Book Review: Christ-Centered Preaching by Chapell

December 29, 2006

Reading Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching really provoked me to farther thought as to why I preach the way I preach, and why I say what I say when I preach. To be perfectly honest, many of these thoughts came into my mind because of questions I had in regards to the reasoning behind Chapell’s goal of a “reclamation and rescue”[1] of the expository sermon and his seeming lack of Biblical backing to this “reclamation” and “rescue”.

Right off the bat, Chapell makes his views on preaching very clear, in regards to its relationship with God and man, “Ultimately, preaching accomplishes its spiritual purposes not because of the skills or the wisdom of a preacher but because of the power of the Scripture proclaimed (1 Cor. 2:4-5)”. And I would agree with him there, and I appreciate him putting this statement along with others at the beginning of the book. He goes on to say, “The text governs the preacher. Expository preachers do not expect others to honor their opinions. Such ministers adhere to Scripture’s truths and expect their listeners to heed the same.” But as he continues to speak on preaching it seems he drifts away from these first strongly Biblical thoughts and begins to introduce principles for expository preaching that I feel do not come from a Biblical basis, but rather come from man’s own ideas and opinions which caused me to evaluate how I preach, and the reasons behind the way I preach.

The downhill trend in Chapell’s book seems to begin when he introduces Aristotle’s classic rhetorical distinctions: logos, pathos, and ethos. I have no problem with this, but he seems to try to back up the Bible with Aristotle[2], or actually vice versa, in that he introduces Aristotle’s thoughts before even going into what he feels the Bible has to say about speaking the word and the components therein. When Aristotle thoughts on a subject come before the Bible’s in a person’s argument, I quickly began to wonder as to the validity of that argument (Psa 94:11) “The LORD knows man’s thoughts; they are meaningless” (HCSB).

Another interesting subject is the acronym that I assume Chapell coined, the “Fallen Condition Focus (FCF)”[3] is defined as, “the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God’s people to glorify and enjoy him.” He then goes on to say that God Himself has assured us that, “all Scripture has a Fallen Condition Focus”. In some ways I understand where Chapell is going here, because the thought is true (we are all fallen creatures and God wrote to us, as fallen creatures), but he puts this “FCF” of his too high in his own thoughts; almost as though he feels he has discovered the the key to preaching. The absence of Scriptural backing on this statement that God has told us that all Scripture uses this “FCF” principal is concerning. I really don’t think anyone will ever find the acronym “FCF” in Scripture no matter how hard they try (therefore God did NOT say it). There was no reason for Chapell to pull a rabbit out of a hat on this one; he could have used Scripture to back his claim, but he wanted to use his cool acronym instead. A bad choice in my mind.

Chapell then goes on to give examples of how, “The more specific the statement of the FCF early in the sermon, the more powerful and poignant the message will be. An FCF of ‘not being faithful to God’ is not nearly as riveting as ‘How can I maintain my integrity when my boss has none?”. He continues, “Specificity tends to breed interest and power by demonstrating that Scripture speaks to the real concerns of individual lives.”[4] I have a couple of problems with these statements. First of all, he is really going extra-Biblical here. These are his own opinions, and opinions that any Communications 101 professor could give you. He has strayed from the original principle that the Bible governs what the expository preacher says. The true expository preacher does not say what he wants and then make the text match his own preconceived ideas. To be honest, his example of a well formed FCF statement breeds man-centeredness. A focus on me, rather than trying to see myself as God sees me and being concerned about what God thinks rather than my own struggle to keep my integrity when other people make it difficult. It also breeds pride, in comparing myself with the world and making a statement that I am better than my boss, for he has no integrity whatsoever. When in fact, the Word of God would have us on our knees begging God for mercy and not comparing ourselves with those around us (or should we be like the Pharisee?). Also, while he says being specific breeds interest and power in our hearers, I would say that if these FCF statements are given as the point of a passage they will severely limit the scope of application in the hearts of our hearers. In many ways, I don’t see a difference between these FCF statements and the “applications” many give in sermons – but while there is one intended meaning, I would argue that there are many applications – not limited to this one FCF statement that the supposed “expository preacher” is supposed to come up with. Chapell feels it essential to “determine” the FCF in order to properly understand a passage and correctly form a sermon – he even goes so far as to say, “If we do not determine an FCF of a text, we do not really know what the passage is about”, but I beg to differ. For why is it so often the case (not always, there are also instances where a general application was given to all, ex. “Repent!”) that the crowds preached to in the New Testament, or even individuals for that matter, asked the preachers, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (cf. Acts 2:37)? If the preacher had given them application already, there would be no reason to ask that question. No, first the crowds were, “cut to the heart” (cf. Acts 2:37) and then application was provided by the preacher – it’s almost as though the preacher withheld the application, knowing that those who were called would seek out the needed application and pursue it on their own through the direction of the Spirit who was opening their eyes to see the truth. If Chapell wants to be Biblical in his writing, why does he feel it necessary to primarily use non-Biblical examples? Does he think Scripture insufficient?

In Chapell’s “Application” section (while I still do not see a strong line between his idea of FCF and application) he states, “Paul refuses to leave biblical truth in the stratosphere of theological abstraction. He earths his message in the concerns of the people he addresses. Preaching that is true to the pattern of Scripture should do the same.”[5] I agree whole-heartedly with this statement, but, I would differ as to the the implications of it. Chapell uses this thought to prove that preachers need to create applications out of thin air, or at least, logically create them. But if it is true that Paul already made application, then should we really make new ones? If Paul already digested the truth for his people, then how should that cause us as preachers to to re-digest the truth? Why should a preacher make up an application if the application has already been made by Scripture? Chapell’s train of thought here isn’t really all that logical here in my mind and does not prove his point.

At the end of this chapter two Chapell makes a good point – something that I think should be taken to heart. When we preach we should be able to have an answer to this question: “why did you tell them that?”.[6] And this really has been the thrust of my thoughts in regards to Chapell’s book, for while he makes many claims to things we should include in our sermons, it really seems that he lacks on getting his ideas from Scripture. When I ask myself why I said something, shouldn’t I have an answer that finds its root in the Bible?

The next chapter is entitled, “The Priority of the Text” but pretty much at the very beginning Chapell continues in his “experiential” reasoning rather than taking lessons from “the Text”. He states, “Preachers will be regarded as out of touch and/or insensitive if they press forward with their sermon programs while ignoring a community’s employment dilemma, the death of a pillar in the church, a local disaster, a building program…or a host of similar matters of significance in the life of the church.”[7] I am just amazed that Chapell dares to put such a paragraph in a chapter talking about the “Priority of the Text”. There is no “Priority of the Text” in the line of thought that he is condoning. Rather it is “The Priority of Your Situation and Condition”. Not to say that there is no wisdom in what Chapell says, but I just can’t help but think about what Jesus had to say when confronted with this type of thinking in Luke 13:1-3.

Later in this chapter, in a section talking about tools that can be used to interpret a passage, Chapell states, “It is not wise habitually to run to commentaries as the first step of sermon preparation, lest your thoughts start running in a groove carved by one not in touch with what you need to address.”[8] Again, Chapell advocates a strange and seemingly man-centered doctrine here, that almost has the sound of some type of new age teaching. As one would say, “be in touch with yourself and with that which is around you”, he sounds as if a passage should mean different things to different people in different times and places and that by following the interpretation of someone not in your specific situation you would be misinterpreting the verse. Ironically he mixes his own advice with Spurgeon’s reason for not habitually turning to commentaries, a reason which differs immensely from Chapell’s own reasoning, “The commentators are good instructors but the author himself is far better”[9]. Spurgeon states a far better reason to not use commentaries as the first step in preparation for a sermon, one that truly does have the Text as its priority.

When Chapell speaks about the “Components of Exposition” it seems to me that he believes the main component is application, “In fact, the real meaning of a text remains hidden until we discern how its truths affect our lives. This means that full exposition cannot be limited to a presentation of biblical information. A preacher should frame every explanatory detail of a sermon so that its impact on the lives of listeners is evident.” He cites the first sentence I have quoted as coming from his own study of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Frame, and I will admit that I have not read either, but his take on the components of exposition seems neither Biblical nor logical. He goes on to say, “A true expository message…uses all its resources to move application.” This he states with a diagram in the same paragraph illustrating his thoughts about how these ideas of his form an “Exposition-Priority Message” But I would argue, that from the place he gives to application, his preaching module should in fact be called an “Application-Priority Message”! I understand his feeling that application is important, but I would question the level of importance that he gives it – over and above the revealed Word of God – to say that we must create application in order for the true meaning of the Text to be unveiled, to me, boarders on the heretical. What of God? And though I doubt that Chapell would disagree with me here (on page 26, “Ultimately, preaching accomplishes its spiritual purpose…because of the power of the Scripture proclaimed”), Scripture makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is our teacher and apart from His work, the Text will never be unveiled – it is only because of the work of the Spirit that I can understand the Truth (1Co 2:10a).

Overall, I appreciate Chapell’s efforts in his book, and while I had trouble agreeing with much of what he had to say, it was a very helpful book because it caused me to really think about why I do what I do in regards to preaching. He has many interesting points, and knowing that he is much more experienced and wiser than I am I must strive to consider all his advice and seek out the Biblical mandate for how I am to preach and pursue those things, by the grace of God, with all my might

[1] Brian Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, (Baker Academic, 2005), page 19

[2] Page 34

[3] Page 50

[4] Page 51

[5] Page 54

[6] Page 56

[7] Page 63

[8] Page 74

[9] Page 75

What are we waiting for?

December 28, 2006

What do you feel Joe “Christian” is waiting for? What holds Christians back from living a life sold out for Christ?

Book Review: Leonard Verduin’s The Reformers and Their Stepchildren

December 27, 2006

If someone has ever thought that history should be re-written it was Leonard Verduin. In his book, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren he drives hard at the historically accepted Reformers and paints a picture that is not very pretty. Verduin makes the Reformers out to be no better than their Catholic counterparts and almost gives the impression that all that occurred during the Reformation was a switch in political power. But as we look at history we must accept the fact that although the Reformers did return to Biblical thought, and, from a human perspective, saved true Christianity, there were some things that they did that were not right, and are hard to even imagine as something that a Christian would do. Lessons can be learned from looking into the dark side of the Reformation, even though they are unpleasant.

Verduin’s main argument in his crusade to condemn the Reformers as the true “heretics” of the Reformation is that they had a sacral understanding of Christianity, simply stated, that the Reformers believed true and strong Christianity to be, “a society held together by a religion to which all the members of that society are committed” (p. 23). The sacral understanding of Christianity has its roots in Constantine – the first “Christian” ruler of the ancient world and was held as the correct philosophy by the Roman Catholic church since that time. Arguments for a sacral Christianity stem from the Old Testament and the Theocracy of Israel – “Every member of the Old Testament society was considered to be in the same religious category as was every other member of it. This makes Old Testament society sacral and pre-Christian. It was a monolithic society rather than a composite one. It had no room for diversity, for for and against” (p. 23). Other societies outside of the example of Israel were sacral as well, while they had many gods, many times there was a local god that everyone was expected to worship. Verduin claims, “there would in all probability never have been a Second Front if the Reformers had been aware of the pre-Christian quality of the Old Testament in this matter…It was their refusal to grant that the one had outmoded the other at this point, that caused the exodus of the Stepchildren” (p. 23). Verduin pounds this point multiple times during the course of his book, almost to the point that he kills his argument by stating it too many times making this reader feel that he is not quite convinced of the argument himself and therefore overcompensates.

Throughout the book, Verduin cites specific stories and records of the Radical Reformers beliefs in contrast to the Reformers – many times the quotes are taken from court cases that ended in the execution of the Radical. The scope of this paper does not allow to look at multiple cases, but one should serve to be enough to direct our minds to some unanswered questions. Really I do not think this reader can do anything beyond ask questions without first doing extensive research into the historical facts, but the questions that Verduin leaves unanswered are interesting nonetheless. The topic we will look into is that of the Radical reformers being accused of being perfectionists and to this effect Justus Menius, an associate of Martin Luther said, “Like the Donatists of long ago, they [the Radical Reformers] seek to rend the Church because we allow evil men in the Church. They seek to assemble a pure Church and wherever that is undertaken the public order is sure to be overthrown, for a pure Church is not possible, as Christ cautioned often enough – we must therefore put up with them” (p. 104). But on the other side, Michael Sattler, one of the first Radical Reformers to die for his beliefs said that the Reformers, “throw works without faith so far to one side that they erect a faith without works” (p. 105). Both sides had interesting views of the other – and views that are such that they are hard to reconcile with each other. Who has the correct view of the other? What had the Radical Reformers done to make the Reformers think them to hold to a type of Christian perfectionism? What had the Reformers done to make the Radical Reformers think them to believe in a faith that does not have works as its fruit? These questions and more rage inside this readers mind but Verduin did not provide a convincing answer or really even attempt to convince his readers of anything in this regard.

Another interesting bent of Verduin is at the end of the book in the “Post Script”. Throughout the whole book Verduin accuses the Reformers of believing in a sacral Christianity, and rightly so, for I believe Verduin proved this in quoting the Reformers themselves. He blames the Reformers sacral understanding for the creation of the Radical Reformers and for their deaths as “heretics” and leads this reader to believe that if the Reformers had just kept their hands out of politics and focused on being Christians that everything would have been alright. But to close his book, Verduin himself makes a strong political statement and begins to dabble himself in the things he had forbade the Reformers to do, “the First Amendment…intended to preclude the rise of sacralism in the United States, is being quoted in support of a new sacralism, the sacralism of secularism. The upshot of all this is that, in the classroom, he who believes that the universe is ‘running’ talks at the top of his voice while he who believes that the universe is ‘run’ must prudently lower his voice. This handicap for the person of the latter conviction is an intolerable violation of the First Amendment, which forbids the highest law of the land to prevent the free exercise of religion no less than it forbids the ‘establishment’ thereof” (pp. 279-80). Verduin has argued for the length of a book that because of the Reformers sacralism, “the ‘world’ is no longer something that lies around the Church but has become identical with the Church” (p. 95) and therefore the Church has no reason to care of persecution but rather persecution is the test of the true Church, for the world is not the Church and the world hates the Church. But why does Verduin think it important that America provide an environment where no one is looked down upon for his or her beliefs? The Reformers looked down on you (even killed you) if you did not believe what they did – but isn’t it ironic that Verduin complains of the very thing he asked for? He wished that the Reformers didn’t force the “world” to believe what the Reformers believed and he wished that they did not use government backing to enforce their Reformed beliefs on others – and we now have a society here in America that has neither of those things. The Church does not impose their beliefs on others, and the Church therefore does not use the government to impose their beliefs on anyone. So what is Verduin complaining about – this “violation of the First Amendment”? That the “world” thinks Christians are dumb? And what is Verduin insinuating that we as Christians do about this problem? He does not elaborate, but only confuses his argument for a his definition of a Biblical Church.

Overall this reader was confronted with the fact that the Reformers made huge mistakes in their dealings with the Radical Reformers, but that said, something smells fishy in parts of Verduin’s argument against the Reformers, and it is a smell whose source can really only be found through farther, independent research.