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Friday, November 02, 2007

Preaching Solus Christus

Whether Calvinist or Arminian, Cessationist or Pentecostal, Paedobaptist or Credobaptist, Dispensational or Covenantal, you have felt the effects from the Reformation. Even the Roman Catholic church has been forced to respond, though they remain in signficant error.

No matter what protestant background you come from, one of the greatest areas of influence is in the preaching. This can be seen even by the arrangement of the furniture in the auditorium. The table for the "sacraments" has been moved, and the "pulpit" became the centerpiece. While the furniture is insignificant (our church does not have a literal pulpit) that attitude is. We gather around the Word of God, to hear the Word of God and apply the Word of God. We have the Reformation to thank (at least in part) for helping remind us that the Word of God is central to our corporate worship. However, much of contemporary preaching ignores the heart of the Reformation (the "five solas") as they deliver their homily.

As time permits me, I hope to tackle each of the solas, as they regard to preaching.

Solus Christus

As Keith so wonderfully presented, all of our attention should be directed to Christ. There are just too many verses in Scripture to ignore this point. Many pastors will affirm Colossians 1:16 when speaking of creation, salvation and even world politics, yet often neglect this principle in their own messages. I believe this error stems from two mistakes, in hermeneutics and presentations.

Hermeneutics--If the meaning of the text is the text (as many affirm), it is critical that we understand the point of the text. If we distort the meaning of the text in our presentation, we cannot claim claim "thus sayeth the Lord." And regarding Christ-centered preaching, Jesus Himself gave us the hermeneutic:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;--John 5:39
Jesus affirms here that the Scriptures are written about Him. He is the focus and the fulfillment of their message. This is not an isolated proof-text, for Jesus confirms this hermeneutic in Luke 4:14-21 (for example) and countless other places.

Yet, some today boast a "higher wisdom." Claiming to be faithful to authorial intent, they determine that passages in the Old and New Testament alike are not Christ centered. It sounds impressive as they quote first century rabbis and Jewish texts. However, as Mark Driscoll reminded a group recently, if the rabbinical interpretation caused the leaders of that time to reject Jesus Christ, then we should not be interested in their hermeneutic. To the person who claims to hold to authorial intent (in their denial of Christ in a passage), Jesus would simply remind them that "All Scripture is God-breathed" and therefore, The Author intended it to speak of Him.

Recently, I've been told by more than a few pastors that I draw my circles too small. By this, they mean that my expectation for other pastors is too rigid and does not allow enough grace and diversity. I know this can possibly be my tendency, so I only want to speak where Scripture speaks. Therefore, I can allow a man to simply be a "4-point Calvinist" and still hold a pulpit. Despite my attitude toward altar calls (as recently posted), I'm not going to claim a man disqualified if he uses this approach. However, I told the fellow pastors who were present, "I am not interested in a fellowship of pastors who do not agree that the Scriptures speak of Christ and we should preach in such a way. (The district comment was made in reaction to some discussions recently about what tolerence we should give alternative views to ministry.) To see any other conclusion from the Scriptures is simply dead wrong.

Presentation--Ultimately, I hope most pastors (who have not been sucked into high-academics) would affirm such a hermeneutic. After all, it is probably their great affection for Christ that drew them into the ministry, therefore, it is their great delight to speak of Him. However, our studies may be faithful to this principle, but again, our presentation can betray it.

If the assessment of a sermon is based upon the reaction of the unregenerate, we are going to be pressured to avoid Christo-centric preaching. After all, Jesus stated: If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.--John 15:18. Should we be surprised if the world does not want to hear about Him? Therefore, to attract the lost, we are encouraged to preach bullet-point sermons laying out "5 ways to get along with coworkers" or "3 ways to have a better marriage." Eventually, the world tires of this too, and prosperity preachers arise...itching ears with the message that God wants them to pursue their lusts. Even an "orthodox" pastor who recognizes the deadly poison of properity gospel, may think the answer is to get more edgy. Perhaps a sermon series on better sex will attract?

Many people hear the term "man-centered" and assume that means "lawless." But that is not always the case. Many preachers see the dwindling numbers, apathy for the lost and lack of moral foundation in congregants, and respond accordingly. Often, the bullet points are kept, but the application is changed. "5 Steps to Growing this Church." "Eight Ways to Reach Your Neighbor for Christ." "How to Kick the Porn Habit." (Undertstand that I am not opposed to steps or points, Scripture itself will lay out application principles, but more reacting to the self-help style of exhortation prevalent today.) Such preaching seems sanctified, for who could argue with a robust church full of soul winning pure people?

But such preaching is "pure" legalism. When we call people to action, or even a standard, but neglect the foundation in Christ, we fail to bring them the biblical message. It remains man-centered, for it calls men to recognize and avoid sin completely on their own. Using church growth, evangelism and pornography as examples, consider the following questions:
    Who's church is it?
    Who is the One who said, 'I will build My church?"
    Who does evangelism seek to win the person to?
    Who do we depend on to do the work of regeneration?
    Who of us is truly pure?
    Who is our standard of perfection, having lived yet never lusted?
    What has He done for my lack of moral perfection?
It is critical that our preaching blaze light on the fact that He is the only perfect fulfillment of God's standards, that He propitiates our violation of God's standards and that He empowers the reborn to now live according to those standards. Any preaching that neglects Christ becomes theistic moralism...at best.

Every true believer should celebrate the work of the Reformation. The Reformers did not discover "new truth," but rather brought truths only held by a small remnant out to the fore. I am thankful that the church is no longer held hostage to the false expectation of priests to mediate on our behalf through the sacraments. However, we do still need a High Priest.

Today, the sacraments have been moved out of the spotlight. In many churches, the pulpit still is what draws the eye. We've abandoned the mediatorial system of sacraments, however, in the name of scholarship, church growth or self-esteem we've also neglected to mention our Great Mediator.

I for one, do not want to step into a pulpit without Him!


  • At 3:08 PM, Blogger Dave B. said…


    I appreciate your concern and call to a more Christ centered preaching. I recall a often quoted sentence that says at some point in a sermon one must make a "B-line" (i suddenly pause to wonder where that idiom originated).... sorry anyway... a "B-line" for the cross.

    I would also agree that the cross is the hinge point of our hermeneutic. It is the supreme filter to which all of our scripture be subject. The law, the prophets, wisdom lit, the gospels, even apocalyptic all "change" or perhaps a better word coeless in the shadow of the cross..

    I also agree that our application of scripture should be subject to the cross as well. For clarification i would ask though that if you would see a sermon entitled "Three ways to better your marriage" that proceeded to Eph 5 and demonstrate that Christology is the foundation for even our marriage relationships would be "acceptable" to you?

    If yes, what then would be unbiblical about titling our sermon in a way that a pragmatist, expecting to find a self help steps, be instead confronted by the gospel of Christ and the cross?

    I merely am struggling to clarify for myself as to how much you are addressing application heavy sermons that are founded in Biblical Christ centered teaching vs mere points of "advise" on holy living.

    Understanding that all scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness... if a sermon holds Christ as the center and leans more toward instruction have we missed the mark?

    If we maintain the substance is Christ, is it wrong if we change the rhetorical devise... or method? (in balance of course)

  • At 9:19 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    great question dave, i've really enjoyed your interaction here. glad you've been stopping by.

    my only concern with the Christ centered "3 steps to a good marriage" sermon (which i do believe can be done), is that most unregenerate (and even regenerate, for that matter) people are coming to church for self-improvement...not to see Christ. therefore, it's going to be a challenge to get people to see they need Christ more than they need a better marriage. Christ must be the end, not the means.

    many people will acknowledge their need for Christ to have an improved marriage. it is our job to help people see that a marriage is the means (when handled biblically) to understanding Christ more deeply...and Christ is the end.

    to not teach instruction in a passage that clearly does would be a disjustice to the text...just like missing Christ in the text would be. certainly, we need to do both!

    i guess what i see in the landscape is not too many Christ centered sermons that lack application, but all too often, i see appplication driven sermons that neglect Christ. we must present the application, then that Christ is the perfect fulfillment, our payment for our transgression of that standard, and our power to then live that standard.

    i will say that i don't think i nail the goal everytime...i often feel frustrated that i over emphasized one or the other. but i certainly do not see enough preachers that even have it as their goal.

  • At 8:48 AM, Blogger Darby Livingston said…

    "I can allow a man to simply be a '4-point Calvinist' and still hold a pulpit."

    How very tolerant of you. :)
    Which of the four points would you prefer be dropped?

  • At 10:26 AM, Blogger Zach Doppelt said…

    Ha! The 4 point calvinist statement was funny and probably unnecessary, but I usually agree with you on stuff, so I will let that slide :)

    I appreciate your desire to lay out the "alone" sola principles. I am actually, as you noticed in my email to you, working through these points as I scrutinize the church's application of these. I am trying to figure out if we really do consistently apply these principles, or if we speak of them in name only...

    As far as the altar call, I do not do a traditional alter call, but I do invite people to speak with me if they have not placed their faith in Christ. I understand your concern of the "throw a quick alter call on a bad sermon and everything is o.k." mentality, but I also think that bringing someone to a point of commitment can be valuable at times (think of philip and the eunuch). Thoughts?

  • At 1:14 PM, Blogger Zach Doppelt said…


    I agree with your poignant comments on the hermeneutical issue. Many are trying to come up with new scholarship on how to interpret the Scripture. Why are we trying to reinterpret what the scripture already says and claims about itself?

    I think these are important issues to address.

  • At 4:04 PM, Blogger Dave B. said…

    Thanks for the reply.

    "Christ must be the end, not the means"

    I understand what you meant... yet i think you would support that Christ is both the end and the means.

    I think this is what you pretty much summed up at the end of your reply when you wrote:

    "we must present the application, then that Christ is the perfect fulfillment, our payment for our transgression of that standard, and our power to then live that standard. "

    - Well said.

    As i look at Paul's presentation of Christ (in epistles) in light of our discussion... many time the epistle often is initiated by specific life issues. Paul's typical response is not self help, but always a foundation of Christ (he starts there) and then after he will come back to life specifics. How much is this a model for preachers today?

    Paul is often writing to address certain issues present in the church, but without fail he addresses the issue through the lens of Christ (again subjecting life to the lens of Christ and not subjecting Christ to the lens of life) I'm not disagreeing with you.

    What to eat and when: food sacrificed to idol's. Or Guess who's coming to dinner: what to do when a Gentile comes over... might be the self help man centered title. While "The Sufficient Work of Christ" be the better title.

    Many of my concerns in preaching today stem from a past history of watching men and women sit under expositional, solid, Christ centered teaching, and grow full, well informed, and complacent.
    Of course i would not and do not hold expositional, Christ centered teaching in the wrong.

    In fact I would say that expositional Christ centered teaching is what we need more of in our church's today. But in line with this there must be a connection to the believers life. Christ must matter in my behavior, marriage, conversation.

    I guess what i'm saying is if life change does not occur has the hearer learned? I'm not suggesting that the speaker do the work of the Holy Spirit in conviction. Simply that he or she must not set out to merely inform the hearer.

  • At 9:58 AM, Blogger Keith said…


    These are really edifying comments as part of a superb discussion!

  • At 10:32 AM, Blogger danny2 said…


    i would probably tend to lean in the direction of saying paul's epistles are a great model for us when considering preaching.

    even when we get to ephesians 4 and can see direct application--don't lie, speak truth; don't sit in anger, work to resolve; don't steal, get a job and give; don't speak unwholesome, build one another up...etc.--it can be tempting to simply say to our people, "hey, quit stealing. GIVE!"

    however, we're ignoring a GREAT deal of theology building up this point. i agree, dave, that we can charts and graphs and cool words (hapax legomena is my favorite to say) that fills the head but does not engage the soul. so, we can get so application heavy that we preach to people the application only. in the example of ephesians 4:25-29, we do a great disservice if it does not include:

    "but you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus" (eph 4:20-21).

    this reminds us, as you well stated, He is both our means and our ends (which was my intention to state, but i didn't).

    but how does one do this? there is so much meat and application in ephesians 4:26-27, for example (i spent almost an entire counseling appointment in these two verses yesterday), how do we adequately handle the application (which takes time and explanation...and a cross reference into Genesis 4...in my opinion) and lay that foundation?

    to me, that's another arguement for sequential exposition. lectio continua allows me to lay that foundation weeks in advance. thus, i don't have to spend all of my time laying the foundation (though i will spend adequate time reminding the body and bring others up to speed.)

    perhaps this brings in another post for me. proper Christcentric preaching should in the large majority be walking through books of the Bible, instead of choosing hit or miss topics or passages...at least in my opinion.

  • At 10:59 AM, Blogger Chris said…

    dave b said,
    "For clarification i would ask though that if you would see a sermon entitled "Three ways to better your marriage" that proceeded to Eph 5 and demonstrate that Christology is the foundation for even our marriage relationships would be "acceptable" to you?"

    I wonder if even simple things like published sermon titles establish in the mind of both the public and our own flock what the purposes of our faith are all about.

    Yes, we might hook the pragmatist with such titles, but are we then establishing notions that we will have to disabuse our congregations of? Our marriages exist to glorify Christ, not the other way around. Therefore I desire to teach them the three points that will improve their marriages as a consequence of their desire to glorify Christ. If I make a habit of titling my sermons in such a way that it looks like my needs for a better marriage, family, workplace, etc. are primary, I am sending conflicting and confusing signals.

    I suppose this (my concern) could be trivial, but in such a desperately man-centered culture, I don't want to feed those natural impulses.

  • At 11:03 AM, Blogger danny2 said…


    it's a bit moot for me, since i hate giving sermons titles anyway.

    my sermon title is simply the text i'm preaching...not trying to be "extra pious" with that...i'm just not creative enough to come up with good titles.

    it be interesting at some point to discuss the role of titles and messages.

  • At 3:56 PM, Blogger Darby Livingston said…

    You'd be shocked how often someone in my flock remembers an entire sermon because of the "coat-hook" title. For instance, I preached a sermon on eldership from 1 Peter 5 where I showed from the OT prophets how Christ would shepherd the flock rather than fleece it. I entitled it "The Chief Shepherd and All Those Other Guys." I preached on 1 Peter 1 and entitled it "Joyful Hope Through Various Trials." I preached another entitled "Suffering and Subsequent Glories." When someone goes through something, they'll say something like, "It's like you said in Suffering and Subsequent Glories..." That's helpful to have a context to hang concepts on.

  • At 4:47 PM, Blogger Dave B. said…


    "Yes, we might hook the pragmatist with such titles, but are we then establishing notions that we will have to disabuse our congregations of? Our marriages exist to glorify Christ, not the other way around."

    I was mostly trying to determine whether danny was taking issue more with the title or the lack of Christ. Which i think he answered well..

    Personally i don't use the whole three steps, yada, yada, cause as it has been stated God is not simply self help. I would creatively title something though.

    But as to the whole notion of not setting up a false idea that needs to be dispelled, it got me thinking.

    I'd say this were the case if we were preaching in a vacuum. Unfortunately as you stated our culture is man centered.

    I think that the notion is already established by our culture. Paul did not write into a vacuum either. Most of what Paul wrote was to counter disillusionment.

    might be splitting hairs.

    I'm reminded of 1 Tim 1:5

    "but the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith."

    I'd say anyone who says you can get any to any of those without Christ as the center for your preaching doesn't know what he says.

    I Tim 1:6

    "And some men, straying from these thing, have turned aside to fruitless discussion..."

    This goes back to Mark Driscoll's message which Danny posted.

    Btw: i think that was well worth listening to. He pretty much hit the nail on the head.

  • At 4:49 PM, Blogger Dave B. said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 5:10 PM, Blogger danny2 said…


    you're not highjacking my blog. (the beautiful thing about a blog is that i could simply delete your comments if i found you too dominating).

    i am THRILLED by our discussion.

    in the past, some blog nay-sayers that i know have suggested that blogs only allow for venom and division to be propagated...that no real discussion can take place.

    i echo keith's words:


    These are really edifying comments as part of a superb discussion!

    it's been a joy to watch a conversation develop in a Christ exalting way. i will admit that my blog has at times been a place where i've taken cheap shots at people or methods or even written something with a poor attitude. there is much in the archives of this blog that will burn on the day of judgment.

    but i think things like this conversation will be refined in the flames. my only regret is that some "anti-blogging" or "former-recovering-blogging" friends probably tuned out months ago and are missing out on this rich discussion.

    i can tell you, this discussion has only made me more excited for beavercreek ohio!


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