I’m a preacher, so call me biased but I believe there’s a need for preaching in the church regardless of the logistics involved. I don’t believe that preaching alone is sufficient for making disciples of Christ but I do believe preaching necessary for the purpose of forming Christ in us. The question is then what kind of preaching fosters the formation of Christ in us?
Last week I was asked to speak to some other preachers on this very question. So some of what follows is condensed version of what I said.
We’ll begin with the assumption that preaching must be based upon the scriptures and faithful to what the scriptures say. But is that all? Certainly not! Preaching must always proclaim Christ!
One of the first professors I ever had at Harding University, Dr. Dan Stockstill, used to say, “What we win them with is what we win them too.” In twelve years of ministry, I’ve seen nothing to suggest he was wrong. I remember a man who wanted me to know that his church was the only right church because they read from the King James Version only and interpreted the apocalyptic passages from Daniel and Revelation correctly. He obviously seemed won to his particular dogma or hobby-horse rather than Christ because that is what animated him, what he wanted to talk about and convert me to. We have to remember that if we are going to make disciples of Christ and expect preaching to foster the formation of Christ then our preaching must proclaim Christ!
The goal here is the proclamation of Christ so that God may call his people into the life of Christ as participants of the story Christ reveals to us which is the redemptive mission of God. There’s a lot there and it seems like a tall order to fill because it is. However, here are two criterions which I believe can help maintain preaching as the proclamation of Christ requires:
- Gospel-Centered. According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, the gospel is of “first importance” because it is about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ “according to the scriptures.” That is to say, the gospel belongs to the story of which the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the climax. Gospel-centered preaching always connects the text to this larger story in light of Christ himself and the life he lives. Gospel-centered preaching is always rooted in this story so that it may point us toward our role and responsibility within this story as we become a living embodiment of all that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is. And yes, it’s an ongoing endeavor.
- Grace-Oriented. According to Titus 2:11-14, it is the grace of God that teaches people to say “No” to sin and live godly lives filled with hope and eager to do good works. Fear may temporarily motivate us to renounce sin and pursue righteousness but fear only works so long as fear continually employed. Further more, fear does not develop maturity where we learn to live as participants in the gospel story because it’s what we believe in and what we desire in our hearts. right themselves simply because it pleases God. Grace oriented preaching always remind us that it is God at work, who is bringing this story we are participants of to its final conclusion (telos). It is grace-oriented preaching that helps us learn to follow Jesus further into the gospel story as we trust him and obey him; obedience is always a response to the grace of God, not a condition.
It’s not always easy to preach Christ as I have described here. I’m still learning how to do it consistently but I believe such preaching is ever so needed in churches today. I’ll end by recommending one book that I believe is very helpful in helping us learn preach Christ as I have in mind here: John W. Wright, Telling God’s Story: Narrative Preaching for Christian Formation, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007.