Testament about God in the Psalms, or the life of faith exhibited by one or other of the heroes of Israel, without connecting it specifically to the person and work of Christ. Furthermore, it is not only in the more academic books of theology or biblical studies that the Old Testament is dealt with in isolation from the New. Many books and inductive Bible study guides are written specifically to edify Christians from the Old Testament but without any explicit Christian content. A number of factors seem to be at work here, particularly among evangelical writers. There is, first, the correct assumption that the Old Testament is Christian Scripture and that, despite the difficulties in doing so, it must be appropriated for Christian people. Second, there is the recognition that the people of the Old Testament believed in the same God that we as Christians acknowledge. But then there is also the questionable assumption that the people of the Old Testament primarily function to provide patterns of faith and behavior for us to imitate or, conversely, to avoid.

There is often a failure to think through how the link between the people and events of the Old Testament are to be made with us as, presumably, New Testament people. This failure leads to some major defects in preaching, not the least of which is the tendency to moralize on Old Testament events, or simply to find pious examples to imitate. But, as Edmund Clowney puts it,

preaching which ignores the historia revelationis which “again and again equates Abraham and us, Moses’ struggle and ours, Peter’s denial and our unfaithfulness; which proceeds only illustratively, does not bring the Word of God and does not permit the church to see the glory of the work of God; it only preaches man, the sinful, the sought, the redeemed, the pious man, but not Jesus Christ.”

~Graeme Goldsworthy – Preaching the Whole Bible As Christian Scripture pp 1-3

At one time, I never understood why many preachers of God were absolutely frightened when doing the act of preaching. I think my misunderstanding on this point was due partly to the fact that when teachers taught about preaching, there was no instruction of “think[ing] through how the link between the people and events of the Old Testament are to be made with us, presumably, New Testament people.” This should go without saying, but I will say it anyway. I am not referring to allegorical preaching where you create a 1 to 1 comparison to Christ with every person, thing, and action. I am speaking to something more deliberate, meaningful, and fundamental.

Preaching Christ-Centeredly necessitates demonstrating how the text—whatever the text—finds its ultimate reference point in the person and work of Christ. It is when this happens that we are freed and empowered to obey the biblical imperatives and live out Scripture’s ethical implications. Anything less relegates the preaching of moralism.

3 thoughts on “What Is Christ-Centered Preaching ?”

  1. Dave, I am thrilled to see people talking about this. I often wondered how we can read the Scriptures where Christ Himself declares that all of God’s revelation points to HIM and not then preach that same revelation in that light. I have truly enjoyed getting to hear younger guys do this (very few older ones do, as far as I know). I think that a lot of this has to do with one’s hermeneutics. I think that, by and large, dispensationalism flat out prohibits this by its inherent categorical distinctions. Yet another reason for the Scriptures to rule even our interpretive skills. Thanks for the post.

  2. Agreed, Pete. It seems the 40 and under crowd (in general) are the ones grabbing hold of this idea.

    There are folks who have helped my thinking in this area: Bryan Chappell, Graeme Goldsworthy, and TF Torrance. Go check them out.

  3. Biblical Preaching -Haddon RobinsonThis approach has ralacidly transformed how I preach and my effectiveness. The greatest help for me has been the notion that every sermon should have ONLY ONE Big Idea anchored in the text. It should be clear, concise, and 15 word or less. The sermon should seek to either explain it, prove it, or apply it. Anything that doesn’t move the sermon farther along to explain, prove, or apply the Big Idea must be saved for another day. (just because it’s a powerful truth, funny story, or amazing illustration, if it doesn’t drive toward the Big Idea it will only distract from the Big Idea )

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