The dangers of Gospel centered preaching

After his resurrection, Jesus explained to his followers the Christocentricity of the Law, Prophets, and Psalms (another way of saying the entirety of their scriptures; our Old Testament), saying:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…” (Luke 24:44-45a)

It follows that if all of our scriptures are about Christ, then our preaching should be as well. In his excellent book, Christ-Centered Preaching, Bryan Chapel puts it like this: “Christ-centered preaching rightly understood does not seek to discover where Christ is mentioned in every text but to disclose where every text stands in relation to Christ.” If you have every sat over your Bible trying to figure out how to shape a Christ-centered sermon out of the locust plagues of Joel, this is an incredibly helpful explanation. He goes on to say “the grace of God culminating in the person and work of Jesus unfolds in many dimensions throughout the pages of Scripture. The goal of the preacher is not to find novel ways of identifying Christ in every text but to show how each text manifests God’s grace in order to prepare and enable his people to embrace the hope provided by Christ.”

Our preaching should not be characterized by cleverly invented ways of naming Christ in the text, but showing how that text relates to the person and work of Christ. Unfortunately, much of what passes for Christ centered preaching is actually gospel centered preaching. While preaching the true Gospel is nothing to complain about, when every passage of scripture is reduced to a formula (God is good, you are bad, believe in Jesus) there are many dangers.

One danger is that our congregations never develop an understanding and appreciation for God’s entire unfolding work of redemption. They miss the grandeur of Biblical theology by remaining zoomed in and focused on the details of whatever particular brand of the Gospel their preacher is into.

Another danger is that Christ is reduced to a role, to simply what he does for us, causing our affections for him to be limited. When we think of him we think only those attributes that connect with one aspect of His work on our behalf and therefore our worship of him is hamstrung from the very beginning. We must help our congregations know and remember that Jesus is a person, not a bridge. It makes sense to know and talk to a person, all the more to an important, interesting, smart and beautiful person. People fall in love…with people. We are hardwired to find someone to give our hearts and affections to. People don’t fall in love with and give their hearts to a bridge. And talking to one is just silly.

In 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul says “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Knowing and proclaiming the person AND work of Jesus is what our ministry and preaching ought to be about. Christ-centered preaching leads to proclaiming the Gospel in greater breadth and depth as we zoom into and out of the picture. We must proclaim both the forest (the eternal person of Christ and plan of the work of redemption) and the trees (the details of the application of the Gospel) in our preaching. Otherwise we are creating congregations who can explain the penal substitutionary atonement forward and backward, but have never tasted the sweetness of fellowship with Jesus. In his sermon “A divine and supernatural light,” Jonathan Edwards said “There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind.”

If we want the Gospel to dwell richly in the hearts of our congregations (Col 3:16) we must do more than just give them Gospel formulas. We must appeal to more than just their rational understanding of God’s economy. We must give them Jesus. We must lead them to taste the honey, to have a rational judgement of the Gospel and a sense of the sweetness of the person of Jesus.

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2 thoughts on “The dangers of Gospel centered preaching

  1. Jesse,

    I’d suggest that we have a meaning problem. What you describe as Christ-Centered Preaching IS Gospel-Centered Preaching. That is, if you embrace a holistic understanding of Gospel. If, however, you reduce it down to a purely soteriological perspective, you limit it to sin, the cross, and personal salvation. While these are indeed indispensable, they are not the whole gospel.

    Scot McKnight addresses this issue in his book “The King Jesus Gospel.” It might be worth a look.

  2. The Gospel is about the role of Jesus to redeem man and bring glory to God. This doesn’t lowers Jesus as being a person it actually raises it. Because God demanded a perfect/sinless person to pay for sin. The Gospel is about the “role” Jesus the real person coming from the Father to earth 100% man 100% lived a life without sin. God poured his wrath on him and he died the death meant for me, so could be redeemed and declared righteous before the judge.
    2 Corinthians 5:21 English Standard Version (ESV)
    21 For our sake he made him “role” to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.I need this to be preached to me everyday. It is what Paul preached to the 1 Cornthians …the gospel I preach to you, “which you received”, in which you “stand”, and “by which you are being saved,” “if you hold fast to the word I preached to you”…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that He was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures (15:1-4).

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