Interesting Sermon Test

How many sermons pass this test?

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  1. Thank you for the link but to be fair I got this diagnostic from Todd Wilken of Issues etc. it is not my own creation.

  2. Is being a sermon/preacher critic really a good idea? Isn’t God’s word preached to critique us rather than the other way around? I suspect that this is a particularly challenging issue for seminary students.

    Of course, discernment for orthodoxy is important – but this is different than taking a grid to church by which to grade sermons.

    Beyond that, it isn’t difficult to see that the grid offered is reductionistic and inconsistent with what the Bible actually teaches. For example, Peter’s sermon at Pentecost doesn’t pass the suggested test (Jesus is not the subject of the verbs in Acts 2).

  3. David,

    Our profs are “sermon critics” all the time! If they weren’t our churches would suffer for it. Just because a guy is in the pulpit doesn’t mean that he gets a pass.

    If he’s preaching God’s Word, then we must submit to it but the fact that words are coming out of his mouth doesn’t make what he’s saying “God’s Word.”

    God’s Word, and our confessions give us tests. We’re morally obligated to use those tests to see that what is preached is God’s Word. I’m thankful to two lay couples in particular for their courage in using those tests to challenge sermons that claimed to be “God’s Word” that were not.

    Are you sure Jesus isn’t the subject of the verbs in Acts 2? Who else was raised? Who else is seated at the right hand?

  4. Yes, being a sermon/preacher critic is a good idea; i.e. if you are approaching the criticism from a Berean (Acts 17:11) spirit. The goal of a sermon/preacher criticism is to know the Word more accurately, to see if the the things being said measure up to the revealed Word of God. It is not beat up the preacher, but to know God more accurately.

    The standard of sound words (i.e. right doctrine) is the most important part. Such commitment, from both preacher and listener, ensures that God’s Word is being heard, and not the opinions of man. What a blessed “burden” it is to have people in the congregation who will test what is said against the whole counsel of God’s Word. It drives us to diligent study and prayer.

    The very nature of God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17) critiques us, but that assumes that what is preached is actually God’s Word. That is why the application or life transformation or the life critique must always flow out of right doctrine. If these get confused, then simple moral pragmatism reigns instead of the voice of the Living God.

    I would also say that this grid is not some alien idea that one subjects on unwilling preachers. First, the souls of the listener depends on such a test (1 Timothy 4:13-16). Secondly, one who sees Christ as the driving thrust of all Scripture isn’t doing this for sport or to grade, but to see Christ exalted and to be seen as preeminent (Colossians 1:18).


  5. One more thought. If I don’t have faithful people challenging me in my preaching so that I would become a better preacher in my faithfulness to the meaning of the passage, then I am only setting myself up for a failing grade from the Master Sermon Grader (James 3:1).

    In other words, my sermons are being graded every time by God. It is through the crucible of the human judgment of my sermons that I am to improve on my understanding and explanation of the text so that I would be better prepared for that day when I give an answer to what I said or did not say from the pulpit.

    God gives us Christians, some out of right motives and some out of wrong motives, to keep up true to the text. Thank God for such graces!

  6. Scott,

    Thanks for your corrective. I was wrongly taking “subject” in the grammatical sense – in which case God the Father is the subject and Jesus is the object of the verbs that related to God. I was reacting against a notion of Christ centered preaching that virtually becomes “Jesus only” rather than fully Trinitarian preaching. I apologize for my error and for the hastiness of my posting my misunderstanding on your blog.

    I do, however, believe that the problem of people being sermon critics is far more serious than you are acknowledging … precisely in our confessionally Reformed circles. It is far easier to respond to a sermon by pointing out what we agree with and what we think are its shortcomings, than to lay ourselves bare before God and respond to His word with faith and repentance.

    I couldn’t agree with you and Steve more about the importance of every Christian having a Berean spirit. Yet, we shouldn’t focus on the end of the verse so strongly that we miss the middle of it: “they received the word with all eagerness”. To listen to sermons discerningly, “like a Berean”, includes the eager anticipation of receiving God’s word as it is preached.

    Please indulge me for one last point. You rightly say: “God’s Word, and our confessions give us tests. We’re morally obligated to use those tests to see that what is preached is God’s Word.” This is precisely my point. God’s word and our confessions give us tests. Lig Duncan would be the first to tell you that if you hear him teach anything inconsistent with the Scriptures or the WCF you should challenge him on it and bring it to the Presbytery’s attention. This is very different than each of us making up our own tests.

    On the other hand, if we are privileged to hear a Biblical and Confessionally orthodox sermon, and our response is to be unhappy that it doesn’t fit some grid that we came up with on how we would like sermons to be delivered – then we are in a pretty sorry state.

    BTW – While I do think the danger of being a sermon critic is widely a problem that seminarians struggle with, I wouldn’t want to underestimate the danger to seminary professors who must do this for the good of Christ’s Church and the glory of God. Please be careful.

    Your brother,


  7. Hi David,

    I agree that we need to land somewhere between “roast preacher” and uncritical adulation. Sem students can be more than a little “smarty-pants.” That’s because they haven’t had to go into a pulpit (does anyone ever do that anymore or are pulpits gone?) twice every Sabbath to stand before God and congregation to preach. They’ll learn pretty quickly that preaching is (for me at least) very existential and things don’t always come out the way they should.

    I agree that we have to be measured in our criticism. I’m thrilled that every Sabbath we, at OURC, are blessed to have a faithful minister of the gospel, who preaches Christ every LD. I am conscious, however, that many congregations are not so blessed. Many congregations have ministers who ride hobby-horses or build empires or try to transform the culture from the pulpit.

    This sort of test is very useful for folks in those sort of places who know something is wrong but don’t know how to diagnose it. The minister’s vocation, his business, is to preach the law and the gospel and leave the outcomes to the Spirit. I think these diagnostic questions help push us all to that end.

  8. David,

    Wouldn’t you agree that there is an essential difference between being “reductionistic” and simply using short hand?

    I’m no fan of that spirit which nurtures the idea that we are to be students (mechanical) instead of being made and affirmed as believers (organic); we ought to be using our ears to hear more than our fingers to take notes. But that doesn’t seem to mean we ‘turn off our minds” (sorry, couldn’t think a better way to put it). After all, we also have a Presbyterian view of authority, not an authoritarian one.

    …it’s hard being Reformed.

  9. David,

    I agree with you that we must not lose the eagerness of Acts 17:11. However, I believe such eagerness invariably leads to such tests. Again, I don’t believe such tests are alien or forced, if done with the spirit of examining the text (vs. roasting the preachers). Rather, these tests flow out of the new nature given at the new birth. It is with excitement and anticipation that a worshiper of God, through Jesus Christ, goes to hear Christ and Christ crucified on the Lord’s Day. If Christ is not lifted up and not given as the basis and foundation for doctrine and life, then the natural reaction for a believer is to “critique” the message because Christ isn’t there.

    The Bereans received with eagerness to see if what was said was true. They searched the Scripture for doctrinal reasons. What was the doctrinal test? The correct understanding of Jesus as the Christ (Acts 17:1-3).

    This is part of our Christian duty. We must insist, in order to maintain orthodox and confessional standards, that Christ is exalted. The only way to do that is to test the verbal message according to the revealed Word. Again, this is not to beat the preacher but to know God’s Word. Such tests our natural and normal for the one regenerated.

    David, regardless of us agreeing, I thank God that through your objection we are forced to evaluate the standard and motivation of our criticism. Thank you.

  10. Brothers,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I am reasonably sure that we are all shooting at the same target, even if we are coming at it from somewhat different angles.

    My only concern, in Dr. Clark’s words, is that “many congregations have ministers who ride hobby-horse.” Having listened to over four decades of preaching I want to add that sometimes a hobby-horse can be entirely orthodox theology. I have literally listened to dozens of sermons on Justification and the Imputation of Christ’s righteousness from texts that never mention or hint at these central truths of Christianity. Of course, we see all of God’s revelation in light of the person and work of Jesus. Yet, isn’t part of confessing the sovereignty of God that we let the text being preached determine the content and the form of the sermon? The imputation of Christ’s righteousness is a central truth of Biblical revelation – but it is not what every passage is about.

    Brothers – Thank you for putting up with my clumsiness of expression.

    May Christ greatly bless your work in His vineyard.


  11. Hey guys, I would like to jump in here since I started this whole conversation.

    First, David, My intention in applying this test to Ligon Duncan’s sermon was not to “beat up the preacher,” my intention is to find a church in an area we just moved to where the Law and Gospel of Jesus Christ is faithfully preached.

    As someone pointed out in the comments on my original post Ligon’s sermon actually does pass the diagnostic. What I was more disappointed in was it was not more overtly historical-redemptive preaching. It was not a clearly defined, “Law/Gospel” sermon. That may be due more to the fact that it is a sermon from the Psalms than anything else. I am a seminary student but I have just begun with summer Greek so I do not know much yet. I will admit also that some of it may be pridefulness. I am OPC looking for a “good” PCA church here in Jackson(there are no OPC in Jackson). I can not deny the truly massive amount of work Ligon Duncan has done for the kingdom and I have the utmost respect for him. We may end up joining his church.

    I will never quite testing what a preacher says to me from the pulpit, in my opinion that is the biggest problem with the modern evangelical church, they do not exercise discernment, which is exactly what critiquing the sermon is all about. That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.


  12. Alan,

    Thank you.

    My response was motivated by the fact that “historical-redemptive” preaching is mandated neither by the Bible nor our Confessions.

    Enjoy your time at RTS. Maybe we should start an OPC church in the area.

    Best wishes,


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