Definitions Without Jesus – Christian Preaching?

John raised an important question in response to the post on key elements of an expository preaching definition.  Should it not include some reference to Jesus?  Some say yes, others say not necessarily.  Interestingly, of the six definitions I have used in my preaching course, only one includes a reference to Christ (J.I.Packer uses the term, “Christ-related”).  Anyway, two positions to ponder:

Christocentric preaching – Bryan Chappell, influenced by Edmund Clowney, teaches and models a form of preaching wherein the fallen-condition focus of the passage is resolved by moving to the person and work of Christ.  People in this line of thought have made comments that a sermon which could be preached in a synagogue, or one in which Christ is not mentioned, is essentially a non-Christian sermon.  (Interestingly, Chappell’s definition of an expository sermon, on p132 of Christ-Centered Preaching does not make any reference to Christ – “An expository sermon . . . expounds Scriptures by deriving from a specific text main points and subpoints that disclose the thought of the author, cover the scope of the passage, and are applied to the lives of listeners.”)

Theocentric preaching – I’ve heard Haddon Robinson reject the charge that a message without Christ is essentially a non-Christian sermon by stating that he preaches theocentrically, and if God plays a key role in the message, then he knows no other God but the Trinitarian God of Scripture.  In practice, Robinson does move from an Old Testament passage to Christ when it works to do so, but he does not feel obliged to do so every time.

People who question the “always bring it round to Jesus” approach are not automatically advocating anthropocentric, “seven secrets for success,” or self-help sermons.  Chappell is right to critique sub-Christian preaching of the “be like,” “be good,” or “be disciplined” variety.  However, must every sermon include Jesus in order to be considered expository?  Certainly many sermons will naturally move to Jesus, but must every sermon?  I would say not, what would you say?

5 thoughts on “Definitions Without Jesus – Christian Preaching?

  1. Technically, probably not… but Jesus did say in John 5:39 that the Scriptures were about Him. Much, if not all, of the preaching in the New Testament did get back around to Jesus–both to Jewish and Gentile audiences.

    I wouldn’t say that an expository message was “non-Christian” if it didn’t include Jesus, but since Jesus is the centerpiece of Scripture, we should ask the question in our preparation, “How does this relate to Jesus?”

  2. Peter,

    You might want to consider adding a third position that has recently been advocated by Peter Enns and others, namely, “Christotelic.” According to Enns, “The OT is a story that is going somewhere, which is what the Apostles are at great pains to show. It is the OT as a whole, particularly in its grand themes, that finds its telos, its completion, in Christ. This is not to say that the vibrancy of the OT witness now comes to an end, but that—on the basis of apostolic authority—it finds its proper goal, purpose, telos, in that event by which God himself determined to punctuate his covenant: Christ” (“Apostolic Hermeneutics And An Evangelical Doctrine Of Scripture: Moving Beyond A Modernist Impasse,” Westminster Theological Journal 65 [2003], 277. I am not sure that I agree with this approach, but I am hearing and seeing it mentioned more and more.

  3. Thanks Charles, I appreciate your helpful input to the site. I was offering two positions to ponder, but by no means an exhaustive list. There are other positions worthy of consideration. The Christotelic position sounds very close to the redemptive-historical approach of Clowney, Chappell, Keller, et al. In some ways this is not a massively dividing issue since many who hold a “theocentric” approach (as opposed to “christocentric”) will often take the sermon through to the person and work of Christ anyway. From my perspective at least, it is primarily a resistance to the notion that a sermon must come to Christ in order to be expository. Probably the bigger issue is whether the Old Testament can be understood in its own right, at its particular stage of the progression of revelation and yet relevant by appropriate application for today. Or whether the Old Testament has to be interpreted through the lens of the New Testament. At this level the theological camps diverge more forcefully.

  4. I happen to see validity in both anthropocentric and theocentric approaches. I don’t think the answer is found in holimiletical technique. I think it’s found in purpose and setting.

    I recently went to the Billy Graham School of Evangelism for some refreshing. It was an awesome time to say the least. At the school, I was reminded of the priority of the cross. It’s central to all we do. I actually realized how my seminary, homiletical training made me lean over to a theocentric approach. This is good until I think of eternity and peoples’ souls.

    My purpose as a preacher is to first proclaim the gospel. That’s the purpose I mentioned.

    The setting I think deals with where I preach. I understand not every message is evangelistic in nature. But in evangelical forms it is.

    My advice: always give an invitation of some sort whenever I preach, whereever I preach.

  5. Christian, expository preaching must have Christ at some point. It may not be the sermon. It may be immediately after it. In Black traditions, the pastor preaches and then another minister may give a gospel invitation.

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