Monthly Archives: April 2015

Keller’s Six Ways to Preach Christ

Tim-Keller-3These notes are from Keller’s lecture “How to Preach the Gospel Every Time,” which is the third in his series on preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary (see my notes on Part 1 and Part 2). The third point in this lecture is Keller’s list of six ways to preach Christ. These directives are especially helpful for preachers when approaching Old Testament passages. No doubt much of this will also appear in Keller’s forthcoming Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (which Amazon already lists as a #1 Best Seller though it won’t be released until June).


Many others have addressed this topic already.

The basic idea is this, that every time you preach in any text of the Bible you must not only expound the text in its historical context, but you must show how the text fits into the canonical context, which is to say how it points us to Christ and salvation, which is what the canon is all about. Therefore you must always, no matter where you are in the Bible, show how the text tells us about or points to Christ and his salvation. This basic idea used to be controversial. But in part due to all these works that have been written in the past generation, there is less controversy. This is a more accepted thesis these days. So I am not trying to chart new territory, but rather coming as a practitioner giving my insights on this.

1. Why we should preach Christ from every text (3:40)

It honors the nature of Scripture

  • Luke 24:25, 44. Jesus is saying, “You knew all the sub-stories of the Bible but you didn’t know the story of the Bible.” For example, a chapter in a Dickens novel makes very little sense apart from the context of the novel as a whole narrative arc. The narrative arc of the Bible is creation, fall, promises to Israel, Jesus as fulfillment of the promises, the promises extend to all nations rather than just one nation, the promises will culminate in new creation.
  • Edmund Clowney: “If you tell a particular Bible story without putting it into the Bible story about Christ, you actually change the meaning of the particular story for us. Because the story becomes a moralistic exhortation to try harder to live up to the example of the person in the story instead of a call to live by faith in Christ.”

It fits the nature of human beings

  • We are so deeply oriented to self-salvation, that if you preach on a text and the lesson of the text is “Thou shalt not…” then unless you emphatically put that into the context of the whole Bible pointing to salvation in Jesus Christ, then it will be heard essentially as a moralistic lesson that if you basically live a good life then God will bless you.
  • When you slide back into thinking that your justification is based on you sanctification, two things happen: 1) Motivation is all self-centered, fear and pride. Fear of punishment, pride thinking that you’re better than most. Thus nurtures the essence of sin in the heart of your religious life. 2) Religious experience becomes a yo-yo. When you’re having a good week you have a big head, and when you’re having a bad week you beat yourself up in self-hating.\
  • Preaching Christ, rooting motivation in Christ fulfilled righteousness as opposed to our self-salvation, then constantly pulls us back from

2. Two Mistakes to Avoid (13:20)

First, You can preach a text about Jesus without actually preaching the gospel, which often happens in the NT

Example of two sermons preached on Mark 5:1-20, the healing of the demoniac.

The first sermon: Jesus saves this man: liberates the man in chains, bring the isolated man into community, clothes the naked man, stopped is anguished cries, and puts his life back together. The key point: Come to Jesus with your problems. Whatever your problem is, come to Jesus and he can make it right. Followed by stories of people whose lives have been put back together (exconvicts, etc.)

The second sermon: The demoniac is not a type of people with unusually bad problems. But rather he is a picture of us because we’re sinner and thus all enslaved, isolated, in the darkness, crying out with unfulfilled longings. The demoniac is a type of all people in sin. Why can Jesus forgive this man? At the end of Jesus’ life we see him stripped naked on the cross, a prisoner, isolated and alone outside the gate, crying out in agony of abandonment. Jesus was able to heal and forgive because he himself went to the cross and bore all those things. He was stripped so we can be clothed, etc.

Assessment: The second sermon makes the gospel really clear. Not that the first sermon wasn’t true. But you could walk away from the first thinking if you really surrender then God will make everything okay. But that’s only half true. We need to hear the message of substitution which is the heart of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Second, there is a way of preaching Christ without actually preaching the text, which often happens in the OT (20:20)

One of the reasons we miss how often the Bible talks about justice, oppression, etc. is because we jump to Jesus too quickly from the Old Testament and overlook the context of the original writing. Amos really is about justice and compassion for the poor. Of course this is fulfilled in Jesus, but this does not diminish the way that Amos actually condemns injustice and oppression in Israel and surrounding nations.

Interlude (23:15)

Charles Spurgeon on preaching Christ. Sermon 242, March 13, 1859. Christ Precious to Believers.

“I often hear sermons that are very learned…but there is not a word about Christ in those sermons. I say, ‘They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.’” Spurgeon goes on to tell the story of a Welsh preacher who heard a young preacher give a sermon with no Christ in it. The older man pointed this out to him, and explained that every text has some road to Christ, just as every town, village or hamlet has a road to London. And so from every text in Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, which is Christ.

Keller notes, every text has a major point, a main street in the village. This is the main point in the original context the author was trying to get across. But the fact is that there is a road out of town that leads to London.

3. Six Ways to Preach Christ (28:50)

  1. From every part of the Bible
    • He is the hope of the patriarchs, rock of Moses, the fulfiller of the law (ceremonial and moral), the true temple/priest/sacrifice, the commander of the Lord’s hosts, the divine warrior, the true Israel, the sweet singer of Israel, the true wisdom of God.
    • There’s a certain sense in which every chunk of the Bible looks to Jesus in a particular way. And you need to know how each chunk looks to Jesus
    • The Dillard/Longman Old Testament Survey has a section at the end of each book called “Approaching the New Testament” which is an excellent compass in this regard. Iaian Duguid’s commentaries and Christopher Wright’s commentaries are not afraid to point to Christ.
  2. From every theme of the Bible
    • Don Carson thinks there are about 20 inter-canonical themes that run through both OT and NT. Some of them are kingdom, covenant, exile, God vs. Idols, face/presence of God, rest/Sabbath, justice/judgment, shalom/peace, righteousness/nakedness, marriag/faithfulness, image/likeness, wisdom/word.
    • Every one of these themes climaxes in Jesus Christ. For example…
      • Kingdom. Jesus is the true king, and the preaching point is that unless you are under the true king you are a slave. Every other king is a tyrant. As Bob Dylan said, “Everybody is serving somebody. You gotta serve somebody.” Something is the king of your life. If not the true king, then you are a slave.
      • Covenant. We are made for relationship. A relationship always has law and love in it— binding solemn promise on the one hand, but relationship on the other hand. God enters into covenant with his people. But the question is this: Is the covenant with God conditional or unconditional? Ray Dillard says this is one of the main narrative tensions that drives the OT. The covenant seems both conditional and unconditional in the OT. Always faithful God, yet dependent on Israel’s obedience. The entire OT is on gigantic plot thickening, in which the main question is can we have relationship with God? And is that conditional or unconditional? And when you get to the cross, you finally see the answer to both questions is yes. God’s love is unconditional through Christ,
      • Exile. N.T. Wright makes this the major theme of the Bible. That Jesus was exiled and rejected outside the gate. Exiled so we could be brought home.
  1. From every major figure in the Bible (39:45)
    • Jesus is the true and better. John Calvin in his introduction to the New Testament, “He Christ is Isaac. Christ is Jacob, the watchful shepherd. Christ is the good and compassionate brother Joseph. Jesus is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek. Jesus is the sovereign lawgiver Moses. He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua….”
  2. From every deliverance storyline in the Bible.
    • Every one actually reflects what Jesus did in the ultimate act of deliverance. So you can go to any prophet, priest, judge or deliverer and from all of them there will be a road to Jesus.
  3. From every single command in the Bible
    • How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments (Edmund Clowney) shows that when Paul in Ephesians 5 calls husbands to Christ-like love and faithfulness to wives, this is the fulfillment of “Don’t commit adultery.” Here’s how you don’t commit adultery, by reflecting the spousal love of Jesus Christ.
  4. From Jesus’ varied reflections
    • [skipped explanation because of time]


Sinclair Ferguson. Some of the best preachers of Christ don’t really know how they do it. “Perhaps most outstanding preachers of the Bible and of Christ in all of Scripture are so instinctively.” They might say something like, I don’t really know how I got Jesus out of this, and yet I don’t really know how you couldn’t get Jesus out of it.


Tremper Longman thinks reading the Bible is a little bit like watching the movie The Sixth Sense. Once you learn the key fact at the end of the movie, you can’t ever watch the movie the same way again. You can’t possibly ignore the key fact. Similarly with the Bible, once you learn of Jesus you can’t read the rest of the Bible without seeing him (whether or not he fits into one of the technical categories).


Convincing Skeptics of Christianity

Timothy_KellerAdaptation of gospel communication to persuade secular skeptics is a skill that Tim Keller has carefully developed. Those who want to communicate the gospel in the current cultural milieu would do well to listen to Keller’s advice in this areas. Below are notes from his lecture on his topic, the second in a series on preaching.


There are three components to good preaching (and a fourth…but not really). You must preach biblically, attractively and powerfully [from the first lecture: What is Good Preaching?]. The fourth is to preach Christ, but this is actually the only right means to doing the other three. You will never really restructure the affections of the heart apart from preaching Christ.

The goal of this lecture: How to convince people who are skeptical about Christianity because they’ve been secularized (whether secularized Christian or non-Christian). This topic is a sub-category of contextualization (definition: the unavoidable way in which you culturally incarnate any explanation of the gospel: your cadence, emotional expressiveness, illustrations you choose, your language. As soon as you open your mouth, you move yourself toward some and away from others).

Three Problems With Contextualization

1. There are problems on both sides: you can overtextualize or undercontextualize. If you overcontextualize, your church will be full but no one will be changing, because largely you’re just confirming with them. If you undercontextualize no one will come. You may be preaching valiant-for-truth sermons, but they’re off-putting in style.

2. Your culture is largely invisible to you, so it is difficult to see where you’re communication decisions are reflections of your own culture. Don’t ask a fish to write an essay on water.

3. The idea of contextualization is difficult to define.

Four Principles for Adaptation (9:00)

Four things that Paul does when adapting to various groups of non-Christians. These are drawn particularly from Eckhard Schnabel’s book Paul the Missionary.

1. Paul used shared or well-explained vocabulary.

Our evangelical churches used to stand within a canopy of basic Christian understanding in the broader culture (knew the terms and doctrines), but this is increasingly not the case. Therefore…

Be careful about using theological terms without giving explanation

E.g. dispensational, hermeneutics, amillennial. If you act like everyone in the audience is a Christian, then your people will not bring non-Christian friends. How you preach will largely determine the makeup of your audience.

Be careful about using biblical words that are actually evangelical jargon

E.g. backsliding, lukewarm, spiritual warfare, seeing fruit, great fellowship, blessing, opening up doors, walking with the Lord. These are fine terms, but although people understand them within the subculture, “outsiders” don’t necessarily comprehend.

Be careful of using “prayer language” that is unnecessarily archaic and sentimental

E.g. just really, I echo that, I’ve really been released from that, your witness, your testimony, a God thing, a total God thing. People may find these kinds of terms cloying, sentimental, abnormal. Some of this language may “feel spiritual” but in effect excludes the outsider. At Redeemer Presbyterian, we get rid of that. People say we don’t feel very spiritual. Not that we are disrespectful or lack elegance, but it makes people from the evangelical world feel alienated. However it doesn’t make secular people feel alienated.

2. Paul used respected authorities to supplement what he was saying from the Bible. (20:00)

Paul quotes Eratus in Acts 17. Some feel like its not a great idea to cite secular authorities, but if you’re talking to people who don’t trust the Bible, then what’s wrong with quoting people they respect who happen to agree with the Bible?

Idolatry: If you’re talking about idolatry, have no other gods before me, then quote David Foster Wallace (postmodern, novelist, non-Christian, cool and sophisticated): “Everbody worships something. Everbody’s worshiping,” from his Kenyon College commencement address.

Absolute Morality: If you’re talking about God as lawgiver and absolute moral laws. Quote MLKJ Letters from Birmingham Jail. He points out that the only way you can judge if a human law is unjust is if it contradicts God’s law (then quotes Aquinas). Or go to W.H. Auden, who went into a theatre and saw a news reel with depictions of Jewish people yelling “Kill the Jews.” He was shaken up because he realized he had no way of saying they were wrong. “I always thought civilized people would be enlightened.” Auden eventually moved back toward Christianity because of this.

The Devil: If you’re speaking about the Devil, quote Andrew Delbanco, The Death of Satan. “Secular people have no vocabulary to deal with evil.” He cites FDR who was slow to believe in the death camps of WWII. Delbanco tells the story of FDR going to church and asking the pastor about Kiekegaard, who taught him about original sin. C.E.M. Joad (British intellectual, atheist) Recovery of Belief, “It was because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we on the Left were always being disillusioned by the behavior of the peoples, nations, and politicians and by the recurring fact of war. Because I didn’t believe in original sin I couldn’t understand why nothing was working.”

Nature reveals God: If you’re speaking from Psalm 19 and the evidence of God in nature, then cite Leonard Bernstein, “Listening to Beethoven’s Fifth, you can’t help but get the feeling that there’s something right with the world, something that checks throughout, something we can trust, something that will never let us down.” Keller says, this is Bernstein’s way of saying he can never believe in God…except sometimes.

Sin: If you’re saying something about sin, quote Lauren Slater, “The Trouble of Self-Esteem” (article in NYT magazine)  “The higher the self esteem the more bad things the person does. Its actually the people with low self-esteem who are usually better citizens.”

3. Paul ratified some of their beliefs, and then confronts them on the basis of that shared belief (found points of contact and contradiction)

In Acts 17:28, Paul quotes a pagan, “We are his offspring.” Then Paul argues that since we are his offspring, we should not think of the divine being as material substance we can fashion into images. Schnabel says, “Paul uses the quotation as an argument against his listeners’ rapprochement with the reality and diversity of the religious cults.” Paul uses their own belief “against” them. This is how all persuasion works.

Example 1: How do you get across to people that the Bible is authoritative in everything it says? This is difficult because secular culture is a culture of self-autonomy. You could say, “Isn’t it true that there is no perfect culture? No ultimate, superior culture? Every culture has good and bad elements?” This is a baseline narrative of secularism, pluralism. Next step: But what if the Bible is not from any particular culture, but rather from God? Then it would have to offend everyone at some point. It would have to confront every culture at some point. In other words, the Bible agrees that no culture is perfect.

Example 2: The baseline cultural narrative of loving relationship. You could say, “If there was a God, wouldn’t you want a personal loving relationship with him?” In a personal relationship, isn’t it true that if one person always wins the arguments, then the other person is being trampled on or not being honest to self. So if you’re in a personal relationship with God, then he must be able to contradict you at times.

Key Point: Take the baseline cultural narrative and use it “against” them.

Example 3: Cultural diversity. People need to live together despite differences. Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission, Points out that 90% of all Muslims live in one part of the world (Middle East/North Africa/South Asia), 88% of Buddhists live in East Asia, 98% of Hindus live in India. But about 25% of Christians live in Europe, about 25% live in Central/South America, 22% in Africa, 15% in Asia, 12-15% in North America. “Christianity is the only major religion that has spread out. Almost certainly Christianity exhibits greater cultural diversity than any other religion and that must say something about it.” So we must ask why. Whose Religion is Christianity? Lammin Sanneh says that Africans have turned to Christianity because it is the most culturally flexible of all worldviews. The gospel has no Leviticus…it undermines cultural superiority by rooting identity in Jesus Christ, rather than a particular cultural identity.

4. Paul solved people’s personal problems by presenting Jesus as the solution. (47:30)

When you’re preaching, you don’t want to spend Sunday morning only evangelizing non-Christians but not edifying the saints. So you must preach the gospel as the answer to every problem. The gospel is the motivation to do the things that you are calling people to do. “If you always exhort believers…grounded in what Jesus Christ did, then every time you are preaching to the Christians, you’re also preaching the gospel.” What’s great about that is that then secular people who are coming are hearing the gospel every week. Late moderns actually want to know how the gospel works in someone’s life. What does it look like fleshed out?

What is Good Preaching?

tim-kellerBelow are notes from the first of Keller’s four lectures delivered at the 2014 John Reed Miller Lectures on Preaching at RTS Jackson (November 11-13). The four lectures cover Kellers three things to do in order to be a good preacher: preach biblically, attractively, and powerfully. The first lecture includes introduction and a briefer explanation of preaching biblically. The remaining three lectures cover preaching attractively and powerfully. Keller is currently writing Preaching: Communicating Faith in a Skeptical Age (June 9, 2015).

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:28-29)

Good vs. Great Preaching

This lecture is not about great preaching, but about how to do good preaching.You can’t take responsibility for whether you preach a great sermon, but you should take responsibility for whether or not you’re a good preacher.  Acts 16:34, “the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Paul gave a message and it was his responsibility to deliver it well, and yet it was God who opened Lydia’s heart.

It’s your job for the sermon to be good (study the passage, be accurate, skill with language, etc.) but it’s up to God to make it great. He has to work on the heart; you can’t control that.

What makes a sermon great is the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit; what makes a sermon good is how well you have worked at it. Good preaching is the altar. Great preaching is the fire that God sends down on the altar. Its not your job to try to light the altar; but simply to build the altar with good preaching.

3 Things To Do In Order to Be A Good Preacher

Here are three “witnesses” that agree on three components of good preaching.

Theodore Beza said there were three great preachers in Geneva: William Farel, Pierre Viret, amd John Calvin. “The most fiery and passionate and forceful was Farel; the most eloquent was Viret – audiences hung on his skillful and beautiful words; Calvin however had the weightiest of insight. Calvin had the most substance, Viret had the most eloquence, and Farel had the most vehemence. If any preacher could be a composite of these three men, he would be absolutely perfect.”

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his son a letter about sermons, specifically homilies in Catholic churches (1944), “They are bad aren’t they, most of them from any point of view. The answer to the mystery is probably not simple. For preaching is an art, yet preaching is complicated by the fact that we expect in it not a performance, but truth and sincerity and also at least no word, tone or note that suggests the possession of vices such as pride or hypocrisy, or defects such as folly or ignorance in the preacher. Good sermons therefore require some art, some virtue and some knowledge” [basically, the same three things Beza was talking about].

St. Augustine wrote the first homiletical manual in the history of the church, part four of his work on Christian doctrine. There he remarked on the instruction of Cicero, the prince of Greek rhetoricians, who believed there were three components to rhetoric: 1) plain style – to prove and to reason, 2) middle style – to rivet and delight, and 3) grand style – to stir people to act. There were best practices for each of these styles. Which style was emphasized was to be based on one’s own personality as well as the occasion. Augustine says the preacher must employ all three of Cicero’s styles if you are going to honor the authority of the Bible. Because people need not just their reason informed but also their imagination captured. And yet you are also trying to get people to give their entire lives. You musn’t separate these three from each other. “Nobody should preach every text the same way. You need to honor the rhetorical style of the passage. You must let the Scriptures inform the proportion or your rhetorical style.”

Galatians 4 is the plain style – instruction, didactic, logical
1 Corinthians 13 is the middle style – beautiful
Romans 8 is the grand style – soaring

Now for the three components of good preaching…

1. Preach Biblically (Word, Text)

“Him we proclaim.” Seminaries tend to put ninety percent of emphasis on this point, but far less on skillful language, persuasiveness, connecting with people’s emotions, culture, and hearts. Thus this series will begin here, but spend more time on the following two points in the coming lectures.

Preach the text, not your opinion. Know the authorial intent – what does the text say in original historical context? And what about canonical context?

Expostory preaching…
grounds the sermon in the text
grounds all the points of the sermon in the text
majors in general in the majors of the text
is doctrinally sound (systematic theology)
is Christocentric (biblical theology; canonical context of the Bible is that it is about Jesus)

Hughes Oliphant Old (7 volumes on preaching) says there have been five kinds of sermons in the history of the world: expository, catechetical, evangelistic, festal, and prophetic. Basically this can be distilled into two types: expository and all the rest (thematic/topical). Thematic: topic determines the text. Expository: text determines the topic. So basically these are the two kinds of preaching, expository and topical.

Hughes Oliphant Old makes the case that in the Bible you have both types. Paul does not do expository preaching in Acts 17, but rather thematic oratory; though in Acts 13 in the synagogue he does expository preaching. But the normal diet for a congregation should be expository (Derek Thomas’ article “Expository Preaching” in Feed My Sheep).

Five Benefits of Expository Preaching
1) Teaches about the authority of God’s word.
2) Let’s God set the agenda for what will be discussed.
3) Rests the authority of what you say on the text.
4) Exposes your people to a greater range of topics and avoids hobby horses.
5) Teaches your people how to study the Bible as well

P.T. Forsyth, “The true ancestor of the Christian preacher is not the Greek orator, but the Hebrew prophet.” (Forsyth, Positive Preaching and Modern Mind)

5 Dangers of Expository Preaching
1) Doesn’t recognize the mobility of our society – given the transience where people may only be in the church for two years, do you really want them to only hear one book of the Bible that entire tenure?
2) Can be boring because if you spend too long in one particular book of the Bible, the fact is that most books of the Bible have only one or two main themes. Thus staying in one book for a year or more doesn’t expose people to the full range of biblical teaching.
3) Tendency is to only explain the text but not connect to people culturally and emotionally. There is a tendency among expository preachers to say, “As long as I’m telling people the truth, the other aspects of preaching don’t matter.”
4) Restricts your speaking ability to expounding a text, which means you are not developing skill at speaking evangelistically.
5) Every place I’ve seen expository preaching emphasized, it ends up being over-defined.

2. Preach Attractively (Heart, Imagination)

“Warning everyone.” How do I penetrate through barriers to belief in Jesus? This means preaching contextually and going after cultural blindness. Not just stating propositions but using metaphors that get the imagination going. Preaching practically and interestingly.

3. Preach Powerfully (Spirit, Move People)

“Struggling with all his energy.” Preaching and embodying the sermon personally. The love joy peace wisdom that you exhibit as you are speaking have to be such that you are showing people a gospel-changed soul such that they want it to, and yet this must not be a performance. But genuinely a soul that has been broken and repaired by the truth of the gospel.

Non-deliberate transparency – not just telling self-deprecating stories to appear to others to be transparent. But non-programmed spiritual authenticity. This is the result of your prayer life, experience, spiritual maturity as time goes on.