Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, ed. Bryan Chapell. Baker Academic, 1994, Second Edition 2005. 386 pp.
* The following is a book review submitted as partial fulfillment of the Master of Divinity degree with emphasis in Pastoral Ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fall 2008).
Does every text of Scripture relate to Christ and bear witness to His glorious message of salvation? Indeed! In his book, Christ-Centered Preaching, Bryan Chapell argues that all of Scripture reveals God’s redemptive plan for fallen humanity and that Jesus himself introduced this pattern, (Chapell, p. 40). John’s prologue explains “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,” (cf. John 1:1,14a).
Since the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation points to the person and work of Jesus Christ [the Word who became flesh] why would a message ever be preached without reference to Him? How could a sermon be prepared without using a Christocentric hermeneutic? How could a text be delivered that is divorced from the One who breathed it into existence? Chapell addresses each of these questions as well as champions an expositional approach to preaching that reaches fallen humanity with the life-changing truths of Scripture. Chapell refers to this as Christ-centered preaching.
Chapell explains that all of Scripture has a Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) and that God is the central theme of every verse, (Chapell, p. 50). All Scripture illustrates humanity’s fallen condition and God’s divine providence. As creatures in a fallen condition, man has but one option – to focus his attention on a loving, gracious, and merciful God. This message of redemption must surface in every message that is proclaimed. During his life and ministry, Jesus taught that he was the central message of the Scriptures beginning with Moses and the prophets (cf. Luke 24:27). In his book, Spirit-Led Preaching, Greg Heisler says, “If Jesus used the Old Testament to preach about himself, then so should we,” (Heisler, p. 26)! Heisler goes on to say, “Paul’s approach to preaching is his strong emphasis on the Christ-centered gospel,” (p. 35).
In chapter ten, Chapell discusses the importance of solid biblical, theological, and exegetical work required for preaching redemptive sermons that are grounded in the person and work of Christ, (Chapell, p. 275). In his book, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Graeme Goldsworthy affirms the redemptive preaching of Scripture by explaining that the gospel is the hermeneutical key to understanding the Scriptures, (Goldsworthy, p. 85).
“Christ is revealed as the meaning of the Scriptures so that no part can be rightly understood without reference to him,” (Goldsworthy, p. 85).
Goldsworthy creates the imagery of the gospel as being the interpretive lens through which we can understand the Bible. Chapell presents the same understanding in his FCF model, but this reader favors Goldsworthy’s explanation. Heisler connects practical theology and preaching when he says, “We preachers must practice in our pulpits what we believe in our theology: Christ is the grand theme, the singular message, and the supreme subject of all the Bible. Whereas the Old Testament predicts Christ, the New Testament presents Christ. Both Testaments bear Christological witness,” (Heisler, p. 26).
Expository preaching faithfully explains the text but application makes the text practical to those who are listening. Faithful exegesis without effective application is being negligent behind the pulpit. The application process seeks to answer the “so what” question of a passage and “fulfills the obligations of exposition,” (Chapell, P. 210). The task of exposition is incomplete until the call to action is presented, which comes from effectively applying the message. When the Word of God is preached, people must be confronted with either changing their beliefs or behaviors. Chapell says that application is the “present, personal consequence of scriptural truth,” (p. 210), but Heisler says, “what we are doing in application is displaying how the truth of the Word of God shows up in real life,” (p. 123). This explanation by Heisler most clearly communicates the heart of application; something that is relevant to everyday life.
In his book, Anointed Expository Preaching, Stephen Olford quotes Haddon Robinson as saying, “Christians must conform to the age to come, not this present age. Biblical truth must be related to men’s lives; but on the other hand, men’s lives must be changed to be relevant to biblical faith. This is the work of application,” (p. 252). Regardless of one’s understanding and definition of application, it is crucial to the effective preaching and teaching of God’s Word.
Christ-Centered Preaching offers a wonderful introduction for preparing and delivering expositional sermons. This book contains several strengths. First, it provides sufficient diagrams and illustrations that aid in understanding the material. The diagram (figure 11.2) is especially helpful in illustrating the importance of viewing all Scripture within the scope of God’s redemptive work, (Chapell, p. 304). The picture begins with Adam and Eve and surveys the whole counsel of God’s Word culminating with the return of Christ. The double helix diagrams that appear throughout the book are helpful reminders that all of the elements of expository preaching (explanation, illustration, and application) tie together under a common theme. These elements may not always be taken separately, but rather, some experienced preachers learn how to effectively intertwine them throughout the sermon.
Second, the book thoroughly covers the material and gives helpful examples for creating sermon outlines, diagramming a text, and writing a manuscript. For example, the sample sermon located in Appendix twelve helps to synthesize the material and demonstrate various elements of expository messages.
A third strength of the book is the clear communication and defining of key terms. Whenever uncommon language or terminology is used there are adequate explanations or helpful footnotes available to the reader. The footnotes also provide helpful cross-references and supplemental reading information for conducting further study on a particular item.
In addition to strengths, there are also notable weaknesses. First, the book is too verbose. At times, the wordiness causes difficulty in reading and in staying focused. The 400 page small-font work could have probably been written in 250 pages or less. For example, the Pattern of Illustrations (Chapter 7) labors on with regards to finding and storing illustrations. This entire section could have been handled in one page as opposed to three. At times, it is painfully laborious in arriving at conclusions. Just get to the point! Second, the book is weak in establishing a good argument for the need of expositional preaching. Expository preaching illustrates God’s Word as the authority for all matters of life. Chapell does highlight the authority of God’s Word and how humanity is constantly seeking for authority and meaning, (Chapell, p. 31). While this point is understood, Chapell could have spent more time fleshing it out. A third weakness of Chapell’s book is the minimal treatment of personal piety and holiness of the preacher. Heisler devotes an entire chapter in his book addressing the importance of the preacher’s sanctification, which includes conversion, call, training and education, character, and humility. Heisler does a much better job than Chapell in discussing the importance of the preacher’s personal holiness; specifically the removal of sin which invites the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Olford also devotes an entire chapter in his book addressing the importance of God’s man being holy, happy, and humble as His instrument. Humility is mentioned by both Heisler and Olford.
J. Sidlow Baxter once said, “No man is full of himself can ever truly preach the Christ who emptied himself.”
Alistair Begg has said that you can’t make much of God and much of yourself at the same time. Humility is foundational to Christ-likeness (cf. Phil. 2:5-11). Chapell mentions personal piety issues in the opening chapter, but expanding on this topic would have enhanced the book.
There are five quotations from Christ-Centered Preaching that impressed this reader.
“Expository preaching solemnly binds a preacher to the task of representing the precise meaning of a text as intended by the original author or as illuminated by another inspired source within the Bible,” (Chapell, p. 75).
The preacher is not at liberty to impose personal meaning on a text. Scripture alone interprets Scripture and the meaning must be consistent with the whole counsel of God’s Word. Interpretation must also honor authorial intent.
“A sermon remains expository and Christ-centered not because it leapfrogs to Golgotha but because it locates the intent of a passage within the scope of God’s redemptive work,” (Chapell, p. 304).
Expository preaching understands the text in its context and what it meant to the original audience. This becomes a springboard for applying it to a contemporary audience by connecting it with God’s redemptive plan.
“Excellent preaching makes people confident that biblical truth lies within their reach, not beyond their grasp,” (Chapell, p. 110).
Putting the cookies on the bottom shelf is a phrase commonly used to refer to presenting complex issues in simplistic terms. There are many who suffer from biblical illiteracy. Good exposition is when the preacher can take complex truths of Scripture and explain them simplistically while maintaining doctrinal and theological integrity.
“The authority of the Word enables us to say the most challenging things to any person without apology, but that same authority lets us speak tenderly without compromising strength,” (Chapell, p. 95).
Standing on the authority of God’s Word gives liberty to the preacher. Expository preaching that honors the context and content of Scripture is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the preacher can say, “Thus says the Lord” with all authority as opposed to “Thus says the preacher” which is powerless. Power comes from the Holy Spirit; authority comes from the Word.
“Unfolding and opening the meaning of the Word of God characterize the expositor’s task, not merely on the basis of Christ’s example but also on the basis of ancient biblical precedent, which further defines exposition’s essentials,” (Chapell, p. 86).
Apart from the Word there is nothing of any value that can be said with the power to change lives. The Bible is filled with stories of men and women who were faithful in serving God and fulfilling their assigned duty. Preaching the ancient biblical precedent means that preachers must observe and heed the entire counsel of God’s Word; from the ancient prophets to the New Testament apostles and disciples.
Christ-Centered Preaching is thought-provoking and enriching. There are several items that have influenced this reader for many years of ministry to come. First, preaching begins with the text. The text drives the sermon not the other way around. Even when topical approaches are used, Scripture in its context must remain the focal point. Second, every text connects the dots between fallen humanity and God’s divine providence. Christ is the central theme of the Bible. Therefore, every sermon must survey the cross. Third, expository preaching means that the text is exhausted. This does not mean that all of the gold has been mined from the passage, but rather that all of the major truths have been explored and that none of the verses have been skipped. Preaching line-by-line and verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible is a great way to preach expositionally. Fourth, expository preaching requires much practice. It is hard work to exegete, faithfully explain, illustrate, and then apply the relevance of that passage to a contemporary audience. Fifth, before the man of God can stand before the people of God he must first stand under the authority of God.
Personal holiness is key to preaching with power.
God transforms lives through His Word, but “it is accompanied by the regenerating, convicting, and enabling power of the Holy Spirit,” (Chapell, p. 33). In essence, good preaching “involves getting out of the way so that the Word can do its work, (Chapell, p. 34).
M.Div., SEBTS 2010