Cover Image: Christ-Centered Preaching

Christ-Centered Preaching:
Redeeming the Expository Sermon

Bryan Chapell (Baker )

Blurb Review by Steve Leigh

Review by Steve Leigh

Chapell, Bryan. Christ Centered Preaching: Redeeming The Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994. ISBN 9780801027987 $29.99

Bryan Chapell is the Senior Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (Peoria, IL) and is the former Chancellor and Professor of Preaching at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is also the author of In the Grip of Grace, Praying Backwards, and numerous other volumes. Chapell wrote this book because he believes that modern homiletics is shifting from an emphasis on expository preaching to a more topical preaching style. He advocates the use of his own style of expositional preaching that he calls the “Fallen Condition Focus.” Chapell claims that the sermon must focus on what the text of Scripture is saying to the original recipients and how that original context is now applicable to a modern hearer. He begins with the principles of expository preaching by asking the questions of where, to whom, and why was the text of Scripture written. By answering these questions at the outset, he exegetes the passage in such a way as to help keep the focus on the ramification to the original audience, and with Holy Spirit guided direction to make a connection with today’s culture.

The book is divided into three parts and eleven chapters, with seven appendixes. Chapell’s main thesis is that until the preacher is aware of why the passage was written, he will fail to connect to the true content of the original author’s message. God has made His purposes clear in the text, and according to Chapell the Fallen Condition Focus can be used as a methodology for determining that purpose. Chapell defines the concept of a Fallen Condition Focus as, “the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those for or by whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage to manifest God's glory in his people”(42). In other words, no text of Scripture was written solely for the purposes of the past audience, but for the needs and sanctification of any believer in any age. Stated another way, the Fallen Condition Focus is the intention of the Holy Spirit to provide inspired and authoritative Scripture for each and every age of the church.

Therefore, Chapell argues that if we do not find the Fallen Condition Focus of the passage, we will not have a true understanding of the passage, even if we can diagram the Greek, parse the syntax of Hebrew, or know many interesting facts about the jewels on the High Priest’s breastplate. These interesting facts will become secondary to the message when we deliver the Holy Spirit’s true intention for inspiring the autographs and His true intention for the modern crowd to hear the message He intended.

As Chapell puts it, a sermon on “prayerless patterns in society” is much less interesting than a sermon on "Why we struggle to pray when family stresses make prayer most necessary” (51). The generic and bland message gives the audience little reason to “tune in.” However; specificity tends to breed interest in the subject matter. Chapell lists the following three questions as foundational in determining the Fallen Condition Focus:

1. What does the text say?

2. What spiritual concern(s) did the text address (in its context)?

3. What spiritual concerns do listeners share in common with those to (or about) whom the text was written?

Answering these three questions will guide the preacher to answer the most important question of the Fallen Condition Focus: “So what?” If the audience sits with crossed arms and scowling faces asking at the end of the message, “So what?” then the preacher has failed to convey the message of the Scripture. They might be able to recite the treasures that Achan stole from Jericho; but “so what?” Does that knowledge affect their Monday reality of a doctor’s appointment, rebellious children, or financial concerns? Most likely, it does not. The book closes out with five chapters dedicated to the preparation of expository sermons. Here Chapell lays out his pattern for sermon prep. This section could be helpful to the experienced sermon preparer, but will be most helpful the novice preacher. The last portion of the book is dedicated to twelve appendices. Here Chapell gives very helpful information including suggested sermon outlines.

The book is easy to understand, simply written without a great amount of academic verbiage. Chapell also balances humor and illustration to keep the reading pace at a good level, and interest high. The book will certainly offend some who preach in a Topical Style and believe that this is the way to draw in a crowd, or keep interest high and bored parishioners low. Christ Centered Preaching is well written and excellent in every way. It was written with just a touch of humor that helped keep it attentive, and was very practical in both application and approach. While not particularly academic, it certainly was helpful in gathering an understanding of how Scripture should be preached from a Christocentric (rather than an anthropocentric) outlook. Chapell’s Fallen Condition Focus is a wonderful tool that I will gladly add to my pastoral toolbox and Christ Centered Preaching happily to my library.

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