Tag Archives: tim keller

What Gospel-Centered Preaching Is and Does

Tim Keller writes,

“Christ-centered preaching converts doctrinal lectures or little how-to talks into true sermons.”

“The gospel brings news primarily, rather than instruction.”

Keller explains,

“In Luke 24 we learn that every single part of the Bible is really about Jesus. The Christ-centric preaching approach sees the whole Bible as essentially one big story with a central plot: God restores the world lost in Eden by intervening in history to call out and form a new humanity. This intervention climaxes in Jesus Christ, who accomplishes salvation for us what we could not accomplish for ourselves. While only a minority of Biblical passages actually give the whole storyline, every Biblical text must be placed in the whole storyline to be understood. In other words, every text must be asked “What does this tell me about the salvation we have in Christ?” in order to be understood.

This understanding of preaching, then, turns all preaching into narrative preaching, even if it is an exposition of Deuteronomy, Proverbs or James. Every sermon is a story in which the plot of the human dilemma thickens, and the hero that comes to the rescue is Jesus. Christ-centric preaching converts doctrinal lectures or little how-to talks into narrative preaching, but it is still careful, close Biblical exposition of texts.

The “informational” view of preaching conceives of preaching as changing people’s lives after the sermon. They listen to the sermon, take notes, and then apply the Biblical principles during the week. But this assumes that our main problem is a lack of compliance to Biblical principles, when (as we saw above) all our problems are actually due to a lack of joy and belief in the gospel. Our real problem is that Jesus’ salvation is not as real to our hearts as the significance and security our idols promise us. If that’s our real problem, then the purpose of preaching is to make Christ so real to the heart that in the sermon people have an experience of his grace, and the false saviors that drive us lose their power and grip on us on the spot. That’s the “experiential” view of preaching.”

Objection to Gospel-Centered Preaching

One objection to Christ-Centered preaching was expressed like this:

“While I would never want to take any emphasis away from the gospel, I would ask why those who have accepted the gospel need to be continually reminded of what took place?

If we assume for a minute that the gospel message is synonymous with telling how one can join a club (again, just assumption for a minute for understanding purposes). It would be as if you continually, week after week, twice a week, told the members of that club what must take place for them to join the club.

That sounds somewhat silly.

Likewise, we have already believed the good news. The good news that Jesus did come. While it is still good news, and while we should always rejoice in hearing that Jesus did come and die for our sins, we cannot forbid ourselves from learning other truths presented within the Word.

The Scripture speaks of the gospel, yes, but it does not only speak of the gospel. And while the gospel message may be the pivotal point and the climactic reason for all that is, this doesn’t mean that the gospel is all that there is”

Answering the Objection

I also can understand being a skeptic of Gospel-Centered Preaching. To reference the “joining the club” analogy, I must say that to equate the Gospel as merely an entrance to the Christian life is a misunderstanding of the real ramifications of what the Gospel truly is.

Scripture is like a great movie. Not every scene contains the main character, yet each scene pertains to the main character and would not make much sense without reference to the main character.

Think of Lord of the Rings. In the Two Towers, Gandalf told Aragorn to hold on and keep fighting. As far as Gandalf was concerned, the battle was already won. As soon as Gandalf showed up in the wee hours of the morning, all hope was instantly restored in those who were fighting. Even though Gandalf was not in much of the scenes at this point, it makes little sense for them to fight a seemingly losing battle without connecting what they are doing (fighting a good fight) to the one who has won the battle for them.

Likewise, even though Jesus is not specifically mentioned or even referenced in various passages, it makes little sense to preach to people “Do not lie,” and leave it at that. Yes, we should not lie, and it is good and right to tell the truth, just as it was good and right for Aragorn (and his allies) to fight for their lives and for that which is good, however, we must reference our doing (do not lie, love your neighbor, etc…) to Christ and His finished work. In the words of Paul, “It is Christ formed within us.”

Why shouldn’t we lie? Because it is wrong to lie? Yes, but a more profound reason is that as we partake of the nature of God (without becoming God, mind you – 2 Peter 1:4), the natural result is that we will want to tell the truth simply because of the Spirit of Christ Who lives within us. Because of the Spirit of Christ living in us, we partake of the nature of God which by necessity precedes the law – the law is the natural expression of the nature of God. To merely preach and teach our duty alone and it only being right to do because God desires us to do so seems to miss the point of our doing completely. We are to do these commands and follow these statutes because Christ Who is the exact imprint of the nature of God (Hebrews 1:3) of which we partake has 1) already finished the full requirement of the whole law (fulfilling our duty) 2) exhorts us to do them in reflection and admiration for what He (Christ) has done for us and in our place.

So why must we make the Gospel central in our preaching? Because Jesus and His finished work is the means by which we partake of God’s nature. Without making the Gospel the central reference point in our thinking and doing, we cease to preach a Christian message. The Christian message is Christ has fulfilled the whole law for us and in our place and it, that is, the gospel, is then what motivates us to do His will.

With so many religions, is there one that possesses all truth?

Some say there are many paths to Heaven – so long as you pick a path, we are all going to Heaven.

One reason provided by some about why many religions exist is, each religion possesses a part of the truth – and since no single religion can possess all truth, we have many religions.  Further, it is arrogant for one religion to claim it has all truth.

This idea has been conveyed by a story of some blind men and an elephant.

As Wikipedia summarizes: In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one touches a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes on what they felt, and learn they are in complete disagreement.

In John Godfrey Saxe’s version (1816–1887), one man falls against the side of the elephant and proclaims the elephant is a wall.  Another leans on the tusk and proclaims an elephant is a spear.  Another touches the trunk and proclaims the elephant is a snake.  Another touches the knee and proclaims the elephant is a tree.  Another touches the ear and proclaims the elephant is a fan.  And the last one grabs the tail and proclaims the elephant is a rope.

The point of the story is that while each blind man is proclaiming what they believe to be is an absolute truth, in fact all of their truths are just relative based on their experience of the elephant.  No one has the Truth, in its entirety.  This story is often used to critique those who proclaim some knowledge of absolute truth – most commonly those with a monotheistic religious world view.  It is intended to teach us how knowledge and truth is in fact relative.

Here is Lesslie Newbigin’s response:

In the famous story of the blind men and the elephant… the real point of the story is constantly overlooked.  The story is told from the point of view of the king and his courtiers, who are not blind but can see that the blind men are unable to grasp the full reality of the elephant and are only able to get hold of part of it.  The story is constantly told in order to neutralize the affirmations of the great religions, to suggest that they learn humility and recognize that none of them can have more than one aspect of the truth.  But, of course, the real point of the story is exactly the opposite.  If the king were also blind, there would be no story.  What this means then is that there is an appearance of humility and a protestation that the truth is much greater than anyone of us can grasp.  But if this is used to invalidate all claims to discern the truth, it is in fact an arrogant claim with the kind of knowledge which is superior that you have just said, no religion has.

As Tim Keller further clarifies:

To say, I don’t know which religion is true is an act of humility.  To say, none of the religions have truth, no one can be sure there’s a god is actually to assume you have the kind of knowledge, you just said no other person, no other religion has.  How dare you?  See, it’s a kind of arrogant thing to say nobody can know the truth because it’s a universal truth claim.  To say, ‘Nobody can make universal truth claims.’  That is a universal truth claim.  ‘Nobody can see the whole truth.’  You couldn’t know that unless you think you see the whole truth.  And, therefore, you’re doing the very thing you say religious people shouldn’t do.