Preaching Christ!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

4 responses to “Preaching Christ!

  1. I agree with what you’ve written, Rex. But I also note that many preachers miss the fact that preaching is a very ineffective teaching method.

    Recent studies have suggested that people learn as little as 5% of what they know from lectures. Yet, most preachers seem more intent on teaching than edifying or inspiring.

    People learn the most from participating in discussion.

    This raises the question of what is the role of preaching in our corporate assemblies. Many seek nothing more than reaffirmation of what they already believe.

    I’m reminded of a saying about two Greek orators (whose names I can’t recall). When one spoke, people said, “My, what a great speech.” When the other spoke, men went to war.

    We need more of the later and fewer of the former.

    • David,

      While sermons do teach, I don’t believe the purpose of the sermon is to teach. When Paul tells Timothy to “Preach the message… correct, rebuke and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” (2 Tim 4:2, NRSV), there is certainly an element of teaching but it’s not the primary purpose. Instead, the sermon should correct, rebuke, and encourage which might be the equivalent of what we would describe as challenging the hearers to think differently (as action is always predicated by new ways of thinking, reimagining what it looks like to live as followers of Jesus participating in the story of God redemptive mission, and inviting the hears to lean into that life with deeper trust and obedience.

      Such preaching, which I am still learning how to do, is different from the deductive and expository preaching of the past where the sermon had numerous points and the goal was the cognitive exportation of exegetical information gleaned from the biblical text. This is not to say that the sermon should deviate from the text or never take time to show from the text why this or that is true, it’s just not the primary purpose. When it comes to teaching the content of the Bible and helping people theologically wrestle with the implications of what the Bible says, I would much rather have a dialogical discussion (preferably with some good dark roast brewing near by).

      Any ways, I hope that make more sense. And yes, we need more men who will hear the speech go to war (so to speak). Thanks for your comment!

      Grace and Peace,


  2. And don’t you think it is just mind blowing that God walked among us? As one of us and then suffered with us and for us?? The idea of all that causes me to fall down on my knees and say I Love you Lord and will follow you where ever you want me to go. A God like that does not want us to fear him and doesn’t require us to follow only one kind of model for our worship. A God that is this generous expects the same of us in return.

    Keep listening to the entire ensemble of your communty brother Rex and keep pressing on to higher ground!

  3. I guess part of it has to do with the “why?”. Do people need to hear an explanation? Do the people need encouragement? Or are you doing it to make them more knowledgeable of some portion of the text? Or are you trying to use the Bible to make a point which the Bible itself may not make?

    The last is the most dangerous.

    Today many younger people are going to churches where the lectionary is followed and the Gospel is preached. This type of preaching typically has one point and no altar call. For those people used to a long sermon, it isn’t. The homily is short and to the point. It seems like those are the ones I remember later in the week or next month.

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