Recently, I was on a panel about Christ-centered preaching with Ed Stetzer, Trevin Wax, and Eric Hankins. You can listen to that discussion here. I had a lot of fun and was sharpened by the discussion. I wanted to take this opportunity to elaborate on the first question that was asked: “Why have this discussion?” I think there are at least 3 reasons:
- We want to avoid moralistic preaching- Many have recognized a moralistic Christianity in our churches that communicates we need to obey God in order to be accepted by Him, rather than the truth that we are accepted by God in Christ and therefore we obey Him. Especially when teaching the OT, the message has been to imitate the good characters and don’t act like the bad ones. I saw one children’s Sunday School lesson that said “Be nice to your mother-in-law like Ruth.” This kind of teaching leads to self-righteousness if we can keep the lists of rules and self-condemnation when we fail. These moralistic teachings distract from a gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.
- We are not sure how to preach the OT as the Church’s Scripture- Many Christian preachers avoid the OT because they just don’t know how to approach it. How do I preach commands from God to wipe out entire civilizations including women and children? How do I preach don’t mix 2 kinds of fabrics? How can I preach these weird things in a way that is relevant to my people? Since many don’t know how to handle the OT we become pratical Marcionists who don’t see the OT as really being the Church’s Scripture or we misuse the OT, for example, by using 2nd temple prophecies simply to set up a building campaign. Christian preachers don’t want to be like that, so the Christ-centered conversation is helping them see how to engage the OT (about 2/3 of the Bible) as God’s Word for the church.
- We recognize that not preaching Christ-centered sermons will harm the church and its mission- Not only will failing to preach Christ-centered sermons produce Pharisees, but we won’t be able to engage culture rightly. You have to read the NT back into the OT (everyone does) in order to engage things like the gay marriage debate. People will object, “Well, yes, the OT condemns homosexuality, but it also says don’t mix 2 fabrics, and don’t eat pork.” Those aren’t silly objections. We have to be able to show people that those texts are meant to be read in light of their fulfillment in Christ and can’t be abstracted from him. Hermeneutics are essential to our mission!
We need to have this discussion so we can uphold the Gospel of grace in our preaching, teach pastors how to handle the OT, and effectively engage the culture around us.