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Arguments Against Christ-Centered Preaching (Article)
Though biblical revelation (see Luke 24; Acts 2; Acts 7; Hebrews) points to the supremacy of Christ in the whole canon, some will remain unconvinced of the warrants for preaching the gospel from every text. While many uncertainties about gospel-centered preaching flow from differences in interpretation, other concerns are much more practical. These three arguments (and responses) focus on the practical objections often given to the claim that the gospel should be preached from every text.
Gospel-Centered Sermons Sound the Same
When the gospel gets reduced to an evangelistic appeal at the conclusion of the message, there is reason to fear that preaching the gospel from every passage of Scripture may lead to monolithic sermons that sound the same. However, there are many layers of gospel preaching that allow each message to explain the text faithfully, proclaim the gospel, and provide the variety that comes from the various genres and epochs of the Bible. The goal in preaching the gospel in every text is not to proclaim the same gospel outline each week, but rather to allow the text to present the gospel in the way the divine author ordained. Paul’s words to the Romans and Titus teach justification by grace through faith (Rom 3:24; Titus 3:7). However, James’ words to the scattered Jewish Christians seem to teach justification by faith and works (Jas 2:21). The answer to this apparent contradiction lies in the context, not in some error in the Scriptures. Paul and James wrote to two different audiences living in two different contexts. In the same way, gospel preaching realizes the layers of context. When preaching to believers, the gospel approach will be distinctive from the gospel method preached to an audience made up of unbelievers, though the gospel preached will be the same.
Additionally, every text will point to the redemptive story differently, depending on the genre and time period. Rather than imposing a gospel grid on the text, faithful preachers will seek to determine how the passage uniquely points to the work of Christ on the cross. In essence, the preacher should proclaim the gospel as the text presents it. When allowing the passage to shape the gospel approach, no two sermons will sound exactly the same. The gospel will not be a paragraph of comments inserted into the application section of the sermon outline, but instead the gospel will flow seamlessly from the text once it has been interpreted in light of its relationship to Jesus Christ.
Gospel-Centered Sermons Overly Focus on Jesus
In a desire to remain faithful to the Bible’s teaching about the three persons of the Trinity, some preachers fear that sermons seeking to proclaim the gospel from every text actually focus on Jesus too much. Graeme Goldsworthy balks at the idea of preaching a sermon without mentioning Jesus. He asks, “Is it possible to preach a Christian sermon without mentioning Jesus? I want to avoid simplistic answers here. Perhaps I can put it another way: Why would you even want to try to preach a Christian sermon without mentioning Jesus?” (Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 115). Yet, does focusing on Jesus take away from the glory of the Godhead? Sidney Greidanus answers the question succinctly. He says, “In contrast to Christomonistic tendencies, the first New Testament principle to remember is that Christ is not to be separated from God but was sent by God, accomplished the work of God, and sought the glory of God.” (Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, 179). He goes on to speak of the role of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. Greidanus reminds those who question why the Spirit does not get mentioned much in gospel preaching discussions that the Spirit never points to himself. Rather, the Spirit delights in pointing to the Father and the Son (182). Preaching the gospel from every text does indeed put emphasis on Jesus, but in focusing on Jesus the Godhead gets the glory.
Gospel-Centered Sermons Lack Practicality
Much preaching focuses solely on the practical. Though preachers must explain the Scriptures and apply them in a way that their audiences understand, too much concern about practicality may lead to pragmatism. Every sermon that preaches the gospel from every text will apply the Scripture sensibly, but gospel preachers avoid offers steps, processes, and lists segregated from the gospel message. Practical preaching seeks to edify the body of Christ. It seeks to help the hearers apply the message. Yet application to moral demands cannot divorce from the gospel. In Preaching with Purpose Jay Adams goes against the moralistic application separated from the gospel.
"Edificational preaching must always be evangelical; that is what makes it moral rather than moralistic, and what causes it to be unacceptable in a synagogue, mosque, or to a Unitarian congregation. By evangelical, I mean that the import of Christ’s death and resurrection—His substitutionary, penal death and bodily resurrection—on the subject under consideration is made clear in the sermon. You must not exhort your congregation to do whatever the Bible requires of them as though they could fulfill those requirements on their own, but only as a consequence of the saving power of the cross and the indwelling, sanctifying power and presence of Christ in the person of the Holy Spirit. All edificational preaching, to be Christian, must fully take into consideration God’s grace in salvation and in sanctification" (147).
Practical application flows from proper explanation of the text at hand, but moralistic instruction without the gospel does not apply the Scripture faithfully. The preaching of the gospel fuels the hearers for ethical conduct.
Expositors of the Bible seek to exegete, interpret, explain, and apply the Scriptures faithfully. Jesus taught his disciples that good interpretation will lead to gospel proclamation (Luke 24:44–47). The gospel flows from every text of Scripture, because the divine author designed his special revelation to point to his grand plan of redemption through Jesus. Though some fear preaching the gospel from every text for a myriad of reasons, a desire for proper biblical interpretation and exposition will lead students of the Scripture to the multifaceted gospel that flows from every passage. Proclaiming Christ means preaching the gospel, and preaching the gospel leads to authentic transformation of the heart that affects the whole person.
This article originally appeared on Baptist21.