Is Theocentric Preaching Enough?

 |  August 7, 2019

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to me so that you may have life (John 5:39–40 NASB).

The question before us is, “Is theocentric preaching enough?” On the one hand, if our definition of theocentric preaching is clearly identified as the triune God, then we may say, “Yes, theocentric preaching is enough as Jesus Christ cannot be separated from true preaching of the triune God.”

However, if theocentric preaching means that we merely preach about an undefined God, then we must flatly refuse that theocentric preaching is enough. As preachers, the end of our task is not to lead people to believe in God. It is to lead people to surrender to Christ.

For our purposes in answering this question, then, we are going to define theocentric preaching as preaching that is focused generally on the existence of God rather than specifically on the God whose name is triune (Matt 28:19).

In this post, I will make an argument from the doctrine of the Trinity for why theocentric preaching is inadequate, or positively, for why preaching should be Christocentric.

Preaching, the Bible, and the Father

The way we use the Bible in preaching cannot be separated from the purpose for which God has given the Bible.

The Bible is a gift of grace from God so that we can know Him. The psalmist wrote that God’s words are sweeter than honey, they illuminate our way, and they teach us the truth (Psalm 119:103, 105, 160).

The ultimate purpose of the biblical text is to lead us to see Jesus as the answer to our separation from God (John 5:39–40; 20:31).

The Bible is a gift of God’s grace in that it leads us to know God’s salvation through Christ. Merely preaching about God without leading people to see Christ misses the intent of the Bible.

The Bible is God’s message to fallen humanity that, if they will trust in Jesus, they will be saved. Since that is the ultimate purpose of the Bible, it should be our ultimate goal in preaching.

Preaching, the Bible, and Jesus    

The Word of God has three senses in the Bible. First, Christ is called the Word of God (John 1:1–14). Second, the Bible itself is considered the Word of God (Heb 3:7; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:21).

Finally, preaching—when it is faithful to the text—can be considered the Word of God. The Old Testament prophets preached “thus saith the LORD.” For the Christian preacher, our “thus saith the LORD” is true to the degree that our message is tethered to the biblical text.

With that in mind, we can say that the phrase “Word of God” is a theme that relates three aspects of God’s Word without confusing their nature. The Word is incarnate in Jesus Christ, inspired in the pages of the Bible, and preached by faithful messengers.

More specifically, the incarnate Word of God is the focus of the written Word of God and therefore should be the focus of the preached word. The Baptist Faith and Message captures this well in Article 1: “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.”

Since the relationship of the Bible to the Son of God is so closely united, any preaching from the Bible, whether from the Old Testament or New, should have a Christocentric focus for it to be considered true preaching. 

Preaching, the Bible, and the Spirit  

Finally, preaching should focus on Christ because of the relationship of the Spirit to the Bible in the Spirit’s role to glorify Christ.

John tells us that the primary work of the Spirit is to glorify Jesus Christ (John 16:12-15). Therefore, the work of the Spirit should be interpreted by the Spirit’s role in honoring Christ.

First, the Spirit inspires the Bible. Since the Spirit’s acts cannot be separated from His work to glorify Christ, then the inspiration of Scripture should be interpreted as the Spirit glorifying Christ through the giving of Scripture.

Second, the Spirit illumines the minds of the readers or hearers in order to understand the Bible. The illuminating work of the Spirit enables the hearers and readers of God’s Word to see the redemption of God through the Son. Third, the Spirit applies the Bible to the life of those who believe.

Carl Henry writes, “God intends that Scripture should function in our lives as his Spirit-illumined Word. It is the Spirit who opens man’s being to a keen personal awareness of God’s revelation. The Spirit empowers us to receive and appropriate the Scriptures, and promotes in us a normative theological comprehension for a transformed life.”

The work of the Spirit cannot be separated from the text of Scripture. Since the entire Bible is the product of the Holy Spirit, the Bible’s purpose is to accomplish the Spirit’s work, namely, to glorify Jesus and to lead us into the truth of Jesus.

As both Testaments are inspired by the same Spirit, the exposition of either Testament should follow the Spirit’s lead in glorifying Christ.

However, whether the text that is being preached is evangelistic, ethical, or doctrinal, it is rooted in Jesus Christ. The relationship of the Bible to Jesus as its subject, the Spirit as its origin, and the Father’s grace in giving the Bible to us means that we, too, should make our aim to preach Jesus crucified.

This is not to say that every text is specifically about the Atonement, but that every text is meant to unite us to Christ either by an invitation to salvation or instruction in Christlike living. In other words, in the Bible, union with Christ cannot be separated from life in Christ. Our lifestyle must reflect our confession.

We should make Jesus Christ the focus of our preaching because the Bible is a gift from the Father to lead us to Jesus, it is related to Jesus as the Word of God, and it is a product of the Spirit.

We should preach—not merely theocentrically, but christocentrically—because every page of the Bible is stained with the blood of Jesus.

John B. Mann is the Pastor of La Junta Baptist Church in Springtown, Texas, and an Adjunct Professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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