Bill Gernenz blogs at Broken and Undone.
Principle #4: Faithful Biblical Application is Redemptive
If God-centered, exegetically-based, faith-building application is going to prove genuinely biblical, it must be presented in a thoroughly gospel context. Therefore, the final principle of sound biblical application is that biblical application must be redemptive. In the midst of all applying, knowing, and striving the preacher must firmly tether his teaching and his audience to the cross. The work of Christ in securing, revealing, and preserving salvation for his people cannot be assumed or taken for granted. It cannot be left unstated. If the preacher does not keep the cross predominantly in his life and preaching, many will become ensnared by the pitfalls of legalism, reductionism, self-righteousness, and superficiality. To avoid these traps the preacher must be careful to center his sermons on Christ’s accomplished work, making the gospel, not assumed, but explicit.
Often, in an attempt to make intentional and measured application, the preacher loses focus on the gospel. Assuming the gospel, he obscures it. Having labored faithfully to mine the meaning of a text, he abandons sound hermeneutical practices in order to manufacture contemporary application. In doing this, he muzzles the biblical authors from disclosing the impetus of their writing and instead gives his ear (and the ears of his people) over to inadequate and inferior voices. These deceptive voices sing the sirens’ song of humanistic philosophy, a song that has at least three verses: “Be good;” “Don’t worry;” and “Do this.”
- “Be good,” declares the moralist verse. This moralistic approach presents application in terms of a mere ethical plea. While Christian proclamation may entail ethical values, such as integrity, justice, and charity, it is not moralistic. As is true with all three inferior approaches, the moralist verse is fatally insufficient. Reducing application to mere morality strips the gospel of its substance and power. Adding insult to injury, this approach also presents Christianity in terms that are largely indistinguishable from other religions. The second verse,
- “Don’t worry,” brings out the therapeutic element. This approach seeks to provide comfort and encouragement. It seeks to assure the listener that everything is going to be okay. This “I’m okay; you’re okay; everything will be okay” message is a false gospel of positive-thinking. Essentially, it seeks to infuse confidence that “things will turn around” if the individual will “continue to hold on” because, after all, “you can do it.” Many times this therapy will be presented in religious terms which have been emptied of any real meaning. Yet without tangible means, these exhortations are nothing more than hollow cheer sessions. The end-game of this approach is simply to lift up the listener, to provide him with a “shot in the arm” and get her through the week. Here, the gospel and faith are boiled down into a nebulous pool of sentimentality. Hollow faith, optimism, and positive-thinking are used to anesthetize the pain of living but no real hope is provided.
- The sirens’ final verse confidently asserts, “Do this.” This is the self-improvement approach and is generally presented in the format: x number of ways to achieve y. Whether it is “five ways to improve your marriage,” “seven steps to a peaceful home,” or “the fifty-one keys of effective communication,” this method of application plunges headlong into the deep end of man’s egocentrism. In addition to being rooted in the terminal philosophy of humanism, this self-improvement approach commonly presents sociological studies and cultural surveys as unquestionable authorities. So, man becomes both the ends and the means of this approach – striving for man’s benefit with man’s methods achieved by man’s efforts.
Preaching is not to be a mere ethical speech, a therapeutical session, or a self-improvement seminar. Preaching is ultimately, a redemptive act. Redemptive preaching, also called Christ-centered, cross-centered, or gospel-driven, has at its core “the central realities of the person, character, and work of Christ” (T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers, 91). While preaching may have other secondary effects, Christ must be preeminent in all Christian proclamation. T. David Gordon provides this encouragement:
The pulpit is the place to declare the fitness of Christ’s person, and the adequacy of both his humiliated and exalted work for sinners. If such proclamation sharpens moral vision, convicts the complacent, or creates in us dissatisfaction with our current culture, so be it. But these occur as occasional results of Christ-centered preaching; they are not its purpose.
To avoid the humanistic, legalistic, and reductionistic pitfalls of the age, the gospel of grace and the provision of Christ must be center-stage, spotlighted, and lifted up. Appealing to human willpower has not only proven powerless, but it is faithless for it places man in the prominent position. Although regulations and commands “have indeed an appearance of wisdom. . . they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col 2:23). Only Christ has the power to transform a life. While the believer strives, struggles, and labors through the process of his sanctification, he does so only in the strength that God provides. The faithful preacher will make much of what Christ has accomplished. He will not only remind his congregation of the Lord’s redemptive work but, in doing so, will awaken in them praise and dependency upon it. Redemptive preaching, therefore, is very careful to anchor God’s children to the cross where he secures the believer’s holiness and empowers him or her to pursue godliness with an expectant joy. Therefore, all Christian proclamation must remind its hearers that they are completely dependent on Christ and indebted to his work for it is God who works in the lives of Christians “to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).
To read a full treatment of this principle in pdf format click here.