Over the years, I’ve read a fair number of books on preaching, but this may be the best yet. It is very complete, covering every aspect of homiletics – Scriptural exposition, outlining, illustration, application, and much more. The author, Dr. Bryan Chapell has a tremendous command of his subject matter, both from an academic standpoint and from his years of preaching experience. Reading this book was a wonderful review for me. More than that, it influenced me to make some changes in the way I preach.
The author, Dr. Bryan Chapell, currently serves as the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church, a large church in Peoria, Illinois. Chapell is highly regarded in the evangelical community as a preacher, teacher, and author. He has pastored several churches, as well as served as a seminary professor and president.
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, English literature, and American history at Northwestern University (1975), Chapell moved on to Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis to earn his Master of Divinity degree in Pastoral Studies (1978). He then earned his Doctorate in Speech Communication at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale (1987).
Christ-Centered Preaching, is a standard text in seminaries worldwide. Now in its second edition and available in multiple languages, this influential book has been praised by some academic journals and leading Christian magazines as the best current work on the value and methods of expository preaching. Other award-winning books by Chapell include: Christ-Centered Worship, The Wonder of it All, The Promises of Grace, Each for the Other, Holiness by Grace, and Praying Backwards. In addition to works written for theological purposes, he also is the author of a children’s book, I’ll Love You Anyway and Always.
To give you a better idea of what the book is about, take a quick look at the table of contents, including the author’s goal for each chapter:
Part 1 Principles for Expository Preaching
- Word and Witness (Goal – to communicate how important preaching is and what is really important in preaching)
- Obligations of the Sermon (Goal – to identify the commitments a preacher assumes in developing a well-constructed sermon)
- The Priority of the Text (Goal – to explain basic tools and rules for selecting and interpreting texts)
- Components of Exposition (Goal – to identify the historical, homiletical, and attitudinal components of expository messages)
Part 2 Preparation of Expository Sermons
- The Process of Explanation (Goal – to explain how to prepare and present the explanation component of a sermon)
- Outlining and Structure (Goal – to present the rationale for, the features of, and an instructional system for good outlining)
- The Pattern of Illustration (Goal – to explain the why and the how of illustrating expository sermons)
- The Practice of Application (Goal – to demonstrate how to apply the truths of expository sermons with relevance, realism, and authority)
- Introductions, Conclusions, and Transitions (Goal – to present principles for constructing effective introductions, conclusions, and transitions)
Part 3 A Theology of Christ-Centered Messages
- A Redemptive Approach to Preaching (Goal – to present the overarching theological concern for constructing sermons as indicated in previous chapters)
- Developing Redemptive Sermons (Goal – to explain how to construct expository sermons that reflect the redemptive content of every biblical text)
Near the end of the book, there are 12 appendices, a very complete bibliography, and much more. In one of the appendices, the author gives the steps he takes in preparing messages. He probably doesn’t place this list in the body of the book because he knows it varies depending on the personality of the preacher, the time available, the nature of the occasion, the type of sermon, etc. Nonetheless, I’m including it here as I believe you will find it useful, at least as general guidelines.
- Spiritual preparation: piety, planning, and prayer
- Read and digest the thought of the text
- Identify the “Fallen Condition Focus” (See explanation in paragraph below.)
- Research the text (history, grammar, exegetical outline, issues, etc.)
- Consider specific applications
- Collect developmental matter (quotes, statistics, illustrations, key terms, commentary data, etc.)
- Create a homiletical outline (proposition, main points, etc.)
- Place developmental matter in outline
- Write conclusion and introduction
- Write sermon body (Some would prefer reversing this point with #9 above.)
- Reduce to outline (so as to preach from outline, not full manuscript)
Fallen Condition Focus
Much of what Chapell teaches about preaching is not particularly new to me. However, I personally believe his insistence on finding the “Fallen condition focus” (FCF) of a passage is a unique and helpful contribution. He believes we should seek to understand what the biblical author wrote in each passage, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to expose a fallen aspect of the human condition.
The FCF exposes the necessity of a divine solution to the human dilemma and necessarily makes God the hero of the text as he displays his redemptive provision for his people. God rescues his people from their broken nature and world by his grace alone in order to experience his goodness and express his glory.
The FCF leads to what is probably Chapell’s most important contribution to homiletics – his development of a theology of Christ-centered preaching. After developing this theology and showing how much of contemporary evangelical preaching borders on being moralistic, instead of grace saturated, the author gives a procedure for Christ-centered exposition:
- Identify the redemptive principles in the text. (Those aspects of the divine nature which provides redemption and those aspects of human nature which requires redemption.)
- Determine what application these redemptive principles were to have in the lives of the original hearers/readers of the text.
- Apply the redemptive principles to contemporary lives in the light of common human characteristics or conditions contemporary believers share with the original hearers/readers.
I must admit that this part of the book, though very important, was the hardest for me to digest. Though I wholeheartedly agree that God’s redemptive plan is the overall message of the Bible, I’m still not sure how to preach all of Scripture from this redemptive perspective without violating the original intent of the inspired authors of some sections of Scripture. Frankly, this will require more study and thought on my part.
On a simpler note, a very helpful notion to me personally was Chapell’s insistence on always having clear and specific applications … and not just at the end of the sermon after minutes of nothing but exposition.
The specificity that makes application powerful also exposes why it is the most difficult aspect of expository preaching. The thought that is required to be specific strains mental and spiritual resources. Although accurate explanation can hardly be called easy, at least the unmined raw material lies within the pages of Scripture. Preachers derive application from far less obvious terrain. Sound explanation requires good scholarship. Solid application requires deep spirituality. A pastor who is keenly aware of the soul’s struggles and who is intimately acquainted with scriptural remedies has what it takes to produce sound application. … Application requires creativity and courage: creativity to imagine the battles of daily life, fought with the truths of God, and courage to talk about this reality on a personal level.
If you are a budding preacher, or just an occasional preacher, or even a veteran preacher, I’m confident you will find it well worth your while to read/study this book. You will be challenged and instructed in how to be a better, more Christ-centered expositor of the Word of God.