Book Review: Christ-Centered Preaching, by Bryan Chapell
Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Second Edition. Baker, 2005. 400 pages. $29.99
“Three points and a poem” may be a caricature of evangelical preaching, but for too many years and too many preachers it was the norm. Thankfully, a return to expository preaching that feeds the flock and proclaims the gospel has given a new hope for this generation.
Expository preaching does not take place without devoted effort. Bryan Chapell—former president of Covenant Theological Seminary, long-time homiletics professor, and current pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois—capably details the needed preparation process for expository preaching in Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Chapell brings his wealth of pastoral preaching and homiletical instruction into a well-crafted volume of eleven chapters and twelve helpful appendixes. He approaches his subject through three sections.
PRINCIPLES FOR EXPOSITORY PREACHING
Chapell’s first section puts the weight of expository preaching on three things. First, the power of God’s Word in preaching. “Good preaching,” he writes, “in one sense involves getting out of the way so that the Word can do its work” (34). Priority is given to the Word rather than the preacher’s ability. Second, the power of a holy life supports and confirms what the preacher asserts. “No truth calls louder for pastoral holiness than the link between a preacher’s character and a sermon’s reception” (38). Third, Chapell reinforces the power of gospel-focus in every sermon. “Without a redemptive focus, we may believe we have exegeted Scripture when in fact we have simply translated its parts and parsed its pieces without reference to the role they have in God’s eternal plan”(40).
Instead of random collections of various biblical truths, expository sermons need to be constructed with “unity, purpose, and application” (44). Every text contains a purpose or burden of human fallenness that points to the grace of God in Christ. Chapell calls this a “Fallen Condition Focus,” or FCF. He notes, “Ultimately, a sermon is about how a text says we are to respond biblically to the FCF as it is experienced in our lives” (51). Discerning the FCF shows us the Holy Spirit’s redemptive intent in the text. Once the hearers understand the text’s FCF, then they are ready for application, which “makes Jesus the source and objective of a sermon’s exhortation as well as the focus of its explanation” (54). From principles Chapell moves to preparation.
PREPARATION OF EXPOSITORY SERMONS
Welcome to Chapell’s laboratory! The second section of the book lays out a way to develop effective expository sermons. In the initial stages of preparation, the preacher must ask questions of the biblical text such as, “What does the text mean?” “What concerns caused the text to be written?” “How should people now respond to the truths of the text?” (104–5).
After these hermeneutical and homiletical questions, the preacher comes to terms with the text’s FCF and establishes the proposition set forth in the text. Chapell recommends that preachers develop of an exegetical outline that frames the fruit of their study of the text. Then the preacher works toward a homiletical outline that brings the truths of the text into the congregation’s needs. The latter outline should express the same theme found in the text and derive points and subpoints from the text that develop this theme.
Offering an exemplary form to structure sermons, Chapell rightly advises that as preachers mature, they should develop a form suitable to them and their audience, while remaining firmly rooted in the text.
In chapter seven, Chapell considers illustrations as a means to invite listeners into the experience of the text (176). Eschewing illustrations to entertain, he aims to use them to involve the congregation in the sermon and to motivate them toward embracing the message and application of the text. Illustrations remain tools for exposition, not substitutes for sound explanation (200).
The chapter on application (Ch. 8) may be the best in the book. “Application fulfills the obligations of exposition. Application is the present, personal consequence of scriptural truth,” Chapell asserts. “Without application, a preacher has no reason to preach, because truth without actual or potential application fulfills no redemptive purpose. . . . [At] its heart preaching is not merely the proclamation of truth but truth applied” (210). Application must always arise from the exposition of the text lest it lose its biblical authority.
A THEOLOGY OF CHRIST-CENTERED MESSAGES
I found Chapell’s last section immensely helpful, as he does not presume that readers seeking to understand the mechanics of exposition grasp its foundation in a solid, redemptive motif. He reiterates the necessity of discovering the FCF in each text in order “to supply the warrant for (and to define) the character of the redemptive elements in Scripture that we can, in turn, apply to our fallenness” (273). Otherwise, he warns, our preaching might “subvert the Christian message” (274).
While recognizing the frustration some may feel in maintaining a redemptive focus in preaching, Chapell counsels that the goal is not to find Jesus “in every text but to disclose where every text stands in relation to Christ” (279). Thus, when faithfully done, “Expository preaching is Christ-centered preaching” (280).
Those committed to proclaiming God’s Word will find Chapell’s volume accessible, resourceful, and useful. I’d recommend it for Bible colleges, seminaries, pastoral internships, or pastors’ studies. From my perspective, Chapell’s scant emphasis on discipling and training a congregation by preaching consecutively through books of the Bible appears to be the only weakness (65–69). Aside from that, I heartily commend Christ-Centered Preaching as a superb tool for preachers—experienced or inexperienced—for its guidance to faithfully preach Christ in all of Scripture. No more falling back on three points and a poem.