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Christ-Centered Preaching (Part 1): The “Dilemma” of Christ-Centered Expository Preaching

I just learned of a panel discussion taking place at the Southern Baptist Convention this year in Houston on Christ-Centered Teaching and Preaching. This is an important topic and I am glad that our friends at The Gospel Project are hosting this event. There has been much discussion over this issue, and much misunderstanding among Southern Baptists. Over the next few weeks I will be posting my thoughts on Christ-centered preaching and teaching. Make sure you sign up here for the free breakfast event.

Baptists through the years have emphasized the need for Christian preachers to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. John Broadus summarized his approach saying, “The subject of preaching is divine truth, centrally the gospel as revealed and offered in Jesus Christ.” While many would say “amen!” to these affirmations on the importance of the gospel, others would also want to emphasize the primacy of expository preaching.

Essentially, expository preaching attempts to explain and apply the biblical text in its context. This poses an interesting dilemma for Christian preachers. How is one to preach Christ where he may not seem to be present in the text?  In asking this question, two assumptions are being made:

  • Expositors should be faithful to the context of a passage.
  • Christian preachers should desire to proclaim the glories of Christ.

How does one deal with the text with integrity and preach Christ from a text like Nehemiah? After all, many Old Testament instructors declare that “you should not look for Jesus under every rock!” Students are taught to respect and consider the “original” hearers. Thus, the question remains as to whether the preacher can accomplish these two goals (exposition and Christ-centeredness) without arbitrarily inserting Jesus into the text or simply “leapfrogging to Jesus” at the end of the sermon.

Bryan Chapell argues that one of the solutions to this dilemma is for the expositor to see the Bible as a unified book of redemptive history which culminates in the person and work of Christ. Chapell argues that preachers cannot properly explain a portion of biblical revelation, even if they say many true things about it, unless they relate it to the redeeming work of God that all Scripture ultimately purposes to disclose. In this sense, the entire Bible is Christ-centered because his redemptive work in all of its incarnational, atoning, rising, interceding, and reigning dimensions is the capstone of all of God’s revelation of his dealings with his people. Thus, no aspect of revelation can be thoroughly understood or explained in isolation of Christ’s redeeming work.

Therefore, the goal for Christ-centered expositors is not to “look for Jesus under every rock,” but rather to find out how a particular text fits into the whole redemptive story that culminates in Christ. Ultimately, the particular book is within the wider biblical context. In other words, it is a short story within the meta-narrative of Scripture. The discipline that deals with the unfolding of God’s redemptive work in history is often called biblical theology.

Chapell provides a helpful analogy to describe this process. He says that preachers should use both a “microscope” and a “theological fish-eye lens” when examining a text, in order to see the forest (the larger redemptive story) and the trees (the immediate text and its details). It seems that expositional theory often focuses upon the trees to the neglect of the forest, missing an important dimension of the text and a degree of its glory and grace. Good exposition will expose the trees and the forest, giving respect for the original author and respect for the redemptive story and its hero: Jesus.