Bryan Chapell on Christ-Centered Preaching - Part 2
Redemptive Reading Glasses
Finally, the most basic and common way to see redemptive truth(s) in any text is by asking two questions that are fair to ask of any text: 1) What does this text reflect about the nature of God who provides redemption? and/or, 2) What does this text reflect about the nature of humanity that requires redemption? Or, more simply, what does this text reveal about God, and what does it reveal about me?
These simple questions are the lenses to "reading glasses" through which any preacher (without exegetical or allegorical acrobatics) can look at any text to see what the Bible is revealing of God's nature and/or human nature. Inevitably these lenses enable us see that God is holy and we are not, or that God is sovereign and we are vulnerable, or that God is merciful and we require his mercy.
Such reading glasses always make us aware of our need of God's grace to compensate for our sin and inability. Christ may not be specifically mentioned in the text, but the reflection of God's nature and ours makes the necessity of the proclamation of his grace apparent (Acts 20:24; 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 3:24). In this regard, I am very close in understanding to Daniel Block when he comments in an earlier post, "Not all First Testament texts point to Christ, but all texts reveal something about God or humanity or the universe that is necessary ultimately to understand the work of Christ." I would only add the word "directly" in front of his word "point" to express my view more clearly, but our thinking converges in our desire to be fair to Scripture and true to the gospel.
No Grace Surprises
Using these redemptive reading glasses throughout the Old and New Testament will enable us to see that grace does not spring up like a surprise jack-in-the-box after Christ's nativity. God's people have been prepared for millennia to understand and receive the grace of Christ on their behalf. The Bible is Christ-centered not because Jesus is mentioned everywhere but because all points to the grace of God that is fully revealed and provided in him.
As God gives strength to the weak, rest to the weary, deliverance to the disobedient, faithfulness to the unfaithful, food to the hungry, and salvation to sinners – we learn his redemptive nature. As heroes fail, patriarchs lie, kings fall, prophets cower, disciples doubt, and covenant people become idolaters – we learn humanity's redemptive need. The lenses that grant us these perspectives prevent us from preaching characters in the Bible only as moral heroes to emulate, rather than as flawed men and women who themselves needed the grace of God. These lenses also prevent us from preaching the commands of God in isolation from the grace that enables their performance, or without provision for our imperfections.
Pastoring by Grace
This brings us full circle to the ultimate – pastoral – reason Christ-centered preaching is so compelling. David Murray (in his earlier post) states with accuracy and profundity that reasons this approach to preaching has flourished include: "the powerlessness of mere moralism" and "Christian hunger" for instruction that increases knowledge of Christ. Moral instruction alone either promotes pride ("I've done it") or despair ("I can't") – the signs of spiritual poverty.
In contrast to preaching the demands of duty and doctrine alone, relishing the gracious provision God consistently makes throughout Scripture for people like us, despite their sin and inability, stimulates true humility, gratitude, sacrifice, obedience, and praise in us. We live to honor God in response to the love he has shown us, more than we live to benefit earthly priorities of selfish gain. Heaven's priorities become our own because expressing love for the One who first loved us becomes our greatest delight and deepest satisfaction. Gratitude to him becomes the basis of Christian ethics and compassion as we love what and whom he loves – the unlovely, the oppressed, those different, and all created.
Living in Grace
Christo-centrality is not just a way of looking at Scripture; it is a way of living in loving response to our God's provision of Christ. We pursue holiness to walk in the pleasing presence and peace of the heavenly Father who has been so gracious to us, rather than to bribe a divine ogre in the sky to be favorable toward us [for fuller discussion of this fruit of a Christ-centered approach to Scripture see Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy that is Our Strength (Crossway, 2011) and Jerry Bridges, Discipline of Grace (NavPress, 2006)].
Since God's love for us is the soil in which love for God grows, identifying his grace in all the scriptures is not simply an interpretive scheme; Christ-centered preaching is supremely pastoral and practical. Regular exaltation of the gospel is what ignites love for God in the hearts of believers that is our first command and greatest compulsion (2 Cor. 5:14; Tit. 2:11-12).
We identify the saving grace pervading Scripture in order to fan into flame our zeal for the Savior. Our goal is not merely good interpretation but stimulation of a profound love for God that bears holy fruit, as pleasing the One we love above all brings our most profound and compelling joy (Neh. 8:10).