Yesterday while looking for a gift for my mother-in-law at LifeWay I was browsing through the theology section (which is what you do when you’re a nerdy theology book loving kind of guy), and I was surprised to see a book about re-imagining the practice and art of preaching in a post-modern society. I did not have time to read the book, but would like to sit down for a couple hours and hear his argument. What happened the rest of the day was me examining both myself and to a larger context the evangelical movement. I was asking myself the question “What is the problem with preaching today? Is it poor preachers, are we not exploring doctrine enough and relying on shallower messages, is the problem found in the contemporary listener who is not geared to hear rhetoric and follow an argument, has society as a whole moved beyond the relationship of preacher/hearer to a more conversational approach, and finally has the age of preaching died?” Welcome to my head America, now you know how to pray for Carrie. She has to hear this all played out more often than I’m sure she would like.
So that beg the question, are we saying too much in sermons? Does the contemporary listener care what we have to say? For starters let me say that I believe in the power of the preached word, that there is something to be said because God has spoken through the ages by His Word. When we depend more on experience or relationships or other avenues of communication (i.e. visual, tangible) we lose a little bit of what has distinguished us as Christians. God did not chose to reveal Himself through visible nature or by touch, He chose to reveal Himself through the spoken word. There is great power in the sermon that is both expository and exegetical, deriving its theme, structure, and content explicitly from the biblical text. Many of the great revivials in history began in large part because of an emphasis on preachers of righteousness being faithful in their calling.
Churches who do not address the state of the culture-at-large are probably doomed to failure, but the line must be drawn in the sand regarding what things the church cannot and will not change on, regardless of how culture would flow. There must be something unique about the church, about the “called out ones” who have been set apart by the grace of God for His work and glory. When we become more like the world in our methodology and worship, we lose something of what distinguishes us from the culture. Here is a quote from C.H. Spurgeon, by many called the “Prince of Preachers”
This is the suggestion of the present hour: If the world will not come to Jesus….Shall not the church go down to the world? Instead of bidding men to be converted, and come out from among sinners, and be separate from them, let us join with the ungodly world, enter into union with it, and so pervade it with our influence by allowing it to influence us. Let us have a Christian world.
Certain ministers are treacherously betraying our holy religion under pretense of adapting it to this present age. The new plan is to assimilate the church to the world by semi-dramatic performances they make the house of prayer to approximate to the theater; they turn their services into musical displays in fact, they exchange the temple for the theater, and turn the ministers of God into actors, whose business it is to amuce men. This then is the proposal. In order to win the world, the Lord Jesus must conform himself, his people, and his Word to the world. I will not dwell on so loathsome a proposal.
My dear hearers, how much I long to see you saved!! But I would not belie my Lord, even to win your souls, if they could be won so. The true servant of God is not responsible for success or non-success. Results are in God’s hands.
May the Lord find us faithful to remain true to the calling to proclaim the Truth of the Gospel to sinners who need to repent, and may we resist the temptation to sacrifice our identity and uniqueness for the sake of being relevant. The Lord will do a work in His church, and He will do it only when He and His Word are pre-eminent in the life and practice of the church.