What is the Fallen Condition Focus?

31 03 2009
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Bryan Chapell in his book “Christ Centered Preaching” has a helpful concept which some of you might have heard of, but some may note. Even those who have heard of it, often haven’t grasped its value in unifying and directing a sermon.

The FCF or Fallen Condition Focus is basically a way of distilling the point being made in the passage to its first audience in terms of their problem (or fallen condition). This then becomes a bridge for connecting with today’s hearer. Chapell says: “An FCF need not be something for which we are guilty of culpable. It simply needs to be an aspect or problem of the human condition that requires the instructing, admonition, and/or comfort of Scripture.” I have found it best to say to students, “look for one word if possible.” So it might be guilt, or hopelessness, or fear. In Mark 4:35-41 (“the Calming of the Storm”), the fallen condition of “fear” seems central (contrasting faith for Mark). In Matthew’s account of the same incident however, “reluctance to follow” fits better with his purpose and the context in which he uses this incident. Do you realize that the same incident in different synoptic gospels will likely have different FCFs and thus be complete different in their aims?

In John 10:1-18 (the “I am the door/good shepherd” passage), I take the audience of the gospel to be people in the synagogue who are thinking to turn fully to Christ, but are reluctant (c.f. Carson’s John, p91). Thus the FCF of this passage might be “weariness with false saviors” and a resulting evangelistic talk could center on showing an audience how the supposed saviors of their world have never been more than thieves and robbers. Jesus as the door etc. is different, bringing salvation, security and life.

One more thing to note : When you have decided what the FCF is, the opening illustration must be about this point, it must be on this subject, so that in people’s mind they know immediately what the sermon will be about. So the intro to John 10 might be something like: “One of the great slogans of today… Try before you buy. Problem is, that even when it doesn’t work, people rarely send things back … so it is with life! For the next ½ hour I want to encourage you to consider sending things back. Sending back the broken solutions to life and consider someone who brings a real solution.”

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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5 responses

1 04 2009
Andrew

Thanks for highlighting this idea Bruce. I think I’ve used it in sermons quite regularly, but not having read Bryan Chappell’s book I never distilled it into a concrete idea with a name. It will get more conscious use now.

1 04 2009
Neil Foster

Good food for thought, but I wonder if can really be generalised to a rule for all sermons? Surely our main focus must be – what does the word of God here in this passage have to say to the congregation? Often it will be focussed on a “fallen condition factor”, but not always. The passage, for example, may be an exhortation to praise or worship the Lord for some excellence that He has. Is there not a danger that our sermons can be “anthropocentric”, by focussing on “my needs as a fallen human being”, rather than theocentric and devoted to the glory of God?
Also I wonder whether we can always be sure that we have identified the relevant “factor”. If we have to postulate “an audience in the synagogue with specific needs” we may be going beyond the text, and elevating our tentative reconstructions of the historical context to the status of scripture.

1 04 2009
Bruce Lowe

Neil,
thanks for your thoughts. You raise some important issues, many of which are hermeneutical in nature. I share your concern about the historical reconstruction issue. How many times have people speculated about the situation at Rome and then used this to reconstruct Romans? Yet at the same time when there is evidence (for example) that Mark was writing to suffering Christians for whom fear was the killer for faith… then without having to nail the situation down to Nero or some other persecution we can safely conclude something about his audience. This then can be used to our reading of the details. In this case it is not about history usurping scripture, but history as a tool to helping in understanding scripture responsibly. After all history belongs to God and he has clearly used it as a key part in his revelation. I mean we could just as easily talk about elevating Greek grammar above scripture by delving into historical word meanings and uses “too much”. But most of us wouldn’t see this as ever usurping Scripture. Its just responsible exegesis.
When it is all said and done, it seems to me in so far as the scripture was first written to people to urge them towards God and his will for people, I’m not too sure that FCFs focus should ever be too anthropocentric… yet at another level it will always be people centered. The Bible is people-centered in that it is written to humans. So on the topic of a section that calls people to worship God (e.g. the end of Romans 11), the FCF may be something like “shortsightedness”. Just as Paul’s audience was shortsighted in their view of God’s will, so people in our congregations will be shortsighted. Our aim then is to preach the passage in a way that will call people away from their shortsightedness towards worshiping God for his wisdom. This then is the same Goal as Paul has. The FCF for many proverbs is “shortsightedness” or “folly”. For many of the Psalms where people are called to worship God it is a call to remember. So the FCF is “forgetfulness”. All I then say will be directed towards having people remember to the end that they will worship God the way the psalmist calls his audience to the same. (Sorry for such a long response!)
Blessing,
Bruce

1 04 2009
Neil Foster

Dear Bruce;
Thanks for a helpful and thoughtful comment. I don’t think we would really disagree, but I just thought it was helpful to remember that the Bible is not “all about us”- it is directed to people, but it is all about the glory of God and the purposes of God for His creation. Still, you’re right in the sense that since it is written for us then there will usually be something we can take away for us to change, or become, or learn (2 Tim 3:16 of course.)
Cheers
Neil

2 04 2009
Bruce Lowe

Nice to have some thoughtful interaction Neil. Thanks again for your comments.
Bruce




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