I don’t think many preachers enjoyed reading T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach [Affiliate Link]. Even one endorsement on the back of the book, written by Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary California, acknowledges that he “couldn’t help but wince as [he] recognized [himself] in Gordon’s descriptions…”
Most helpful was Gordon’s description of four alternatives to Christological preaching, all four of which he calls the reader to avoid. Below is an adaption from Gordon’s own words:
“Be good; do good.”
Whenever the fundamental purpose of the sermon is to improve the behavior of others, so that Christ in his redemptive office is either denied or largely overlooked, the sermon is moralistic.
“This is how to be good; do good.”
The how-to sermon implies that human behavior is not a matter of an intractable will, not a matter of total depravity, not a matter of rebellion against the reign of God the Creator, but merely a matter of technique.
“I know you think you are a Christian, but you are not!”
The introspective sermon determines to convince the hearer that they do not, in fact, believe. There can be two responses: one listener assumes the minister is talking about someone else and rejoices (as did the Pharisee over the tax collector). Another listener gives up and agrees that he doesn’t believe. But since Christ is only mentioned in passing (if at all), nothing is said about the adequacy of Christ as Redeemer, and therefore it does nothing to nourish or build faith in him.
Social Gospel/Culture War
“This is what ought to be done about what’s wrong with our culture.”
The social gospel or culture war sermon reminds its hearers that there are good people and bad people and that they are among the good. It ignores that since Genesis 3 all of us (not some of us) prefers his own will to the will of God. Furthermore, it fails to acknowledge that true and significant cultural change can happen only when the individual members of the culture have forsaken their own self-centeredness, and have revolted against their own revolt against God.
While Gordon admits that there is a place for all of the above in the wider ministry of the church, he says they fail in the pulpit because they “may inform or instruct about some aspects of religion, but they do not nourish faith; they do not feed faith.”
These four alternatives to Christological preaching are not just important for preachers to consider, but for hearers to. To what kind of sermon is your heart attracted? Our heart is so deceitful, it can draw us away from Christ even in what appear to be “religious duties.”
Have you experienced these alternatives from the pulpit? If you’re a preacher, do you see these tendencies in your own sermons? When you download sermons online, is your heart drawn to hearing about Christ or one of these alternatives? Leave a comment, discuss it on Facebook, or send me on a tweet on Twitter.