As a follow-up to yesterday’s post from T. David Gordon’s “Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers, I thought I would post Gordon’s alternatives to Christ-centered preaching. There are four of these and each will fail to properly present the gospel to our congregations. I know that I have been guilty of all four at times and I especially want to be on guard against the third. They are as follows:
1. The Moralistic Sermon – This occurs whenever the fundamental message of a sermon is “be good; do good” (or some variation of these). Whenever the primary purpose of the sermon is to improve the behavior of others, so that Christ in his redemptive office is denied or largely overlooked, the sermon is moralistic. In this type of sermon, people come to associate Christianity with moral improvement rather than the fitness of Christ’s person and the necessity and sufficiency of His work to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him. When we preach, “do this; don’t do that” as the ultimate objective we forget that we can’t do anything apart from the grace of God in Christ.
2. The “How To” Sermon – Unlike moralism, this sermon spends less time expounding what we should do and more time explaining how we ought to go about it. It implies that a sinner can change his ways if he will just employ the right method. Gordon suggests that we might as well preach on “How a leopard can change his spots,” since biblically this is as easily done as a sinner changing his ways. This too, pushes the person and redeeming work of Christ out of view and denies the hearers utter inability to rescue himself from sin. It is salvation by determination and white-knuckled effort.
3. The Introspective Sermon – The title of this sermon should be, “I Know You Think you are a Christian, But You are Not!” Before anyone attacks me for trying to give false assurance to those who give no evidence of regeneration, I can assure you that I am aware of the Biblical admonition to test our faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). However, if we are not careful with such admonitions, we may be downplaying the adequacy of Christ as redeemer, and therefore we take away the consolations of Christ from our hearers. Faith that has Christ as its object, though weak and imperfect, is still faith and can save forever those who have it!
4. The Social Gospel/Culture War Sermon – In this case, the pulpit is used to steadily denounce whatever is wrong in our culture and what ought to be done about it by us or the government. This type of preaching turns to world into “good guys” and “bad guys” and causes those who are on the right side of the cultural issue to think that they are one of the “good guys.” This totally ignores the fact that we are all the “bad guys” and stand in need of grace. God is not pleased with us simply because we are on the right side of a particular social evil. Our culture is not bad because of bad government. Our culture and every culture is bad because since Genesis 3 we have revolted against the reign of God. The government, though ordained by God, cannot rescue us from the consequences of our rebellion. Education cannot redeem our fallen minds. Environmentalism cannot save a creation that has been subjected to futility. Culture change is largely out of our hands and will ultimately be accomplished through Christ who redeems us from our self-centeredness.
Please note, I am not denying that we can legitimately change culture through reasoned discourse and a godly example, nor do I believe that we should not work to defend the rights of the helpless and oppressed. However, merely passing laws to outlaw sin does not make people better. It simply creates people who find new and more devious ways to commit sin. The surest remedy for our social ills is “to preach nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).