Why Johnny Can't Preach (5)

gordonwhyjohnnyPart 4

So far Gordon has focused on the form of preaching. In chapter 4 he turns to questions of content. He says, “…in addition to the cultural matters that have concerned me throughout, I also believe that preaching today almost entirely in content” (69). Even when sermons have a central point, that point is often banal, “a point hardly worth making” (69). The content of Christian preaching should be “the person, character, and work of Christ” (70). Christian preaching is also rightly concerned with the Spirit’s “work of sanctification, whereby he renews us into the image of God and conforms us to his own likeness” (70). The proclamation of the “Christian moral vision” (70) must, however, be “redemptive (71). “Even when the faithful exposition of particular texts requires some explanation of aspects of our behavior, it is always to be done in a manner that the hearer perceives such commended behavior to be itself a matter of having been rescued from the power of sin through the grace of Christ” (71).

The character of Christ, as our representative and Savior, is perfectly appropriate This gets to Dabney’s concern that preaching have an “evangelical tone.” By “evangelical” Dabney (and Gordon) meant that preaching should make the fact of Christ and his redemptive work for his people central to preaching (72). This concern is in contrast to much contemporary preaching in which such concerns have “receded in importance” from our preaching and churches (73). This was a principle New Testament preaching. This was Calvin’s view (74). For Calvin and Luther, national Israel was not a pattern for culture war but “a type of Christ” (75). Moralistic preaching does not build faith, but preaching Christ, habitually and repeatedly pointing the congregation to Christ does (76).

Will such preaching lead to licentiousness? Gordon answers, “I categorically deny it. I’ve witnessed with my own eyes the difference between believers who suffer through moralistic preaching and those who experience Christological preaching. The former are never as strong or vibrant in their Christian discipleship as the latter” (78). To buttress this point he surveys four failed alternatives to Christ-centered preaching: moralism, how-to, introspection, and social-gospel/culture war (79–88). I won’t spoil the book for you. You should read this analysis for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. If Gordon is right about these four alternatives to Christ-centered preaching (and he is), then many of our pulpits need a radical re-orientation.

These four types of preaching are failures because none of them “nourishes the soul” (88). They do not feed faith and they leave congregations malnourished (89). There is a place for Christian teaching on at least three of these four areas but (and ministers should do more teaching out of the pulpit), Gordon says, the pulpit is not the place for such teaching (90–91). Nothing “is more important Christian proclamation than the central realities of the person, character, and work of Christ” (91). The pulpit is not a catchall, “a place form which [ministers] attempt to do everything” (92). The pulpit needs to be returned to “its proper place of proclaiming how (and how well) God reconciles himself to hopelessly lost sinners through the person and work of that beloved Son in whom he is well pleased” (92).

Part 6

All is not lost, however. If he will, Johnny could preach. More later.

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  1. Maybe I need to take this book to heart that much more in light of the inexplicably poor grammar of my last post.

  2. “Moralistic preaching does not build faith, but preaching Christ, habitually and repeatedly pointing the congregation to Christ does (76).”


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