Bryan Chapell Christ Centered Preaching

Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon Baker Academic (2nd edn. 2005).

This is more than a standard text on preaching because of the author’s contribution in sharpening purpose with the Fallen Condition Focus.

First, it is a standard text on preaching, written to establish

… theological principles for redeeming the expository sermon from the well-intentioned but ill-conceived legalism that characterizes too much evangelical preaching” (p.  20)

This is a theme also close to the heart of Graeme Goldsworthy (see this post).

Second, it is a refreshing reminder on the basics of preaching and Chapell has a good turn of phrase. For instance, I liked his description of the need for unity in organising the sermon:

It is easier to catch a baseball than a handful of sand even if the two weigh about the same amount. (Ibid., p. 45)

The basic structure begins predictably enough with the principles (part 1) and preparation (part 2) of expository sermons; Part 3 ‘A theology of Christ-centered Messages’ is more interesting and the place for experienced preachers to begin.

I have already written about the Fallen Condition Focus FCF, so let me comment on Chapell’s twist on the these basic elements in a sermon:.

Theme (Unity)

A sermon must be about something; that is, it must have a theme. In the preaching tradition that I was brought up in, the theme is a summary of the passage with one main verb in the indicative (e.g. ‘God shows his love by sending Jesus); the aim summarises the application (we must love one another).

Chapell’s take on the theme marries the two because

The faulty proposition statement often tells us only 1) That something is true or 2) that something is required. (Thomas F Jones on p. 144).

So his theme sentences include a reason: ‘because God shows his love by sending Jesus, we are to love one another.’ this is more cumbersome, but if it contains some or all of the FCF it is potentially more powerful.

Chapell is more generous towards branches and subpoints than is de rigueur in my circles.

  • Branches occur when the theme sentence contains the words ‘and’ ‘but’ etc. indicating an inability to decide between options (not an exclusively Anglican trait, by the way);

Conjunctions in main-point statements indicate branches in a preacher’s thought. If a preacher does not intend to follow such branches in a sermon’s development, he should eliminate conjunctions from main-point statements (and propositions). (Ibid., pp. 264-65)

  • Subpoints are useful when they are necessary steps in the development of the main point; apart from that situation, I;m not sure I believe in subpoints. My rule of thumb is that if it can be illustrated, then it is a point, and if it can’t, the point is not clear. Subpoints must not be allowed to cloud the quest for clarity. The outline on p 157 (Faithfulness requires facing God’s enemies; obeying God’s word; seeing God’s hand) is not a main point, it’s a whole sermon with three points! But the outline on p. 159 ‘In what types of difficulties must we present Christ?’ Answer: in circumstantial/relational/spiritual difficulties’ aren’t points but different areas of application. They are analogous to Jay Adams’ counseling preaching waiting for the hearer at the points where they bail out:

When preaching, counseling preachers will know at which points excuse makers tend to bail out of sermons and will be waiting for them at the door. He will not let them leave so easily. J.E. Adams, Preaching With Purpose: The Urgent Task of Homiletics (Jay Adams Library) (Zondervan, 1986), pp. 116-17)

Aim (Application)

Application is the present, personal consequence of scriptural truth (Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: p. 201)

On the same page, quoting David Veerman “Sermons: Apply Within,” Leadership (Spring 1990), 121:

Simply stated, application is answering two questions: So what? and Now what? The first question asks, “Why is this passage important to me?” The second asks, “What should I do about it today?”

Application must build on the FCF, so that it flows from what is prominent in the text rather than from what is prominent within the preacher’s mind. Applications must answer four key questions (214):

  • What does God require of me?
  • Where does he require it of me? We preachers must consider the pastoral situation in which applying the biblical truth will help, so that our sermons heal rather than burden the congregation. One way to do this is to ensure that the concepts and language of the explanation are allowed to frame the application. This is the concept of ‘expositional rain’. Some areas of application (217-8)
    1. Building proper relationships (with God, family, friends, coworkers, church people, etc.)
    2. Reconciling conflicts (in marriage, family, work, church, etc.)
    3. Handling difficult situations (stress, debt, unemployment, grief, fatigue, etc.)
    4. Overcoming weakness and sin (dishonesty, anger, addiction, lust, doubt, lack of discipline etc.)
    5. Lack or improper use of resources (time, treasures, talents, etc.)
    6. Meeting challenges and using opportunities (education, work in or out of church, witnessing, missions, etc.)
    7. Taking responsibility (home, church work, finances, future, etc.)
    8. Honoring [sic] God (worship, confession, prayer, devotions, not compartmentalizing life, etc.)
    9. Concern for social/world problems (poverty, racism, abortion, education, injustice, war, etc.)
  • Why must I do what he requires? We must be motivated by primarily by grace, not by guilt or greed.
  • How can I do what God requires?

Structure (outline)

Two helpful lists of essentials for a good outline and structure:

General Principles: (136ff.)

The outline must have

    • Unity
    • Brevity
    • Harmony (e.g. Parallelism)
    • Symmetry
    • Progression
    • Distinction (i.e. not blurring or overlapping points)
    • Culmination

If the sermon’s overall purpose does not become more and more evident as each point unfolds, a congregation rightly questions why the points were mentioned at all. (Ibid., p. 142)

Structure essentials: FORM (p. 162):

    • Faithful to the Text
    • Obvious from the text
    • Related to the FCF
    • Moving toward a climax

Illustration (and stories that move us to action)

Illustrations do more than lighten or clarify:

Because life experiences inform our souls, our psyches, and our thoughts, citations of such experiences function as basic tools of communication. Illustrations persuade, stimulate involvement, touch the heart, stir the will, and result in decisions. Thus the primary purpose of illustration is not to clarify but to motivate. (Ibid., p. 186) emphasis original

This is new to those of us who use illustrations to explain and clarify rather than to motivate. Yet it is inherent in the power of a story to motivate, especially if they are well told:

Good illustrations take story form. An illustration usually has an introduction, descriptive details, movement through crisis (i.e., creating suspense that leads to a climax), and a conclusion). (Ibid., p. 193)

It is ironic that John Stott is citied as an example of using illustrations. His preaching was lucid and logical, peppered with images; but he was known at All Souls for neither using not believing in illustrations!

Chapell’s tips on using illustrations (summarised from 203-4)

  • Get the facts straight
  • Beware of untrue or incredible illustrations
  • Maintain balance (i.e. not too many in a sermon)
  • Be real (appreciate the epic in the immediate).
  • Do not carelessly expose, embarrass or disclose
  • Poke fun at no-one but self. (And corollary: pat on the back everyone but self)
  • Share the spotlight: don’t always talk about yourself.
  • Demonstrate taste: “Birthing, blood, bedrooms, and bathrooms do not usually merit graphic description from the pulpit. When such references are needed, speak matter-of-factly and move along.” (Ibid., p. 104)
  • Finish what you begin i.e. don’t leave people wondering what happened to that little dog, or the boy in the hospital.

Redemptive Sermons and the FCF

Clear identification of a fallen condition automatically locks a preacher into a redemptive approach to the exposition of a passage. (Ibid., p. 299)


…preachers should make God’s redemptive work the content, the motive, and the power behind all biblical exposition. (Ibid., p. 327)

Amen to that!

Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon 2nd Revised edition ed. Baker Academic, Div of Baker Publishing Group, 2005.


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