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Chapell, Bryan Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming The Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Co., 1994. 375 pp. $19.58.
Bryan Chapell’s, Christ-Centered Preaching, is a breath of fresh air! This book is more than just an ordinary book one picks-up and puts-down once complete. Instead, you will find this book to function more like a textbook than a monograph over a particular topic. I found myself reading, and rereading, certain sections to ensure I understood the principles being taught, taking notes in the margins of each page to capture thoughts later to be applied to my sermons, and rethinking the structure of my own outlines during sermon prep. This is not a book one reads to then put it on a bookshelf as a trophy and look at it for years to come. No, although it certainly is a trophy of a book, it is also much more than that. For the pastor, this book will likely function as his “go-to” resource manual during sermon prep. Christ-Centered Preaching will not only inspire the preacher in the pulpit, but it will instruct him in his study. This book is an indispensable resource!
I believe the thesis is best stated in the heart of Chapell’s book, Preparation of Expository Sermons (Part 2). He says, “My hope is that students will learn techniques that will allow them to prepare sermons with knowledge and confidence. I do not intend that these specific techniques ‘rule’ sermons, but rather that they contribute to rich and powerful messages crafted according to the insights, individual abilities, and informed choices of those led by the Spirit of God (156).” Chapell is a student of homiletics and sermonology, it is clear he wants good preachers to become great preachers. His experience is clear in the way he instructs his readers and students in preparing an effective sermon.
In Christ-Centered Preaching, Chapell engages with more than 110 other scholars on the topic of “preaching,” which is what makes this book such a helpful resource. His book is separated into three sections, plus an appendix. The first section, Principles for Expository Preaching, is necessarily to be thoroughly understood by the preacher, prior to sermon preparation. It covers topics such as, the Fallen Condition Focus (FCF), unity in a sermon, meaning is the message, power and priority of the word, the necessity of application, cautions for the preacher, and the meaning of expository preaching.
The second section, Preparation of Expository Sermons, is in my opinion the heart of the book. This section covers the nuts-and-bolts of sermon preparation, from questions to ask the text to grammatical outlines, from organization to presentation. Chapell explains the “inside-baseball” of outlines and structure, main points, sub-points, the need for a strong propositional statement, to include anchor and magnet clauses. He also gives great instruction and resources on how to develop and deliver illustrations, the components and attitude of application, and the purpose and necessity of introductions, transitions, and conclusions.
The third section, A Theology of Christ-Centered Messages, looks back at all previous chapters in order to develop a Christ-centered theology for preaching. Chapell instructs preachers how to find common “fallen” characteristics they share with the contemporary audience of the message, common redemptive elements that apply to our fallen condition, and then how to extract that truth from the text and crafting it into a sermon.
Lastly, and not least importantly, Chapell has developed an appendix, which alone, is worth the price of the book. The appendix is certainly unique. It is the most practical instruction one will find for the ministry of preaching. It covers everything from delivery, dress, and style (app. 1), to specific divisions of the message and the length of time proportionally devoted to each section (app. 2), and them most help is the section on funerals, weddings, and evangelistic messages (app. 6, 7, & 8). One will walk away from these chapters asking, “Where was this instruction 20 years ago at the start of my ministry?”
In evaluating this book, one will be drawn to its practicality. Theologians often find themselves working through minute details of difficult doctrines, theories upon theories, and swimming through the newest competing philosophy of this world, but rarely do they get the clarity of practical instruction as given by Chappel, in Christ-Centered Preaching. For example, in Chapell’s discussion on the proposition, he says, “Sermons are built on propositions.” He describes the proposition as a universal “truth” plus a hortatory “application” is that which equals a “proposition.” In other words, an indicative plus an imperative, equals a proposition. This proposition can be presented in a consequential (because/therefore) or conditional (if/since) form. The form selected will determine whether the preacher uses magnet or anchor clauses to explain in his main points, and consequentially how his sub-points are developed from the main points, into bullet statements, interrogative questions, or analytical-question responses. The fruit is hanging low from the tree and all the preacher has to do is reach up, grab it, and eat it. Both he and his congregation will be satisfied for years to come.
As a result of, Christ-Centered Preaching, I for one will be editing and preparing future sermons with this book close at hand. A one-time “read-over” of this book will not do in order to grasp the fullness of knowledge presented here to the preacher. If ever I were to teach a Christian preaching course, this book would be a mandatory text for my students, and we would work through it, chapter by chapter, to master the material. This book is that important! To end on a conditional proposition: If you want to become a more effective communicator of God’s word, get a copy of Christ-Centered Preaching today!
Stott, John R. W. Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982. 351 pp. $10.95.
John R. W. Stott’s, Between Two Worlds, hardly needs an introduction because it is well known as a time-tested masterpiece on the art of preaching. This book has helped preachers to better feed their flock for over three decades now. Although, the Christian faith has a rich tradition of preaching, done rightly, it is able to balance its’ message between the “Word” and the “World.” Maintaining this balance is truly an art. Stott does a fine job in teaching the Christian minister how to maintain this balance and effectively communicate God’s word to a contemporary audience. Better described, Between Two Worlds, is a sermon from Stott to preachers, and if read with an open mind, it is sure not to disappoint.
The thesis of Stott’s book is the art of “bridging the gap” in preaching between idealism and reality. The problem of abstract “idealism” in preaching is not incorrect theology, but a lack of application of correct theology to a real word in desperate need of the truth. The problem with overzealous worldly preaching that conforms to the world with which we live, is its sole focus on “reality” which leads to the adopting of modernity at the expense of sound doctrine. The first shepherd, the shepherd of idealism, tends to overfeed his sheep in such a way that the flock merely become fat followers of their shepherd and are eventually attacked by the wolves of the world, because they recognize them not. The second shepherd, the shepherd of reality, tends his sheep in such a way that his flock is famished and live among the wolves, many of them eaten by their foe, thinking them to be fellow sheep. However, a good shepherd tends and feeds his sheep in such a way that his flock follows the shepherd, knows the wolves, dwells within the boundaries of the green pastures, and all the while in their efforts are producing new lambs.
Although the analogy of the shepherd and his sheep will eventually break down, the truth gleaned from this analogy is the point of Stott’s thesis. Stott desires to train preachers how to effectively preach the word of God in such a way that honors God and allows them to maintain foundational convictions. A conviction about God, that He is light, He has acted, and He has spoken. A conviction about scripture, that it is God’s written word, which He still speaks through, and that His word is powerful. A conviction about the church, that the word of God is not dependent upon the church, but the other way around. A conviction about the Pastorate, whose task it is to feed God’s flock as the responsible teacher of the Church. Lastly, a conviction about preaching, that true Christian preaching be expository in nature and done with confidence and integrity.
However, I believe the heart of Stott’s book to be chapter 4, Preaching as Bridge Building. It is here where the rubber meets the road, to use a worn-out, but applicable analogy. Preaching, according to Stott, “is not just exposition but communication, not just exegesis of a text but the conveying of a God-given message to a living people who need to hear it (137).” How true! Stott goes on to paint a picture of this truth by way of metaphor in the building of a bridge. Stott says there is a deep chasm between the biblical world and the modern world. Our task is to preach sermons in such a way that crosses this divide and reaches the lives of real people, a contemporary message that affects people in a biblical, yet relevant way. This means engaging in ethical, social, political, and controversial issues of our day, biblically. Over the next two chapters, Stott shifts his thesis from theory to practice and teaches the preacher the importance of study and how to prepare a sermon.
In the last chapter, the preacher will learn how to properly choose their text, the importance of meditating on a text long before preaching it, and how to isolate and arrange material in such a way to preach the dominant thought of the text. Stott has a good section on the use and purpose of illustrations, he says, the word illustrate means “to illumine,” thus in order “to see” we use illustrations which serve the purpose of “throwing floods of light upon the road” which we travel (239-241). Also discussed in the last chapter are the nuts and bolts of sermon preparation, the structure, outline, introduction, body, and conclusion of a message. Much insight is gained by the attentive reader in the last few pages of Stott’s book, such as the emphasis on continual prayer throughout sermon prep, in an effort to “get your sermon by your heart,” quoting Cotton Mather. Stott sums his discussion up on sermon prep by a fitting quotation from a black American preacher, who once said, “First I reads myself full, next I thinks myself clear, next I prays myself hot, and then I lets go.” I could not say it any better.
Between Two Worlds is Stott’s best sermon yet. He is preaching to fellow preachers and calling them back to the art of effective proclamation of the gospel. Though this book is among many monographs on preaching, it is special in the sense that its message never gets old because there will always be the need to bridge the gap between the Word and the world. The Word will always be “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,” and so long as the Lord tarry’s, our task will always be to, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” John Stott has helped us in doing just that by writing Between Two Worlds.
Hebrews 4.12 (ESV)
Mark 16.15 (ESV)
For instance, the great problems of sublapsarianism and supralapsariansim, the trenchant debates concerning eternal filiation, the earnest dispute concerning the double procession, and the pre- and post-millenarian schemes, however important some may deem them, are practically of very little concern to that godly widow woman, with seven children to support by her needle, who wants far more to hear of the loving-kindness of the God of providence than of these mysteries profound.
I know a minister who is great upon the ten toes of the beast, the four faces of the cherubim, the mystical meaning of the badgers’ skins, and the typical bearings of the staves of the ark, and the windows of Solomon’s temple: but the sins of business men, the temptations of the times, and the needs of the age, he scarcely ever touches upon.
C. H. Spurgeon