Julius Kim has been teaching for about 17 years now at Westminster Seminary California and in 2015 he released Preaching the Whole Counsel of God: Design and Deliver Gospel-Centered Sermons. It is written to serve as one text that covers the gamut of what a first preaching class should cover. Kim goes from basic hermeneutics, to “Christ-centered” hermeneutics, to sermon design and then to sermon delivery. These make up the sections of his book. I will highlight what I thought was noteworthy and then end with a summary evaluation.
Much of this book is very basic and would serve an introductory preaching course well. Its salient distinction is the Gospel-centered approach as revealed in the book’s title. Kim encourages preachers to investigate a text and discover its Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) – a concept he borrows from Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching. The FCF of every text demands “a solution that only God’s grace in the gospel can provide” (47). Every passage reveals a specific way in which we are deficient and require grace.
But Kim wants to take it a step further: the preacher should now look for the connection to Christ. This will be the CFC or the Christ-Focused Connection. It’s simple: “How does the gospel of Jesus Christ solve the problem(s) introduced by the FCF?”… “If the Bible is a unified story of God’s grace found in the gospel of Jesus Christ for humans who are faced with the problem of sin and sin’s effects, then every sermon needs to resolve in the gospel” (48). The CFC statement is where the preacher clarifies how the gospel specifically answers the problem put forth by the text.
The approach is simple in that you create your sermon proposition by writing an indicative clause (beginning with “if” or “because” or “since”) and adding an imperative clause to it (“then.”) The indicative describes something about what God has done or who he is. The imperative is what we do about it. The CFC comes in when you adjust the indicative statement to reflect Christ specifically.
Here’s an example (48):
“Because God loved us first, then we ought to love one another.”
With CFC: “Because God loved us by sacrificing his Son, then we ought to love one another.”
Why a Christ-Focused Connection?
Not every preacher would agree that Christ must be in every sermon proposition from every text. This has been widely (and too often poorly) debated. Kim provides three reasons why preachers should make the Christ Connection clear in every sermon. First, it is biblical: it is how Jesus and the apostles preached. Those who would say that this is only the case because those sermons were all evangelistic should take pause here – Jesus preached to mixed crowds that included his disciples. Every epistle is Christ-centered and they are addressed to believers.
Second, it is foundational. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the key to unlocking the mystery of the grand narrative of the Bible (58). “These foundational themes of sin and death, salvation and redemption, found throughout the entire Bible, cannot be understood apart from the story of Jesus” (59). Of course, the more dispensational-leaning preachers would not agree that those themes are in every text. Kim’s argument is that they are and thus the Christ Connection is necessary.
Third, preaching Christ is practical. We cannot become Christians or grow as Christians apart from the grace that Jesus provides. Here dispensational preachers would not disagree, but they would say that this fact does not need to be explained explicitly in every sermon.
Kim goes on to discuss how to get to the Christ Connection from both Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures. The rest of the book then deals with matters pertaining to design and delivery – everything from the structure of our sermons to the synapses of our brains. Kim provides many insightful points of help for the preacher.
Specific Points of Appreciation
- I was grateful for how concisely he treats certain subjects. He handles in paragraphs what tends to take up chapters in other books. And, often, the reader is no worse off for it.
- At points, he touches on natural tension built into each pericope which I emphasize in my teaching. For Kim, the FCF is the problem where the CFC is the solution (149).
- His “if-then” approach to writing the sermon proposition is simple and user-friendly albeit a bit limited in scope.
- The book is sprinkled with bits of sage guidance. For example, he encourages preachers to practice the closing prayer. How many times have we closed in prayer and inserted good, juicy application that we did not think to include in the sermon? If we practice the prayer ahead of time, application may spring to mind in the rehearsal and we can include it in the live sermon.
- He exhorts his readers to ruthlessly edit their sermons and to be highly selective with information (184). Preachers should follow the “coherence principle” in recognition that listeners will learn better when we exclude extraneous material (193).
- Every preacher has to decide whether to manuscript and if so, how much to manuscript. Kim suggests only writing verbatim your “core 25” – the essential 25% of your sermon where wording will count the most. “This will include the following: the sermon proposition, main points, applications, pastoral insights, transitions, introduction, and conclusion” (199).
Given the title, I expected a more robust treatment of the topic of Christ-centered preaching. But this is not the purpose of the book. It’s more of a catch-all. If you only had one book to help you with preaching, you would need something like this. Perhaps exactly this. For a more concentrated, positive look at Christ-centered preaching see Dennis Johnson’s Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures. For the best critique of it I have seen, you should consult relevant portions of Privilege the Text!: A Theological Hermeneutic for Preaching by Abe Kuruvilla. Still, Kim does a commendable job of explaining the approach though he leaves some holes to be filled. The trade-off with any book that attempts to cover a bit of everything is that for further treatment of anything you will have to go somewhere else. That’s okay. Personally, I would have appreciated Kim reigning it in just a little bit to provide more focus on particular themes. But if you are looking for one source that will cover most of what you need to know about preaching, you will be hard-pressed to find a more responsible, more comprehensive, more succinct resource out there.