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).


1 thought on “Keller’s Six Ways to Preach Christ

  1. M Cummings

    Me and my husband love Tim Keller’s teaching and preaching. It’s so incredibly helpful and well communicated. Thank you Tim Keller.


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