(Part 5 of a five part series)
As much as so-called Christ-centered preaching seems desirable (who’s against Christ?), it is anything but desirable (as I summarize in four prior essays). It is not only ahistorical, non-biblical and problematic, it is unconfessional—some may say anti-confessional.
How can this be? Is not today’s Christocentric preaching rooted in the Bible? And are not the Reformed Confessions rooted in the Bible?
Certainly, Reformed ministers believe the Westminster Confession of Faith is a faithful summary of biblical doctrine. But Christ-centered preaching is not enshrined in it. It is neither explicitly nor implicitly endorsed or assumed in that Confession.
In fact, a careful reading of the Confession and Larger Catechism indicates the opposite.
First, it is important to understand how the Confession relates preaching and the Word. In today’s debates, modern purveyors of redemptive-historic Christocentric preaching tend to elevate preaching over teaching and reading.
In other words, arguments drawn from the general nature and content of the Bible (as read or taught) are ineffectual arguments, ruled irrelevant. “Sure,” some argue matter-of-factly, “James wrote a non-Christocentric book. But that does not mean he preached that way!”
Question 155 of the Larger Catechism lends some credence to this: Q. 155. How is the word made effectual to salvation? A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means…
Obviously, the word “especially” does not mean “uniquely,” rather it is an intensifier dependent upon an underlining continuity. The Spirit uses the reading of the Word for wonderful ends. And He especially uses preaching for these same wonderful ends.
Preaching has the same ends as reading, because it has the same content. Thus, arguments about the content of the Bible are relevant. Noting that James is not Christocentric (at least not in the way that term is often used) is a legitimate, indeed, powerful, counterargument.
Question 157 is explicit on this point: Q. 157. How is the Word of God to be read? A. The holy Scriptures are to be read…with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them…
If the Bible is to be read with “attention to the matter and scope of them,” how much more preaching?
But there is more. Question 5 of the Catechism logically divides the Bible into two broad categories: what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. And proceeds to divide the remaining questions accordingly.
What man is to believe and his duties are not reduced to some variation of “Christ died for me” within any reasonable reading of the Catechism. Yet if the Catechism is faithful to the Word of God, then the modern proponents must reevaluate their preaching agenda.
Furthermore, it is not simply the nature or content of the Bible that undermines Christ-centered preaching, it is also the nature of saving faith.
Faith must have an object. And saving faith’s saving object is the Person and Work of Christ. This is a bedrock reality in the Christian life, in both justification and sanctification. But does it logically follow that Christ is the only object of saving faith?
“By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein;  and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands,  trembling at the threatenings,  and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come” (Of Saving Faith 14.2).
Obviously, saving faith must not only believe in Christ but believe whatever is in the Bible. This paragraph alone challenges types of preaching that submerge the content and intended purpose of the text with Christocentric themes.
If every sermon is to have Christ’s “cross and resurrection” with Him as the “climax” and lasting thought upon the listeners mind, how are believers to act differently upon different Bible content? How does this type of preaching square with the Confessional view of the Bible?
Since preaching should feed Christians through the mouth of faith, it must feed with the truth of the Bible—all of it. Preaching must feed such that Christians are moved to act.
Do our sermons feed the mouth of faith with whatever is revealed? Do our sermons move Christians to act differently upon “each particular passage thereof…?” Do our sermons urge believers to yield obedience? To tremble at threatenings?
Or do our sermons have so much Promise, Gospel and Christ that these other types of sermons are virtually non-existent?
Question 155 invites more questions: Do our sermons convict Christians? Do our sermons conform them unto Christ? Do our sermons subdue them to His will? Do our sermons strengthen them against temptation? Do our sermons build them up in grace? Do our sermons establish them in holiness?
These goals are not variations on Christology. They assume it. They touch upon it in varying degrees. But every sermon should differ according to the content of the Bible and its intended purpose. Exegetical sermons ought to preach the “manner and scope” of the passage.
It is true the Westminster Confession of Faith does not give explicit direction to preaching. But the accompanying Directory for the Publick Worship of God does. And Christocentric preaching is not exclusively commended. In contrast, sermons that “draw their [listeners] to Christ, the fountain of light, holiness, and comfort” are but one of an arsenal of doctrines to be preached.
More could be written about the Directory. Nevertheless, what is written in the Confession and Catechism is sufficient to show what our Presbyterian forefathers thought about the Word and its impact upon the believer’s life.
It cannot be denied that a careful reading of this historic document leads to the conclusion that pastors are to feed their flock. And the feeding of the flock must include the whole counsel of God.
[Posting occur Mondays or Tuesdays, typically]