Bill Gernenz blogs at Broken and Undone.
Hey guys… I need your help. And I hope we can be mutually edified by this discussion. The short of it is this: I have been working on a doctoral project and am in need of some conversations – you know, mutual and humble exchanges of opinions formed by personal study and experience.
The topic? Preaching. More specifically: application in preaching. As part of my project, I have identified four principles of faithful biblical application. I would like to get feedback on each of these principles. Three specific questions I would like to explore with each of these principles are:
- Is this principle inherent to biblical preaching or is it artificially constructed? Does it address an issue that is necessarily a part of preaching or is it creating a problem that doesn’t exist simply for the sake of “solving” it?
- Is this principle organic or cumbersome; meaning, is this principle something that naturally fits into sermon development or does it have to be forced into the process?
- Is this principle helpful or obvious? Does this principle provide a needed “guardrail” against a real pitfall or is it a pedantic, unneeded warning against – a guardrail against nothing?
Principle #1: Faithful Biblical Application Must Be God-Centered
Consider this evaluation of the contemporary church from Harry Reeder:
The contemporary church, in an effort to be relevant and connected, has in many cases become irrelevant and disconnected by accommodating itself to the demanded cultural narcissism. . . Our local churches are viewed as religious “specialty shops” for life’s challenges. Gospel preaching has been perverted into self-esteem therapy or pep-talks, coaching us to worldly success or, even more astonishing, redefining the love of Christ in terms that preclude His displeasure with the impenitent self-centeredness in our lives. Our pursuit of personal happiness and gratification has superceded God’s call to be holy and magnify His glory. The first question of our new catechism is now, “What is the chief end of God?” The answer: “To love me and make me happy.
“Cultural Narcissism and a Titanic Lesson,” TableTalk, March 2012
The egocentricity of man appears to be the lens through which we view everything. We are infected by this cultural narcissism more than we recognize or care to admit. While there is nothing wrong with seeking to strengthen marriages and equip parents and encourage Christians in their battle against sin (indeed these motivations can be perfectly appropriate in context), the pastor must be careful of the manner in which he speaks to these issues. Too many pastors reinforce a self-centered narcissism and cultivate an egocentric hermeneutic simply in the way they handle Scripture and distilled application.
The consequences are greater than we realize. A man-centered, pragmatic approach to preaching undermines the doctrines of Scripture, Sin, Man, the Holy Spirit and salvation are all being undermined. In addition, this man-centered approach to application puts too much emphasis on the preacher.
In contrast to this destructive, man-centered approach to application, faithful biblical application must be God-centered. Scripture, as God’s self-revelation to his people, demands that biblical application be centered in who God has revealed himself to be. Also, as the Father has revealed himself to his children for the transformation of their lives into the image of Jesus Christ, biblical application must center on the transformation of God’s children so they might know and reflect him. This plea to God-centered application does not deny that there are personal benefits to those who hear the Word of God, rather, it restores a proper perspective, intention, and motivation to that hearing:
- Above all else, the perspective of God-centered application cultivates a spirit of self-effacing humility by fixing the gaze of every man and woman on the great glory of God. Self-exalting humanity cannot be reminded too often that God does not exist to serve man and make him happy. Much to the contrary, man exists to serve God, to enjoy him and to glorify him forever. God’s children must embrace this reality by joyfully giving praise and glory to God, while entreating others to give praise and glory to God.
- In view of this God-exalting perspective, man’s obedience cannot aim at procuring divine blessings. While recognizing the good gifts of a holy God, the believer’s obedience becomes directed toward pleasing God. The intent of the heart is now to give joy to the heavenly Father. “Whether at home or in the body, we make it our aim to please our heavenly Father” (2 Cor 5:9). His children, redeemed and reconciled, want to “find out what pleases God” (Eph 5:10).
- Driving this God-pleasing intention is a motivation of love. Bryan Chapell addresses proper motivation stating that “believers need to serve God preeminently out of loving thankfulness for the redemption he freely and fully provides.” Knowing the love of God, and loving God in return, means that his children treasure him and trust him. This treasuring and trusting express themselves in whole-hearted joyful obedience. Ultimately, we cannot be motivated by greed or guilt, but we must forsake these lesser motivations and be prompted by grace. (Christ-Centered Preaching, 219)
But does Scripture not provide principles by which people can manage their homes and navigate life’s problems? Yes, of course, and these considerations of biblical application must be addressed. However, the source from which all application springs and the end to which all application flows must be God himself. Faithfulness requires that we as preachers forsake the idea that God’s greatest desire is to secure for individual’s pleasure and prosperity and center our sermons on the person and purposes of God as revealed in the Scriptures.
To read a full treatment of this principle in pdf format click here.