God-Centered Preaching – Introduction

An article I wrote for the Evangelical Baptist magazine just came out. This week I'll be posting the article in sections. Here's part one.David Neff, an editor of Christianity Today, tells of visiting a church one summer on his vacation. The first week, the preacher spoke on the story of God's call to Moses at the burning bush. In this passage, God reveals how he will fulfill his promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through Moses. He also reveals his ineffable name. It is a "pivotal point in the Bible," Neff writes, "a hinge on which the door of sacred history swings."The preacher rose to speak on this passage. Moses was afraid to walk through the door set before him, said the preacher, but he walked through it anyway. We must do the same. "End of message," Neff writes. "No God. No divine plan revealed. No theophany. Just stages in the life cycle."The next week, Neff returned to hear a different preacher. The sermon text was the story of Jesus calming the storm, thereby revealing that he is Lord over creation. The preacher chose to speak about the fear of travel. "The sermon many have soothed some fears," Neff writes, "but theologically it crashed and burned. I didn't come back the next Sunday."Neff argues that these two sermons are not isolated examples of bad preaching. Evangelicals, he writes, often strip miracles of their biblical significance, reduce parables to lessons for effective living, and hand out moralisms and three-step how-to's.Two decades ago, Preaching and Pulpit Digest studied 200 sermons preached by evangelicals. The study analyzed how many of the sermons were grounded in the character, nature, and will of God. Only 19.5% met this test. Reflecting on this study, theologian David Wells writes:

The overwhelming proportion of sermons – more than 80 percent – were anthropocentric. It seems that God has become a rather awkward appendage to the practice of evangelical faith, at least as measured by the pulpit. Indeed, from these sermons it seems that God and the supernatural order are related only with difficulty to the life of faith. He appears not to be at its center. The center, in fact, is typically the self. God and His world are made to spin around this surrogate center, for our world increasingly is understood within a therapeutic model of reality. (No God but God: Breaking with the Idols of Our Age)

I do not know how many sermons today are grounded in God's character, nature, and will, but my guess is that things have not improved.Few preachers set out to preach sermons that trivialize Scripture, reduce a passage to a set of how-to lessons, and push God to the side. Yet it appears that this happens frequently, and with disastrous results.Our churches desperately need preaching that is both God-centered and relevant, and one of our greatest needs is to learn how to do this. If we fail to preach this way, we dishonor God, twist Scripture, and rob our listeners of the biblical message. If we learn to preach God-centered, relevant sermons, our preaching will glorify God, be accurate, and genuinely help our listeners and churches.Before we explore how to do preach like this, we must first recognize some of the ways that we have strayed from a God-centered approach and wandered into human-centered preaching.Part 2 tomorrow

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada