This interview with Dr. Art Azurdia was taken from the spring 2014 issue of Western Magazine. Read the interview in it’s entirety, starting on page 14.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE CHRIST-CENTERED PREACHING?
AA: I would define it as faithfulness to the immediate words that are in the passage itself, as well as an understanding of those words as a part of God’s overall story. I think what we always have to do is not ask ourselves “Where is Jesus in this verse?” but “Where does this verse stand in relationship to the Christ event?” Rather than trying to read Jesus into every passage, we ought to instead look for where the little story contributes to the telling of the big story. Where do “Noah and the Ark,” “David and Goliath,” “Rahab and the Spies,” and “Jonah and the Ninevites” fit? How do they contribute to the telling of that one larger story? Christ-centered preaching is more than tacking an invitation on at the end of the sermon; it is preaching that is both evangelical and evangelistic. As Christians, whether we’ve believed for a week or for 20 years, we need to be reminded every single week of how profoundly satisfied God is with us because of what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf. The default position of the human heart is “I’ve got to please God by my morality. God will be happy with me when I am good and unhappy with me when I am bad.” So we have to remind ourselves of the gospel everyday – that God is already fully, and in every way, happy with us because of Jesus Christ. Out of that, I then find a greater compulsion and motivation to obey.
WHAT IS THE BIBLICAL WARRANT FOR THIS FOCUS IN PREACHING?
AA: It’s everywhere, but the most obvious place, and I think the place my attention was drawn to several years ago, was Luke chapter 24. Jesus meets up with His disciples on the day of the resurrection, and explains to them how all of the Old Testament – the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms – were intended to point to Him. When I came to terms with that, I realized I had been taught to think about the Bible in a way that was less than Christian; while I thought about all the bits, pieces, and parts, I didn’t think about how they contributed to the telling of the whole. Once you begin there, you begin to discover over and over that the New Testament Scriptures show that this is how the apostles use the Old Testament. The other place it’s very obvious is in John chapter five. Jesus is very explicit with the Pharisees when He says “Moses wrote of Me.” However, if you look for the name of Jesus in the first five books of the Bible, you’ll never find it. Yet Jesus says “Moses wrote of Me.” This meant I had to start thinking differently about how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus, even though His name wasn’t specifically mentioned.
HOW DID YOU BECOME AWARE OF CHRIST-CENTERED PREACHING?
AA: I was taking a class at Westminster Seminary, taught by Ed Clowney, on preaching Christ from the Old Testament. I had to take the class; I probably wouldn’t have, given a choice, because I believed that if there was one thing you couldn’t do, it was preach Christ from the Old Testament. As I sat through that class, my entire world was turned upside down. It was a combination of finding my heart simultaneously filled with joy, guilt, and sadness. At that point, I had been preaching for about 11 years. I had two masters degrees, was an expositor of the Scriptures, and it dawned on me that I had completely missed the whole point of the first two-thirds of the Bible. So it was an awakening that was both difficult and thrilling.
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST STEPS TOWARDS CHANGING YOUR PREACHING?
AA: The first thing I had to do was repent. I say that a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but there was a measure of repentance in that, prior to taking that class, I had just finished preaching a series on the book of Nehemiah. I don’t think I mentioned the name of Jesus once (because His name isn’t in the text) except in the concluding prayer–to say “In Jesus’ name, amen.” I took that class from Dr. Clowney and my world was rocked; I had to go back to my church and talk to them about this and my own awakening. A couple months later, I preached through the whole book of Nehemiah again, but from a Christocentric standpoint. From there, I began to regularly give myself assignments to preach through certain Old Testament books that would force me to preach them Christocentrically. From a New Testament standpoint, the two books that helped me the most were Hebrews, which is built on Old Testament concepts, and Revelation, where nearly every phrase is taken from an Old Testament context.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CHURCH WHEN THE BIBLE ISN’T PREACHED CHRISTOCENTRICALLY?
AA: If it’s a church where the Bible and theology are taken seriously, without the centering effect of a Christocentric emphasis, congregations can get bitter. They can get arrogant. It’s something similar to what we see in the church of Ephesus in Revelation chapter two, where you find a church that is filled with doctrinal purity, but there is no love. It’s Jesus that keeps our hearts soft and tender, filling us with the love, affection, and motivation we need to live the Christian life. You take that away and all that we’re left with is a cold list of do’s and don’ts. If you manage to keep some of those do’s and don’ts properly, then you pat yourself on the back for being such a good person and you’re guilty of arrogance. If you have a tender conscience and realize you can’t ever fully live up to that list, why would you ever get out of the bed in the morning, because all you are is a miserable failure? It’s the gospel that gives us strength and joy; when that piece is taken out, at least in churches that are serious about the Bible, it tends to produce hardness, legalism, moralism, and at times, arrogance. In churches where the Bible is rarely used and the church is very much human-centered, you just get deeper and deeper into more contemporary expressions of legalism. Neither of those scenarios are pleasing and both, I think, end up doing damage to God’s people.
Read the interview in it’s entirety starting on page 14 of the spring 2014 edition of Western Magazine.