Holding Back the Obvious

Sometimes a passage very obviously points beyond itself.  For instance a passage with an obvious parallel to today, or a passage that points forward to Christ.  Psalm 22 is a classic example of the latter, or Genesis 22.  It is natural to make the obvious connection from the start and repeat it throughout.  Sometimes this is very worthwhile – especially when the parallel is to today.  Highlighting and emphasizing the applicational relevance of a passage is usually very helpful (rather than holding out until a few brief applications at the end).  However, if the application is obvious, it may be worth holding back before you state it.  Certainly when your passage obviously pre-figures Christ in some way, it is worth considering holding back on the mention of Christ.

Why?  Three reasons.

First, it is good for the congregation to see that a passage has value in its own right, without having to overtly read it through New Testament glasses that were not available to the original readers.

Second, it is good for the sermon because if the connection is clear, then the listeners will be thinking about that as you go, perhaps wondering if you are missing the obvious.  This added tension can really maintain interest in the sermon.

Third, it is good for you as a preacher, because it allows you to “pack a punch” when that tension is finally resolved.  References throughout the message will add explanation, but will reduce the impact.

For the sake of demonstrating the value of a passage in its own right, for added tension and for added impact, it is often worth holding back the obvious, especially when the obvious is Jesus.

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?