Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Academic, 1994,2005. 400 pp. $29.99
In Christ-Centered Preaching, Bryan Chapell (Chancellor of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis) provides a unique and important contribution to the study of preaching. In much the same manner as Robinson’s Biblical Preaching and Vines’ Power in the Pulpit, Chapell strives to recover the importance and beauty of the expository sermon for his readers. Expository preaching, “puts people in immediate contact with the power of the Word” (31). Chapell is quick to dispel any notion, however, that his is just another text on preaching.
In chapter one, the author reveals his theological cards when it comes to the preached Word and writes, “preaching accomplishes its spiritual purposes not because of the skills or the wisdom of the preacher but because of the power of the Scripture proclaimed” (26). The preacher, then, is responsible to present the Word, explain the Word, and make exhortations based upon the Word (86). “The efficacy of the truths in God’s message rather than any virtue in the messenger,” he writes, “transforms hearts” (26).
This conviction – that God is the active agent in the preaching event – is woven throughout the entire book, and comes to full fruition in Chapell’s instruction that every sermon must have Christ at its most foundational point. It is this aspect of his instruction on preaching – “to disclose where every text stands in relation to Christ” – that seems to be noticeably absent from other preaching textbooks (279).
One major contribution of his text is his instruction to discover the Fallen Condition Focus of a text during sermon preparation. The preacher must search for, “the human concern that caused the Holy Spirit to inspire this aspect of Scripture,” and once discovered, the preacher is given the key to discovering the importance of the passage in the lives of his congregation (48). Once he discovers the Fallen Condition Focus (FCF), the preacher can search for a contemporary parallel in the life of his hearers that helps them realize the modern-day application of the ancient text. This emphasis on the FCF provides a biblical means of discerning God’s intended application of a text, whereas other methods that instruct the preacher to study culture and keep abreast of current movies and books places the authority that governs application outside of Scripture.
Another major contribution of Chapell’s book is that it is noticeably theological in nature. Rather than follow a portion of a chapter of theology with seven chapters of exegetical method and six chapters of the importance of water for a healthy throat, Chapell finds a much healthier balance between theology and practice. He maintains great insight into sermon preparation, yet never loses sight of the goal, “to sweep listeners up into the glory and the power of the Spirit’s revelation” (139).
His greatest contribution to the conversation lies in the final chapters of the book. In these chapters, he lays out a case for redemptive preaching. Such preaching comes about when it “specifies an FCF indicated by a text and addresses this aspect of our fallenness with the grace revealed by the text” (270). Christ-centered preaching is not searching for Jesus behind every rock and crag in the text in the hope that he will appear if one only look hard enough. Nor is Christ-centered preaching the type of allegory that permeated the medieval period. Christ-centered preaching strives to reveal each passage’s relation to the work of Christ. Every text is either predictive of Christ’s work, preparation for Christ’s work, reflective of Christ’s work, or the result of Christ’s work (282). The duty of the preacher is to discern this relationship between written Word and living Word and communicate that to the congregation.
Chapell’s instruction as to discover the intended meaning and application of the text as it relates to the work of Christ Jesus provides the student with the means to follow Spurgeon’s “bee-line to the cross” without making assumptions and impositions upon the text that simply do not belong. That provision stands as the greatest highlight of this text, and the greatest gift of this book to this preacher.
Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon