Preaching displays the glory of God as faithful men point others to the Lord Jesus Christ by expounding the Bible in the power of God’s Spirit. To faithfully proclaim Christ and His Word, the preacher must both cultivate personal devotion and stir up a gift for teaching.
Tony Merida is well-qualified to help preachers consider their character and mission. Since 2001, he has acquired substantial experience and training in the ministry of the Word, including a Ph.D. in preaching and service as a pastor and a preaching professor. The Christ-Centered Expositor is a revision of his 2009 book, Faithful Preaching, and maintains the same methodology while refocusing and adding material.
The book defines the task and goal of exposition, engages the preacher about heart issues, overviews the process of sermon preparation and delivery, and provides several practical tools as appendices. The two major divisions of the book focus on the expositor’s heart and his message. Appendices include a historical sketch of preaching, advice for preaching in non-pulpit contexts such as weddings and funerals, a sermon outline sheet, and a sermon evaluation form.
The expositor is one who seeks to “responsibly, passionately, and authentically declare the Christ-exalting Scriptures, by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God” (12). The expositor must draw personal nourishment from Christ and the Word, pursuing Christlikeness through the spiritual disciplines such as Bible intake, prayer and repentance, and living in community with the church. He must love the Scriptures, which testify to Christ, and love to preach Christ from the Scriptures. He must rely on the Spirit’s power and cultivate a vibrant prayer life, since he must receive power from God for a life and ministry that please Him. The expositor must be shaped by an all-consuming desire for God to be glorified in his life, including his preaching and teaching.
To preach expository sermons, the preacher must not only cultivate his relationship with God, but must also labor in his study of the Word. Merida writes, “Expository preaching involves explaining what God has said in his Word, declaring what God has done in his Son, and applying the message to the hearts of people” (16). To preach in this way, he gives five steps for one’s sermon preparation: 1) study the text; 2) unify the redemptive theme; 3) construct an outline; 4) develop the functional elements; and 5) add an introduction and a conclusion.
Faithfully preaching the Bible starts with carefully studying the Bible. As the preacher digs into the text of Scripture, he must not only locate it in its immediate historical and literary contexts, but in the bigger picture of God’s plan of redemption in Christ as it unfolds throughout the Bible. He must find the main point of the text “through careful exegesis of the selected passage” and then develop the main point of the sermon “in view of the meaning of the text, the redemptive elements in the text, in light of our particular audience and occasion” (152). The outline should flow from and support the main point of the sermon while also reflecting the structure of the text. Explanation, application, and illustration further augment the outline by demonstrating the clarity, relevance, and authority of God’s Word. Having a clear grasp of the sermon’s point and outline, the preacher is ready to develop an introduction to raise interest and orient hearers to the text and a conclusion that calls for a proper response to the Word. Through these steps, the preacher’s study yields an expository message from which he may prepare a manuscript or brief notes. Regardless of what written aids one uses, the expositor needs to pray over and internalize the message before preaching. While each preacher has his own personality, he must avoid distracting behaviors and seek to clearly and passionately communicate the unchanging gospel while addressing challenges of diverse worldviews and biblical illiteracy.
The Christ-Centered Expositor is a strong addition to the multitude of preaching handbooks. Merida effectively integrates and balances the spiritual life of the preacher with the mechanics of preaching, keeping the focus on Christ in both areas. This integration distinguishes the book, since many preaching books focus on the technical aspects of preparation and delivery of the sermon, while assuming or ignoring the preparation of the preacher and the “Christocentric emphasis” present throughout the whole Bible (54). The preacher must be continually transformed by the gospel and His relationship with Christ, and must continually proclaim Christ as he studies and shares the message of the text. The book effectively breaks down a five-step method which beginning preachers can use and from which experienced preachers can learn. Chapters conclude with summaries followed by study questions or exercises which can be used to practice the concepts. By including a substantial bibliography, a sermon outline template, and a sermon evaluation form, the book offers further help for preparing and assessing one’s sermons. While Merida interacts with other preaching books, cites sources, and uses theological terms and categories, he still writes in an accessible, clear style. These features make The Christ-Centered Expositor suitable for a preacher’s self-study, useful as a discipleship resource for mentoring, and commendable as a potential textbook, supplemental reading, or book review option in a formal preaching or ministry class.
While the book follows a helpful flow and organization, chapter fourteen, “Contextualize the Message,” seems out of place after the chapters on sermon preparation and delivery. A treatment of contextualization might have been better located near or integrated with chapter eleven, “Step 4: Develop the Functional Elements,” especially since it intersects with the element of application, requiring serious consideration of how Scripture speaks to modern cultural challenges. Such consideration should influence the message before the expositor stands to preach.
In any age and culture, the faithful expositor must be one who seeks to glorify God through preaching Christ and His Word in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christ-Centered Expositor provides fresh encouragement and instruction for such preachers and deserves to be widely read and used.
Douglas Smith, MDiv graduate (2016), ThM student, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Originally published in the Midwestern Journal of Theology, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Fall 2017), 148-150.