Essential Tools for Preaching Christ (Part 2)

Sound exegesis is insufficient for sound preaching. This assertion might seem surprising in light of the popular resurgence of consecutive expository preaching. While we should welcome and encourage the shift toward expository preaching due to its emphasis on biblical texts and books, it is not included in the Scriptural definition of preaching. 

The Bible defines preaching in terms of what it is and what its goals are. Scripture defines preaching, preaching should explain and apply Scripture, and preaching should be filled with Scripture. While preaching should ordinarily be consecutive and expository, we should remember that this is a pragmatic conclusion more than it is a biblical mandate. There are good reasons for consecutive expository preaching, but the Bible does not make this method inherent to preaching. Preaching is a public authoritative declaration of the gospel, by ordained ambassadors of Christ, through which Christ calls people to be reconciled to God.

Most New Testament examples of preaching Christ are theological and devotional rather than exegetical and redemptive historical. This stands in partial contrast to predominating patterns in contemporary approaches to preaching. Asking whether preaching should be grammatical or redemptive historical does not take the question far enough. Connecting Christ to biblical passages theologically and devotionally are the remaining two methods by which preachers should preach Christ. This post treats the theological necessity of preaching Christ while the next one explains its devotional necessity. Understanding how these tools work in preaching Christ helps us better understand how to pray for pastors as they prepare sermons and what to expect from them as they preach sermons.

Preaching Christ is theologically necessary. As theological ideas appear in texts of Scripture, those ideas become means of bringing Christ into sermons without reading him into every biblical text. Some examples will clarify this point.

Theology proper culminates in Christology. Christ exemplifies the divine attributes. He is "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power (1 Tim. 6:15-16). His person and work make the glorious constellation of divine attributes shine forth in radiant splendor. Christ shows us how we relate to the other persons of the Trinity. He is the Father's agent of creation (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16). He is the Father's instrument of redemption (Eph. 1:7-12). He poured out the Spirit from the Father to equip the church for his mission (Acts 2:33). Any text presenting the authority and majesty of God should leads us to the Father, who represents the majesty of the Godhead. Any text convicting us of sin or requiring repentance directs us to Christ, who removes sin and who is the pattern of godliness. Any text requiring us to do or to believe something directs us to the Spirit, who illumines our minds and renews our hearts to believe and obey God. What passage of the Bible does not relate to these things? We cannot preach one person of the Godhead without preaching all three. The doctrine of God precedes the doctrine of Christ in order of priority. Yet without Christology the doctrine of God by itself cannot fulfill the goals of preaching.

The doctrine of salvation (soteriology) revolves around Christology. Every biblical text relates to soteriology in some respect because all Scripture says something about our relation to God. Christ's person and work is the summary of the gospel (1 Tim. 3:16). His person is the ground of the gospel and we receive his benefits through union with him by faith. God justifies us by forgiving our sins and accepting us as righteous through Christ's death and resurrection (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 4:21). Christ was born of a woman and made under the law so that we might receive the Spirit of adoption (Gal. 4:4; Rom. 8:15). Christ is essential image of God (Heb. 1:3) who renews in us the created image of God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). He is our sanctification. In Christ, we persevere to the end and enter into glory. In summary, "But of him you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - and righteousness, sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). Every part of Scripture that says anything about any of these subjects enables ministers to appeal to Christ theologically as the summary of the gospel and as the only means of salvation.

The doctrine of the church and of the last things is meaningless apart from Christ. He is the Head of the church, which is his body (1 Cor. 12:27; Col. 1:18). The sacraments of the church point to our union with Christ and with his members. We are all baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). We are one bread and one body in the Lord (1 Cor. 10:17). We cannot belong truly to the church without being united to Christ and we cannot be united to Christ without being united to his people. The sacraments embody and seal both realities to believers. At the last Day, Christ will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). Our bodily resurrection in Christ is the goal of our redemption (1 Cor. 15). Our highest blessedness will consist in seeing Christ as he is and being made like him (1 Jn. 3:1-2). Our hope in this blessed sight (beatific vision) is one of the primary reasons why we pursue holiness now (v. 3). Any biblical passage that relates to the church, the sacraments, and the last things furnishes ministers with means by which to preach Christ and, in so doing, to fulfill the ends of preaching.

Preaching Christ theologically shows that pastors need more than commentaries to prepare sermons. Preachers should not drive their sermons off of their exegetical rails by turning sermons into lessons in systematic theology. Preaching consecutive expository sermons helps hearers understand the Bible as a whole better. Doing so helps offset the biases and imperfections of ministers by preventing them from preaching their favorite texts and topics only. Yet God's designs in preaching are rarely met through the relatively straightforward process of exegetical labors. We must use many tools to preach Christ. Preaching Christ is part of the biblical definition of preaching; preaching redemptive or grammatical-historical sermons is not. Without undermining the value of expository sermons, we should remember that the purpose of exegesis is to explain texts in their contexts and that the purpose of explaining texts is to preach Christ from those texts. Making exegesis and end in itself in preaching is like learning to be an expert bricklayer in order to lay bricks instead to construct walls or buildings. Making theological connections is just as necessary to preach biblically as is exegesis and biblical theology. Several subsequent posts will illustrate what this looks like in practice.

*This is the seventh post in Dr. McGraw's series on preaching