Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon on the text of 1 Peter 2:7a entitled, Christ Precious to Believers, in which he related the following story:
A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?” “A very poor sermon indeed,” said he. “A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.” “Ay, no doubt of it.” “Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?” “Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.” “Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?” “Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.” “Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?” “Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.” “Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.” So the old man said, “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?” “Yes,” said the young man. “Ah!” said the old divine “and so form every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business in when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ. And,” said he, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.”
Spurgeon describes what Bryan Chapell, my homiletics professor when I attended Covenant Seminary, would call Christ-Centered Preaching. But he would not say that we have to make our own road to Christ in any passage. Instead, I think he would say that the road is always there once one discovers in that passage the “fallen condition focus.” In every passage there is some need revealed that is a result of man’s fallen condition, a need that can only be met by the grace of God. Once this “fallen condition focus” has been found, then the road to Christ has also been found, for it is through Christ alone that we find an answer to our fallen condition, however that condition may manifest itself.
I thank God for the grace shown to me in sending me to Covenant Seminary, where I encountered Bryan Chapell and learned the lesson that Spurgeon knew and that all truly great preachers of the Gospel know — the importance of Christ-centered preaching. In fact, Covenant Seminary had the following description posted on their website concerning the distinctive teaching Dr. Chapell brought to the training of prospective pastors during his time there:
Dr. Chapell’s unique emphasis on a redemptive approach to preaching is built upon his assertion that to expound Biblical revelation from any passage, one must relate the explanation to the redeeming work of God in the present. This goal is best accomplished by identifying in each sermon what Dr. Chapell calls the “Fallen Condition Focus,” 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.” This “grace of the passage” is the grace of God in Christ, the fundamental enabling means of obedience without which a sermon becomes simply a “sub-Christian” call “to be” or “to do” something in one’s own strength.
I think one of the greatest Gospel preachers of all time said it best when he wrote to the Corinthians, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2, NKJV). May God give us the grace to take the torch that has been passed on to us and to faithfully show our hearers the road to Christ in any and every passage of Scripture!
4 thoughts on “The Importance of Christ-Centered Preaching”
Just had this conversation with my one of my adult children the other day. I offer my comments as a counterbalance to the point of the blog post. The excess of this idea is what troubles me.
I realize that the tendency will be to react to my comments by saying that I am downplaying Christ. This is not true. My child stated that they are frustrated at their pastor's simplistic reductionism regarding redemptive preaching. This post is right to point out that Christ is the ultimate end of all things and the end of God's eternal plan. The end drives to Christ and His eternal glory, from which we poor sinners are allowed to benefit. However, sometimes, under the premise of “redemptive preaching” pastors take the easy/lazy road by centering too much upon the matter of simple salvation in Christ, rather than the richness of the immediate text, that may or may not speak of Christ, sometimes, not even indirectly. They ought to deal with the doctrine and truths of the passage, even if they are not directly related in an overt fashion to the Cross and Christ. Yes, we can and must point out the grace of God in every passage because of our deep need as fallen sinners. However, preachers may become simplistic too soon – they run to the overall summary of redemption in Christ, far too soon, glossing over the meat of the text. The sanctification of the saints (for whom we substantially preach in our churches) is a far more intricate work of God' grace and our submission to the Word of God in detail is directly related to this matter of Christian sanctification. True sanctification is a deep, thorough process that will take years of time, sitting under the preaching and teaching of the scriptures. Spurgeon's quote is abused, maybe even wrong. Too much reverence for a statement, simply because he said it. The young saints and indeed old ones, have many legitimate questions about daily life and how to live out the redeemed life. These must be dealt with. A run to Christ and the Cross in every sermon, as the focus, strips the depth from the Word of God. Every legitimate sermon will end with a call to Christ for salvation, but not every text deals extensively with Christ directly and thus the sermon ought not either. If God did not do this in His writings, we ought not either.
The preacher ought to wrestle with the text, pressing out the oils of gracious sanctification that are taught in the text, of course which come only from the redeeming work of Christ, but are often overlooked because we are too desperate to “get to Christ” too quickly – flattening the Word of God. Richness of the detailed work of God is neglected when we run to Christ, regarding salvation, overlooking the grace of God that works in the minute details of scripture to effect the sanctification of the saint, not merely his salvation. Christ is the ultimate end and is our “life” (Col. 3:4). We must not err in overemphasizing Spurgeon's famous comments on this matter. It swings the pendulum of imbalance in the opposite direction. The Whole Counsel of God must be preached.
Every sermon conclusion, should always call the lost hearer to Christ, from every text. Every sermon ought to drive the saint to seek Christ more truly because He is their eternal hope. Yet, knowing Christ, truly crucified and indeed risen, involves much more than the base gospel details. Not every text directly drives to Christ and we ought not force fit that which God did not say at that particular moment of His revelation in scripture.
Frankly, you haven't said anything with which I have any real disagreement, even if I think you have over-reacted a bit to a single post highlighting a particular point. After all, I didn't even hint in the post that we shouldn't teach the whole counsel of God or that we should read Christ into passages in ways that are unwarranted. Nor did I assume that a point of view is right simply because Spurgeon said it. The point of the post was simply a reminder to keep Christ at the center of our preaching. Period. I appreciate your desire to be balanced, but you should not assume that this post was in any way counter to such a desire.
I found this to be helpful. I have not heard of “The Fallen Condition Focus,” but that make a lot of sense. It reminds me of the book “Shepherding a Child's Heart” which reminds us to use the mistakes of our children as occasions to point their hearts to Christ. Just a few years ago I have sought to preach Christ in every sermon as I preach verse by verse through books of the Bible.
Thanks for the encouraging word, brother. I've always found your posts helpful as well.