In my years of ministry, whether as a Lead Pastor or minister on staff, not once have I come across a pastor who claims to be something other than a “Christ-centered preacher.” Recent years within our convention of churches have produced more nuanced definitions for what is meant by “Christ-centered exposition,” but I am not convinced that we are all on the same page. While we have had many discussions concerning the topic of proclaiming Christ from all the Scriptures, more arguments need to be made. When speaking about Christ-centered exposition, let’s make sure we are including the following six clarifications. Some of these overlap, but it is helpful to include all six:
- Christ-centered preaching means declaring the gospel explicitly in every sermon.
Paul might be the most Christ-centered of all preachers. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he explains that he delivered the gospel to them as the message of first importance (1 Cor 15:3). Some pastors may say that the gospel is of primary importance to them and their church’s ministries, but an examination of any of their sermons will offer the final verdict. Christ-centered preachers declare the gospel explicitly, because the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins is the good news we have been called to preach.
- Christ-centered preaching means declaring the gospel explicitly to unbelievers and believers alike.
Interestingly, Paul’s words to the Corinthian Church include a reminder of the gospel (1 Cor 15:1). However, his letter is not written to a group of unbelievers seeking salvation. Paul is not writing an evangelistic letter; he is writing to a group of believers called a church. No Bible-loving Christian will argue that the gospel must be preached for the Spirit to bring about conversion in the life of an unbeliever, but many Christians neglect to preach the gospel to believers as well. Christ-centered preachers realize that the gospel brings salvation to the unbeliever while also working in the believer to bring about sanctification.
- Christ-centered preaching means saturating every message with Christ.
Some advocates of Christ-centered preaching have argued that Christ does not need to be mentioned in order to have a Christ-centered sermon (see Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, 279). Yet, how can someone preach a message centered on Christ if Christ is never even mentioned? Christ-centered preaching involves naming Christ and preaching him from every text of Scripture, even the Old Testament. If all of the promises of God find their “yes” in Christ, then every promise of the Old Testament must declare Jesus plainly as the fulfillment of that promise (2 Cor 1:20).
- Christ-centered preaching means avoiding the “gospel presentation mentality.”
Occasionally a church member will thank me for giving a gospel presentation in my sermon. Of course, I am grateful for the encouragement, and I sincerely appreciate church members who look for the gospel to be clearly presented because they long to see unbelievers in our community converted. Yet, the “gospel presentation mentality” damages the overall gospel saturation of the sermon. If a preacher reduces his gospel to an “add on” at the end of his message, he teaches his people that the text he has explained has nothing to do with the person and work of Christ. Christ-centered preaching avoids this mentality by revealing the riches of Christ from every text.
- Christ-centered preaching means commending Christ above all others.
I admit that I have my favorite so-called Bible characters. What pastor does not want to have the theological depth and evangelistic fervor of the Apostle Paul? However, Paul (himself) clearly rebukes the mentality of preaching the examples of fallible men. Sure the apostle told others to imitate him, but he said to do so as he imitates Christ (1 Cor 11:1). To sum up his message, Paul wrote to the Colossians that it is Jesus we are to proclaim (Col 1:28). To preach a message exhorting others to follow Moses or David or Peter eventually leads to problems when our hearers learn that Moses and David and Peter all failed to live perfectly according to God’s standard, as we all do. Ultimately, we preach Christ because he is the only one who deserves imitation as the perfect sacrifice who lived, died, and rose again so that we could proclaim forgiveness of sins in his name.
- Christ-centered preaching means interpreting the Scriptures as Jesus and the Apostles did.
It needs to be clearly stated: this isn’t about certain personalities, a preaching fad or being a part of an exclusive group. Christ-centered preaching is about getting our preaching and interpretation of the Bible in line with Jesus and the Apostles. It might seem like a new fad, but Christ-centered preaching actually came about through the institution of Jesus-centered hermeneutics by Jesus himself in Luke 24. He leaves the disciples with a deep, heart-felt impression that transforms them (24:32). They are awestruck to learn how He is the key to interpreting the entire Bible (24:25-27). And though the Apostles interpretation of the OT that we find in the NT may make modern interpreters nervous, it follows the pattern established by Jesus in proclaiming Christ as central to every text! I know many are wary about another fleeting fad and cliquish movement, and so am I! But this is not a new trend to be shirked. It is a call to return to Scripture!
These six clarifications of Christ-centered preaching do not contain all of the warnings and encouragements needed to preach Christ-centered sermons. However, these clarifications should provide a better-defined framework for those who want to see the glories of Christ put on display through their preaching ministry.