Monday, June 05, 2006

Keller Weighs In

Here are some excerpts from an article by Tim Keller that has something to say about this issue:
If you know how to do Christ-centered preaching, then you turn every single sermon into a kind of story. The plot of the human dilemma thickens, and the hero that comes to the rescue is Jesus. Christ-centered preaching converts doctrinal lectures or little how-to talks into true sermons.

Edwards taught that a sermon should not only make truth clear, but also should make truth real.
Here are some quotations from a series of posts at Eucatastrophe explaining Keller’s concept of “Christ-centered preaching”:
The gospel is news about what God has already done for you, rather than instruction and advice about what you are to do for God…. The gospel brings news primarily, rather than instruction.

Typical preaching only distills “Biblical Principles” which do not see the text in its redemptive-historical context. Thus it is only natural that the application part of such a sermon will tend to merely exhort people to conform to the principles. Only Christo-centric preaching can produce gospel holiness
Another article by Tim Keller at the Redeemer Presbyterian Web site:
In Luke 24 we learn that every single part of the Bible is really about Jesus. The Christ-centric preaching approach sees the whole Bible as essentially one big story with a central plot: God restores the world lost in Eden by intervening in history to call out and form a new humanity. This intervention climaxes in Jesus Christ, who accomplishes salvation for us what we could not accomplish for ourselves. While only a minority of Biblical passages actually give the whole storyline, every Biblical text must be placed in the whole storyline to be understood. In other words, every text must be asked "What does this tell me about the salvation we have in Christ?" in order to be understood.

This understanding of preaching, then, turns all preaching into narrative preaching, even if it is an exposition of Deuteronomy, Proverbs or James. Every sermon is a story in which the plot of the human dilemma thickens, and the hero that comes to the rescue is Jesus. Christ-centric preaching converts doctrinal lectures or little how-to talks into narrative preaching, but it is still careful, close Biblical exposition of texts

The “informational” view of preaching conceives of preaching as changing people’s lives after the sermon. They listen to the sermon, take notes, and then apply the Biblical principles during the week. But this assumes that our main problem is a lack of compliance to Biblical principles, when (as we saw above) all our problems are actually due to a lack of joy and belief in the gospel. Our real problem is that Jesus’ salvation is not as real to our hearts as the significance and security our idols promise us. If that’s our real problem, then the purpose of preaching is to make Christ so real to the heart that in the sermon people have an experience of his grace, and the false saviors that drive us lose their power and grip on us on the spot. That’s the “experiential” view of preaching.
I hope this helps tie together the various issues we’ve been talking about regarding “expository preaching.” (I've added all the bold.)

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


Luke Britt said...

We're turning boring theological lectures into narrative redemptive stories. Is that the premise?

Pastor Rod said...


Are you suggesting that this is a minor distinction?


nathaniel adam king said...

I wanted to grab a hold of this:

'The gospel is news about what God has already done for you, rather than instruction and advice about what you are to do for God…. The gospel brings news primarily, rather than instruction.'

Yes, the gospel is news about what God has done for us.

But if we said that the gospel (preaching) is mainly news brought, that wouldn't mean that this would then overlap into discussion about lessons (teaching).

We do not only have preachers (bringer of the good news) within Christianity. We likewise have these gifted ones called teachers. They do not focus mainly on the gospel, and simply telling the good news, they are called to teach and equip believers.

Therefore, there duty may not revolve entirely around simply telling the good news. They may have to sometimes (most of the time) bring forth lectures and lessons informing, instructing and advicing their listeners.

I think that it is very important to distinguish between the teacher and the preacher. Just because the preacher can get away with only bringing forth his informative relaying of good news via a story, this doesn't mean that the teacher is necessarily limited to this approach.

Pastor Rod said...


While there is a place for teaching, Keller would say that the gospel must be the center of every sermon. And I think he is absolutely correct.

He makes this point in detail in other writing he has done. Without the gospel as the focus of every message, the message turns into a morality lesson.


Luke Britt said...

"Without the gospel as the focus of every message, the message turns into a morality lesson."
Good statement.

I don't think that it is a minor distinction. I do think that "narrative redemption stories" can be expositional and interactive.

Pastor Rod said...

Luke & Adam,

I think you can see why I said that Keller was an important factor in my understanding of what Fitch is saying.


nathaniel adam king said...

While I would never want to take any emphasis away from the gospel, I would ask why those who have accepted the gospel need to be continually reminded of what took place?

If we assume for a minute that the gospel message is synonymous with telling how one can join a club (again, just assumption for a minute for understanding purposes). It would be as if you continually, week after week, twice a week, told the members of that club what must take place for them to join the club.

That sounds somewhat silly.

Likewise, we have already believed the good news. The good news that Jesus did come. While it is still good news, and while we should always rejoice in hearing that Jesus did come and die for our sins, we cannot forbid ourselves from learning other truths presented within the Word.

The Scripture speaks of the gospel, yes, but it does not only speak of the gospel. And while the gospel message may be the pivotal point and the climactic reason for all that is, this doesn't mean that the gospel is all that there is.

Teaching believers about the kingdom of God, or about the person of Christ, or the being of God, while these may tie closely in with the gospel (simplicity, God is God), they needn't always be second points, or minor points in the message of the gospel which is, apparently advocated by you, to be hammered week after week into the believer's head.

Pastor Rod said...


I confess that I would have reacted much the way you have just a short time ago. You really must read more of Keller and Wright.

You said, "If we assume for a minute that the gospel message is synonymous with telling how one can join a club."

This a part of the misunderstanding. The gospel is just about "getting saved," "going to heaven" or joing up.

As Keller explains, all behavior problems are at the root problem of faith in the truth of the gospel.

And the true issue we face as followers of Christ is to truly understand the implications of the gospel in every part of life and to put our trust in the good news about Jesus instead of in various idols.


Dan said...


I understand your difficulty with this gospel-centered / Christ-centered paradigm. Rod is correct when he says that the gospel is not simply the power of God to bring us into the Christian life. It's also the power of God to grow us in the Christian life. Therefore, as a teacher and preacher of Scripture, I must labor to show how each text and what it teaches finds its ultimate reference point in Jesus. To fail to do that is to fail to preach a Christian sermon.

I try to model this way of handling Scripture here: If you are interested, take a look. Start with the last post on the page.

Rod, thanks for the great post!


Pastor Rod said...


Blogger's finally back up!

Thanks for visiting and for the kind words.


Evers said...

Is there room here to make a distinction between 'teaching' and 'preaching'?

Pastor Rod said...


That might be a valid distinction. But if we make that distinction, then I would have to say that teaching should not be done from the pulpit, only in a classroom.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to post your thoughts.


Cruv said...

I also can understand being a skeptic of Gospel-Centered Preaching. To reference the "joining the club" analogy, I must say that to equate the Gospel as merely an entrance to the Christian life is a misunderstanding of the real ramifications of what the Gospel truly is.

Since we are using analogies, let me say, Scripture is like a great movie. Not every scene contains the main character, yet each scene pertains to the main character and would not make much sense without reference to the main character.

Think of Lord of the Rings. In the Two Towers, Gandalf told Aragorn to hold on and keep fighting. As far as Gandalf was concerned, the battle was already won. As soon as Gandalf showed up in the wee hours of the morning, all hope was instantly restored in those who were fighting. Even though Gandalf was not in much of the scenes at this point, it makes little sense for them to fight a seemingly losing battle without connecting what they are doing (fighting a good fight) to the one who has won the battle for them.

Likewise, even though Jesus is not specifically mentioned or even referenced in various passages, it makes little sense to preach to people "Do not lie," and leave it at that. Yes, we should not lie, and it is good and right to tell the truth, just as it was good and right for Aragorn (and his allies) to fight for their lives and for that which is good, however, we must reference I doing (do not lie, love your neighbor, etc...) to Christ and His finished work. In the words of Paul, "It is Christ formed within us."

Why shouldn't we lie? Because it is wrong to lie? Yes, but a more profound reason is that as we partake of the nature of God (without becoming God, mind you - 2 Peter 1:4), the natural result is that we will want to tell the truth simply because of the Spirit of Christ Who lives within us. Because of the Spirit of Christ living in us, we partake of the nature of God which by necessity precedes the law - the law is the natural expression of the nature of God. To merely preach and teach our duty alone and it only being right to do because God desires us to do so seems to miss the point of our doing completely. We are to do these commands and follow these statutes because Christ Who is the exact imprint of the nature of God (Hebrews 1:3) of which we partake has 1) already finished the full requirement of the whole law (fulfilling our duty) 2) exhorts us to do them in reflection and admiration for what He (Christ) has done for us and in our place.

So why must we make the Gospel central in our preaching? Because Jesus and His finished work is the means by which we partake of God's nature. Without making the Gospel the central reference point in our thinking and doing, we cease to preach a Christian message. The Christian message is Christ has fulfilled the whole law for us and in our place and it, that is, the gospel, is then what motivates us to do His will.

Pastor Rod said...


Thanks for your excellent contribution.


Daniel Detroit said...

My name is Daniel and that you might know the spirit I come in, I declare the one and only true gospel, that the Christ, Yeshua-Jesus died for our sins according to all the scriptures, he was buried and He rose again the third day according to all the writings of the prophets. (Luke 24, 1 Cor 15:1-6)It is this gospel taught not by man but by God, that God has given grace me and those with me grasce to remain in these past 15 years. For the Spirit of the Father only testifies of the Son or the word preached by the gospel as Peter states. Jesus said, you search the scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life, it is they that testify of me. Psalms 40 declares, "Lo in the volume of the book it is written of me." And by the word of the Lord and the grace given by the will of God and His grace, I say "the day of Christ is at hand". And that cannot be said in Spirit and in truth unless the falling away has occurred first and the man of sin, the son of perdition, the antichrist has been revealed. It is so.

Daniel Lang