Why Johnny Can’t Preach (2)

Between the first post and this one I listened to the excellent interview with David at Reformedforum.org. In the first chapter Gordon lays out his case that “Johnny Can’t Preach.”

The first line of evidence is anecdotal. His experience (and that of many others) is that too many preachers are unable to perform the most basic of ministerial tasks: to explain what a passage of God’s Word says, of “demonstrating that what he is saying is God’s will” (18).

Gordon is not applying some esoteric test here. One of the basic tests is whether reasonably intelligent can listen to a sermon and repeat the main points. Another test is ask whether the sermon came from and was governed by the text. Gordon observes that this doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should.

He also surveys Robert Louis Dabney’s “cardinal requisites” for preaching (23-28). These, he says, “are honored almost exclusively in their breach” (28). Then there is the “watch” test. When one is listening to a great symphony or gripping medical advice one time seems to pass quickly. It may not be an entirely fair test, but it is an interesting question: how often does one check one’s watch during the sermon? Why? How often have you left a sermon wishing that it hadn’t ended so soon?

To be sure, the sermon, if faithful to the text, is the Word of God even if it is not gripping. It is not the aesthetic quality of the sermon that makes it God’s Word. That truth, however, is no excuse for bad preaching.

According to Gordon, those committed to contemporary worship and the emergent movement both seem convinced that traditional churches are “moribund” (31-32). Is that so or is it that traditional churches are simply doing things incompetently? Gordon argues that “the preaching in many churches is so poorly done that it is not, [as defined by WSC 89], effectively preaching.” It’s not that the church is using the wrong  means but using the right means wrongly.

The final line of evidence is that few churches conduct an annual review of the pastoral staff. One reason this doesn’t happen is because it’s an awkward conversation. Ministers don’t want to be evaluated and the congregations don’t want to discuss the preaching (34).

The problem isn’t the seminaries (34-35) but rather the state of the student when he arrives at seminary. The culture in which our students are raised is not only an increasingly illiterate culture but also an aliterate one (37). Americans are reading less. The visual is replacing the textual.  His account of the “the airport game” is fascinating and echoes my experience. Media are not neutral. The media (whether print or visual or aural) that dominate the lives of our pre-seminary students shape the way they think and communicate.

Part 3

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!

One comment

  1. Perhaps the question should be then, should, or maybe CAN the seminaries adapt and overcome this problem?

Comments are closed.