Tag Archives: Bryan Chapell

Christ-Centered Preaching

I read the first edition of this book in 1999, when I was still a seminary student.  It was probably the single most powerful influence on my development as a preacher.  One of Chapell’s emphases is the Fallen Condition Focus:  “the mutual human condition that contemporary persons share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God’s people to glorify and enjoy him.”  More than once, the FCF has gotten me out of a homiletical pickle — you know, when you’re stumped about how to preach the passage before you.  This third edition is considerably larger than the first.  It contains a lot more nuance and takes into account further developments in homiletics.  For example, chapter 10 on “A Redemptive Approach to Preaching” has been expanded significantly.  I especially appreciated Chapell’s discussion of various redemptive-historical methods and how they ought all to be accorded a place in the preacher’s toolbox.  I can hardly imagine there being any Reformed preachers who’ve never read Chapell — especially since it’s now a widely-used seminary text.  But, like me, you may have read the first edition many years ago.  If that’s you, let me say it’s worth a few clams to pick up the third and give it another go.


‘We’ or ‘You’ in Preaching?

When he’s making his applications, should a preacher use ‘we’ or ‘you’?   There are arguments for and against both.  Using “we” sounds more humble and preachers don’t want to be accused of coming off arrogant and self-righteous.  But using “we” also sounds a bit weak-kneed, as if God’s Word doesn’t speak authoritatively and directly to the congregation from the pulpit.

In one corner is Alec Motyer, a ‘we’ proponent.  In his book Preaching? Simple Teaching on Simply Preaching, he says he’s “not comfortable with the ‘you’ approach to preaching.  We are not like doctors diagnosing and prescribing for someone else’s complaint – in which case ‘you’ is appropriate and necessary.  We who preach are fellow-sufferers from the same disease!” (p.95)

In the other corner of the ring, we find, perhaps not surprisingly, Jay Adams.  In Truth Applied, Adams argues that effective application requires direct language directed to the hearer.  He says that applicatory language is “at once clear, simple, direct, personal, active and concrete” (p.115).  Whether in the introduction or elsewhere, the preacher has to direct his speech to the congregation.  It’s got to have punch.  That means ‘you.’

‘We’ or ‘you’ may appear a vexing question.  But what if the Bible gave us an answer?  What if there was a sermon addressed to a congregation of believers where we might be able to see not only how the early Christians dealt with this, but also discern God’s will?

While the book of Hebrews is often described as a ‘letter’ or ‘epistle,’ a good case can be made that it is actually a sermon from the apostolic church era.  One of the most compelling arguments is the use of the expression ‘a word of exhortation’ to describe the work in Hebrews 13:22.  Exactly the same expression appears in Acts 13:15 to describe preaching in the synagogue.  Moreover, numerous scholars have drawn attention to rhetorical devices used in the work – these devices are usually associated with spoken language rather than written.  While there’s no way to be absolutely certain, it’s quite likely that most of what we call Hebrews was originally a message delivered to one or more churches.

Now if that’s true (I think it is), then we could examine the applicatory language used by the author/preacher of Hebrews.  Does he use ‘we’ or ‘you’?  There’s plenty of applicatory language to be surveyed throughout the book.  I didn’t do a tally of all the uses, but I’m going to guess that it’s about half and half for ‘we’ and ‘you.’  Here are a few select examples of ‘we’:

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”  (Heb. 2:1)

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”  (Heb. 4:11)

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” (Heb. 4:14)

Here are just a few examples of ‘you’ (second person plural):

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” (Heb. 3:12)

“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” (Heb. 10:35)

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”  (Heb. 13:5)

This variety of applicatory usage is found throughout the book, although it does start to clump up in chapter 13 with its large section of application.

If we take our lead from Hebrews, it seems that both ‘we’ and ‘you’ are equally valid ways of bringing application to bear in sermons.  But it would also seem that one shouldn’t be used to the complete exclusion of the other.  It’s good to be authoritative and direct with the congregation, but at times it’s also good to include yourself as a sinner equally addressed by the exhortations of God’s Word.  Let me give the final word to Bryan Chapell.  He writes in a footnote in Christ-Centered Preaching:

I encourage students to ignore the senseless arguments over whether preachers should exhort with the words we or you.   The arguments some preachers make for the exclusive use of one or the other are specious at best…Obviously, a preacher who never confronts others speaks without the authority Scripture grants, but a pastor who never identifies with sinners preaches with an arrogance even Jesus did not assume. (p. 143)


Top Five Books on Preaching

I try to read at least one book on preaching each year.  So far, I’ve been in the ministry for nearly 20 years and I’ve read at least 25 books.  It looks like I’m keeping on track.  Some of the books have been mediocre, but most of them have had something worthwhile.  Some have really stood out in my mind and continue to.  If asked for my top five must-reads about preaching, this would be my list and in this order:

  1. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, Bryan Chapell

A fellow student introduced me to Bryan Chapell’s book while I was in seminary.  I learned so much from this book about how to preach Christ.  I especially appreciate Chapell’s notion of the Fallen Condition Focus of each passage – often when I struggle to formulate a theme for my sermon, I go back to this notion and everything falls into place.  There is a second edition available, but I’ve only read the first.  I’m not sure about the differences between the two.

  1. Expository Preaching With Word Pictures: With Illustrations from the Sermons of Thomas Watson, Jack Hughes

I’ve always loved Thomas Watson.  He’s the most readable of the Puritans.  He has a style that’s stood the test of time.  Hughes demonstrates why and also how his approach can be appropriated by preachers today.  If you want to preach vividly, like Watson did, this book is priceless.

  1. Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People, Joel R. Beeke

This large volume is all about reaching not only the minds of listeners, but also their hearts.  It’s solid on the theology of preaching, as well as on the practice.  It’s grounded in Scripture, however it also works extensively with church history.  If you’re going to read this one, also read the next one – they overlap a little bit, but also complement one another beautifully.

  1. Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship, John Piper

Few people ever think about preaching as an act of worship.  But Piper convincingly argues from Scripture that both the giving and receiving of preaching are worship.  Then he shows how thinking about it that way makes a huge difference.  As with Beeke’s book, this one gets to the heart matters and also stresses the urgency of the preacher’s task.  I’ve read numerous Piper books and this is one of his best.

  1. Truth Applied: Application in Preaching, Jay Adams

I read this back in seminary, over one of my summer breaks.  More than any other book, it impressed upon me the need to have preaching that aims to change hearts and lives.  Even if you disagree with Adams’ approach to counselling, there’s a lot to glean from what he’s written about preaching.


Top Three Marriage Books

Over my years in the ministry, I’ve taught many marriage preparation classes.  From time to time, I’ve also counselled couples with marriage problems.  In my preaching, I’ve had many opportunities to speak about marriage.  Besides all that, I’ve been married myself for what’s going on to 23 years.  All these things give me a vested interest in good books about marriage.  I’ve read a few.  Almost all of them have something worthwhile, but there are some that really stand out.  Here are my top three, in order of importance:

When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage, Dave Harvey.

This one tops the list because of the author’s relentless focus on the gospel.  Written in a warm, personal style, Dave Harvey helps couples come to terms with the biggest problem that all marriages face and the solution to this problem.  Along with some of the other topics one would expect in a marriage book, he also discusses one you don’t often encounter:  death.  If you’re going to read just one book about marriage, make it this one.

Strengthening Your Marriage, Wayne Mack.

Are you ready to get to work on your marriage?  Then this is the book you’re looking for.  It’s not just a review of biblical teaching about marriage, but a very practical workbook.  It contains a variety of exercises for husbands and wives to complete.  The idea is that they would be done with a pastor or counsellor, but certainly couples could benefit from doing them on their own too.  I use Wayne Mack’s book Preparing for Marriage God’s Way for my marriage preparation classes and I appreciate his biblical approach.

Each for the Other: Marriage As It’s Meant To Be, Bryan Chapell with Kathy Chapell

I really like this one for three reasons.  One is that it includes the perspective of a woman.  Another is that it has great stories and illustrations to drive home the points of the authors.  Finally, I value the clear explanations and applications of biblical submission and headship.  This book also includes discussion questions to go with each chapter.


Book Review: Ephesians (Reformed Expository Commentary)

Ephesians (Reformed Expository Commentary), Bryan Chapell, Phillipsburg: P&R, 2009.  Hardcover, 383 pages, $31.51.

Commentaries are my most-used books.  However, I rarely read through a commentary from front to back, certainly seldom ever in a short period of time.  The last time I did that was in 1992 with John Stott’s The Spirit, The Church and the World.  I read that commentary on Acts because of a positive review in Christian Renewal.  While I don’t remember who the reviewer was (Tangelder? Farenhorst?), I recall reading that this was the kind of commentary that you’d want to enjoy from front to back.  The reviewer was right.

Bryan Chapell’s Reformed Expository Commentary on Ephesians is the same kind of book.  You could read it straight through quite comfortably and profitably.  You could use this as a daily devotional.  It’s written in a reader-friendly style.

The author is well-known as the president of the PCA seminary (Covenant) in St. Louis.  He’s written a number of books, the most influential of which has been Christ-Centered Preaching.  There he laid out his vision for how preaching should be focussed on what matters and, of course, tied tightly to the Scriptures.  In this volume, originally a series of seminary chapel messages, he shows exactly how it’s done.

Readers interested in the technical aspects of the exegesis of Ephesians will find some assistance in the many footnotes.  However, the commentary focuses more on the results of exegesis and application than it does on the nitty-gritty details.  This makes it accessible to a wide audience.  The excellent illustrations and anecdotes throughout also serve that purpose.  Naturally, there will be places where other Reformed exegetes will disagree with Chapell’s conclusions.  For instance, I’m not persuaded by his understanding of the reference to psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in Ephesians 5:19 – he believes that these refer to distinct categories that include “the songs of the New Testament church.”  Nevertheless, his conclusions throughout certainly fall into the range found among Reformed commentators.  He also regularly brings in supporting material from the Reformed confessions, which, for this Presbyterian author, means mostly the Westminster Standards.

Anybody could pick up this book and be edified by it.  However, since it was originally written as a series of seminary chapel messages, theological students and pastors would be especially encouraged and challenged by it.  Certainly as I was reading it, I felt as if Chapell were speaking directly to me in my ministry.  He encourages pastors and prospective pastors to take the proper approach to their congregations, to buoy them with God’s love, rather than burden them with God’s displeasure.  That said, the last chapters (dealing with Ephesians 5-6) would also be helpful for husbands, wives, and parents.  All in all, this is an excellent volume and I can highly recommend it.