Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell
I started preaching at age 16 (now more than forty years ago), and I have been in full-time ministry for more than 35 years. I have read many books on preaching over those years, but none has influenced me like Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching.
Chapell, senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, first published the book in 1994. He also served as professor and president of Covenant Theological Seminary, and his educational bent is evident throughout this book. Each chapter begins with a goal (a learning objective), ends with review questions and exercises, and includes helpful diagrams and outlines. Footnotes abound, but they do not hinder the flow of the book.
Other aspects of the book, however, have proven most beneficial to me. First, the book decidedly focuses on expository preaching. My own seminary training gave too little attention to expositing biblical texts, so this work became a welcomed personal textbook for me. It is not, however, a stale, tedious explanation of a sermon preparation process; instead, it reflects the process of a pastor and professor whose love for the Word is evident.
Second, this book emphasizes the preacher’s discovering the “Fallen Condition Focus” of a passage – that is, “the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or for whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage.”Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 42. Because God designed the Word to equip or “complete” us (2 Tim. 3:16-17),Ibid., 41. its teachings necessarily point out our fallenness; thus, understanding the FCF of a passage allows the preacher to rightly apply the text in a contemporary setting without neglecting the historical, cultural, and literary context of the writing.
Third, the book not only stresses the FCF of a text, but it also directs the reader to the answer for our fallen condition: Jesus Christ. That is not to say that the preacher is to force Jesus in to a text, but that he is to discern “the place and role of the text in the entire revelation of God’s redemptive plan.”Ibid., 292. In that sense, and based on Jesus’ words in Luke 24:27, Chapell concludes that “Expository preaching is Christ-centered preaching.”Ibid., 272. To be frank, it was this book that pushed me in my earlier ministry to consider Christ beyond the New Testament, though some would argue that this book does not go far enough in placing Christ at the center of all sermons.
Fourth, the chapter on application is one of the best on this subject that I have read, perhaps because it forcefully addresses one of the weaker components of much preaching. Chapell’s belief that application matters is so strong – “Without application the preacher has no reason to preach because truth without application is useless”Ibid., 199-200. – that the reader is almost forced to continue reading. In good application, “the preacher makes the biblical instruction drop into the life of the listeners” by taking the truth of a text into “business practices, family life, social relationships, societal attitudes, personal habits, and spiritual priorities.”[ref]Ibid., 217. Application can feel invasive and threatening, but the wise preacher learns how to drive the text home while deeply loving his listeners.
Fifth, the appendices in this book, while some of the material is dated, read like a “minister’s manual.” Discussions of sermon delivery, wedding messages, funeral messages, evangelistic messages, study resources, and sermon evaluations can easily be tools in the preacher’s toolbox. Appendix 5, “Reading Scripture,” so pushed me to practice public reading of the Word that it dramatically changed my sermon preparation. Now, I read the text so many times that I often have it memorized before the preaching event.
Finally, one simple concept, the “3 A.M. Test,” now influences all my teaching. The 3 A.M. Test says that if someone were to ask me at 3 A.M. the theme of my sermon, I should be ready to provide a simple, clear answer. “If you cannot give a crisp answer,” writes Chapell, “you know the sermon is probably half-baked. Thoughts you cannot gather at 3 A.M. are not likely to be caught by others at 11 A.M.”[ref]Ibid., 39. I now follow this same principle when preparing a sermon, a Bible study lesson, or even a classroom presentation.
Add this book to your library if you do not already own it. If you do own it, re-read it. I suspect you will find something valuable that will still strengthen your preaching.
Chuck Lawless is Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary
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