“Is Christ-centered preaching evangelistic?” I must admit that I was a bit confused when a fellow student posed the question in a PhD seminar. The question seemed out of place and presumed a false dichotomy exists between Christ-centered preaching and evangelistic preaching. After all, true evangelistic preaching centers on the person and work of Christ and genuine Christ-centered preaching constructs a bridge to an evangelistic invitation.
The question prodded me to read more on the subject, and upon further inspection, the student’s question had validity. He had diagnosed an unfortunate twenty-first century homiletical trend. Namely, contemporary preaching lacks clarity. Preachers have divorced themselves from theological precision. A tendency exists among preachers to insert empty parlance and overused buzzwords – particularly when talking about the gospel – in their sermons. Sadly, sermons are labeled “Christ-centered” and “gospel-centered” that never mention the name of Jesus or give hearers an opportunity to repent, believe, and receive the gospel – the very heart of Jesus’ mission and Christ’s mandate (Lk. 19:10; Matt. 28:19-20). The result is that when everything becomes Christ-centered and gospel-centered, the gospel loses focus and evangelistic appeals are minimized.
Francis Bacon once said that conversation makes a ready man, reading makes a full man, and writing makes an exact man. He is correct. Preachers, take notice. We must aim for clarity in preaching because God has clearly spoken. We must remain attentive in our reading because people are reading us. We must strive for exactness in writing because we traffic in words. There is no room for ambiguity and confusion in our communication, because eternity is at stake. A mishandling of Scripture is both a reflection and an indictment on the preacher. It reflects the laziness of the preacher’s preparation and wrongly indicts the God he represents. God has spoken clearly in His Word. No stuttering or stammering there. God’s Word is crystal clear. So, preachers must herald what God has already heralded in His Word. We must be clear that the fountainhead of Christian preaching is the person and work of Jesus Christ and at the center of Christ’s person and work is His redemptive plan of salvation.
Thus, the impetus for clear communication in preaching does not emanate from the schools of rhetoric, but proceeds from God himself. That is, preaching demands precision because the author of preaching, God himself, spoke clearly. A correct understanding of God’s speech activity underscores the theological necessity for preachers to proclaim clear and precise sermons. So, how can preachers reverse this recent homiletical trend? Below are four ways to preach Christ-centered sermons that are theologically precise and evangelistically focused.
- Preach text-driven sermons, because Christ is seen in relation to every text of Scripture. John Stott, in his great work Between Two Worlds, said that the key to effective preaching is not “mastering certain techniques, but being mastered by certain convictions.”John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 92. Stott was exactly right in his analysis of preaching in general and expository, text-driven preaching in specific.Text-driven preaching is expository preaching in the truest sense. Text-driven preaching, as defined by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is “the interpretation and communication of a biblical text in a sermon that re-presents the substance, structure, and spirit of the text. Too often, Christians think of expositional preaching as a style, method, or rhetorical approach to preaching. But nothing could be further from the truth. Text-driven preaching is a theologically motivated philosophy of preaching in response to the nature of God and His revelation to mankind. Therefore, the preacher who wants to proclaim Christ and make Him the hero of the sermon will simply preach the text. All of Scripture either points toward or proceeds from Christ, so the preacher who preaches the text creates a natural bridge to Christ.
- Make sure that the intent of your sermon is to exhort listeners to a response, not fulfill a theological exercise. When the Bible is opened, God speaks. Or to say the reverse, preaching is giving the Bible a voice. God spoke clearly in His Word and His Word demands a response. Thus, Christian preaching demands that the preacher give hearers an opportunity to respond. In fact, all of Scripture is an invitation because the entirety of the Bible calls people to make a decisive response to God himself. Many preachers today errantly label their sermons “Christ-centered” when all that they have done is mentioned the name of Jesus and placed Him in the historical timeline of salvation history. However, such a theological exercise falls woefully short of Christ-centeredness. A preacher who does not give hearers an opportunity to receive Jesus Christ immediately as Savior and Lord has not preached a Christ-centered sermon, no matter what hermeneutical exercise he employed. In fact, the gospel has not been preached without an invitation. A true Christ-centered sermon will call listeners to receive Christ, because as Roy Fish said “the gospel message is of such a nature that an invitation to response is the logical outcome of its declaration.”Roy Fish, Giving a Good Invitation (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1974), 9.
- Zoom-in, Zoom-out, Reach-out. Sermons that are Christ-centered, evangelistically focused, and theologically precise will begin with the immediate text. As my mentor David Allen says, we are not preaching sermons, we are preaching texts. Therefore, the preacher’s first sermonic move is to zoom-in to the immediate text. Deal with the text. Consider the text. Preach the text. Then, zoom-out and show how a particular text fits into the entire purview of Scripture. Give hearers the thirty-thousand foot aerial view. Show the big-picture approach to Scripture. Explain how Christ fits in relation to a text and also within the timeline of salvation history. Finally, reach-out to your listeners and compel them to receive Christ as Savior and Lord. The approach is quite simple. Zoom-in to the immediate text. Zoom-out to the big-picture approach to Scripture. Then reach-out and invite hearers to respond to Christ.
- Focus on the evangelistic center. Preachers have a tendency to label their sermons “Christ-centered” and “Gospel-centered.” However, consider the very idea of a geometrical circle. A circle is a figure whose boundary (the circumference) consists of points equidistant from a fixed point (the center). For something to be central presumes a fixed point. Likewise, Christian preachers should remember that the central focus of Jesus’ message was to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). A sermon that is not fixed upon seeking the lost and calling them to salvation is not worthy to be called Christ-centered or Gospel-centered. The preacher should make sure that he focuses on the predominate message of Christ. Call-out the lost and call them unto salvation.
So preacher, make sure that you allow the text to drive your sermon. Preach the text, not yourself. Present Christ as the focal point of Scripture. Call hearers to respond to the gospel. That, in short, is great preaching. Better yet, that is precise preaching. Precise preaching is needed today because clearness in the pulpit brings conviction to the pew and inaccuracy in the pulpit prompts inactivity during the invitation.
About: Daniel Dickard serves as the Director of Student Connections at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Senior Editorial and Content Manager for Preaching Source. He earned a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Seminary in 2014 and is a current PhD student in Southwestern’s School of Preaching. He is married to his wife, Cassie, and they have one son, Conrad.
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|1.||↑||John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 92.|
|2.||↑||Text-driven preaching is expository preaching in the truest sense. Text-driven preaching, as defined by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is “the interpretation and communication of a biblical text in a sermon that re-presents the substance, structure, and spirit of the text.|
|3.||↑||Roy Fish, Giving a Good Invitation (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1974), 9.|