What is a Christian sermon?

This morning I am catching up on seminary lectures and listening to two professors challenge a student when he suggested all sermons should be “gospel-centered.” Glaring differences in what that means revealed themselves and I don’t think they were appropriately resolved; the student wasn’t prepared for the assault.

The first thing the professors did was to ask “what is the gospel?” Then they disagreed with the definition offered, it may have been too narrow. Then they suggested an obscure text and challenged the student as to how he would preach the ‘gospel’ in that context.

I have compassion for the student because far too often I feel like I have been in the same situation, made to defend something that arguably should be a no-brainer for the church. So let’s tackle these two arguments, essentially against preaching the gospel.

How we define the gospel is important. It is as simple as the life, death, and resurrection of Christ – the ultimate work of the cross. And it is as complex as the reality of God’s existence, man’s rebellion, Christ’s redemptive work, restoration and reconciliation through the Spirit and hope for the final renewal and eternity with Christ. The problem however, at least in the interactions I have, is that many people think that when you have a ‘gospel’ message it means you end each sermon with an evangelistic appeal regardless of the text. THIS IS NOT WHAT WE MEAN WHEN WE SAY YOU SHOULD BE PREACHING THE GOSPEL.

At least when I suggest we should have gospel-centered sermons I am desiring for us to evaluate the text and the main points of our sermon through the lens of Christianity. You can preach an obscure passage out of Genesis 34 and focus on Joshua’s failure to be a father – then convict the men in your church to be better fathers and you can be proud of the non-Christian sermon you have preached. Instead we should evaluate the truths uncovered in our obscure text through the grid of the accomplished work of Jesus. If we are “Christian” our perspective changes and our worldview is focused on grace rather than a new law and burden of the old covenant.

Gospel, Christian preaching is more about the grid you put a text through, not some artificial insertion of a simplified gospel account. It is deeper than we think and we are really good at preaching mormon or Jewish sermons because we neglect Jesus. Preach your new moralism and you will not be leading your flock to maturity, you will be making more work for the next generation and like the accounts of Judges it will be as if a new generation will have to discover the truth all over again.

If you are tired of some punk telling you to preach gospel-centered sermons, relax. Think about it. Don’t be defensive and argumentative but gently process through what they mean. Model teachability for those you lead. It is okay to wrestle with these ideas. The gospel gives you permission to face it all with grace and trust in Jesus’ work!

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