Chapter 6: Buzz Lightyear and Bryan Chapell



"When people in any creative profession merely cut up and reassemble what has come before, it gives the illusion of creativity, but it is craft without art. Craft is what we are expected to know. Art is the unexpected use of our craft."

When Ed Catmull voiced this concept, I thought of Bryan Chapell.

After a church-less couple of years as a younger man, I finally realized I needed men wiser than myself to help differentiate truths from lies, so I returned to a small-but-vibrant community in Albuquerque: City On A Hill, which would eventually become Mars Hill.

Years before our church imploded, I attended a year-long theological school that we were offering, Re:Train. I was in the class of 2012-2013, and we ran through a series of cohort-designed doctrinal and practical ministry crash-courses together. Those of us in various parts of the country had to fly in for a weeklong bootcamp, if you will, at the start of each semester, and then we'd take the remaining classes in our respective locations via video feed.

I loved getting the chance to learn beneath men who I've come to deeply respect (and, I guess, a few that I haven't). The satellite campuses made for some hilarious interactions. I remember when Ray Ortlund came to teach our Biblical Theology segment. The guy I studied with in town had a question that Ortlund couldn't quite wrap his head around and, after about fifteen minutes of not-quite-hitting the answer, he stopped, found wherever the camera was in their Seattle location, pointed dead-center at it with determined eyes and an elevated voice and proclaimed, "YOU ARE A GOSPEL MONSTER!"

I'm laughing thinking about it. My friend stood there looking confused, nodded when Dr. Ortlund kept smiling into the camera, and sat back down. We still have no idea what actually happened, but he's definitely become The Gospel Monster.

We took another course on Homiletics with Dr. Bryan Chapell, who is highly regarded as the dude when it comes to expository preaching. We read through what has become a go-to for every class I've ever experienced on the subject, Christ-Centered Preaching.

It was through reading Christ-Centered Preaching that I came to realize that a good sermon is, in fact, a piece of art. There are a plethora of reasons I can give for coming to this conclusion, but for the sake of space (and my sanity), I'm going to stick to a short exploration of only one: the fallen-condition focus.

Chapell says that a preacher is only half-done preparing his sermon when he has determined the truth of the text, because "we do not fully understand the subject until we have also determined its purpose." The fall has left us incomplete, and God, through Paul, speaks of his Scripture as designed for our completion (2 Tim 3:16-17). In order to complete a truly Christocentric sermon then, one must determine "the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those for or by whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage to manifest God's glory in his people."

Frankly, I don't consider myself all that great at preaching. Chapell's class was the most difficult of any for me all year, but that idea of a fallen-condition focus has affected and influenced my writing ever since.

So why in the world is the Pixar guy still a prominent voice in this processing? Because I realized that Chapell's fallen-condition focus gave me eyes to see the art behind the craft (and, to see that many, many "gospel" preachers have not honed their craft, at all).

Different teachers have different kinds of art that flow from their craft, but I started to recognize the ways one builds a sermon with the same type of intentionality with which I attempt to write poetry – establishing a baseline, illustration, example, metaphor, "close your eyes and imagine with me," etc.

It was beautiful, and it became more beautiful when the "artist" had a distinguishable voice in which he'd boldly and effectively proclaim those truths. I'm not great at that when it comes to preaching, honestly. There's as much a culture of "sounding like the successful guy" in the church as there is anywhere, and I know exactly what Catmull means when he speaks of "cutting up and reassembling what has come before to give the illusion of creativity." I always end up ripping off Piper's hedonism and Tullian's grace and Stetzer's ecumenicism with a sprinkle of some N.T. Wright-winged (see what I did there?) historicity to really rattle things up and creating a clustercuss of good things that probably don't have a lot of my own thought in them. I'm so much more comfortable with written (or memorized) word.

And so to those of you whom the Spirit of God empowers to preach Christ crucified, I applaud your artistry. It is a gorgeous thing.