Monday, December 7, 2009

What Ought Preachers to Harp On Today?

At least in the Southeast...

The burdens of preaching to our present day:

1.) Uphold Christ in his all-sufficiency, but don't misuse the doctrine. I sense some are taking "Christ-centered" to the extreme, and not challenging enough our comfortable lifestyles. "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and do not the things that I say?"

2.) Put forth the Trinity in its relational dimensions. We are created for relationship with God and others because God is inherently happy among the three persons, and has his completion in the fellowhsip that exists in himself. That happiness overflows to us, and draws us in.

3.) Spend relatively little time preaching against the ills of the culture, and the sins of others, and relatively much time preaching against the idols of those in front of you. The cultural mandate does not mean telling people for whom they must vote.

There are idols in conservatism and liberalism.

Political Conservatives tend to think that as long as I have all the right moral positions, and obey the law, I can make as much money as I want and spend it on myself. Jesus says no.

Political Liberals tend to discount the de-humanizing force of cyclical dependency. If a man will not work, neither shall he eat.

Jesus has things to say to both groups. Unfortunately, churches full of conservatives tend to hear sermons bashing liberals, and churches full of liberals tend to hear sermons bashing conservatives. This is completely backwards.

4.) Keep people from being satisfied with too-easy answers, and cast them on Christ, instead of their own efforts.

Some people really think that if I homeschool my children, do everything right, etc, the product will be young Christians. This is not reliance on grace or constant reliance on Christ. Others think mastering doctrine or church practice or whatever will result in a life pleasing to God. What God wants is reliance, in the first place, not on what we do, but what he is done. Don't give people refuge in good things that fall short of the main thing --which is reliance on Christ.

5.) Teach them that holiness means following Christ, not just adherence to a list of requirements.

The whole idea that a decent, lawkeeping life is the same as following Christ denies the nature of the New Birth. The Spirit moves about as he wills, like the wind, so does everyone born of the Spirit. All our life is one of discipleship --following Christ. His Lordship goes far beyond a list of Ten don'ts and do's. That is kindergarten spirituality.

6.) Emphasize the power of the present ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Reformed people don't think about the Spirit much. Could that be why his power is so lacking in our churches? Preach him as an undergirding to every message. Make people aware of the power that is available to them by his indwelling.

7.) Teach the spiritual value of a moderate, uncluttered, simple lifestyle. Do not let people be comfortable in a moral, affluent lifestyle while people are going hungry. As Piper says, "Tell them they don't need gold, when copper will do."

8.) Teach them to train their children, but not idolize them.

God, and not activity and accomplishment, should be at the center of family life. Do not think your children need every experience --what they need is your time, interest, and love, and Jesus. Don't ever say or think "I did everything for you, or gave you everything." That's a sure sign that you have denied them the one thing that God requires of you: that you give them relationship with yourself, and lead them to Jesus' feet.

9.) Keep them aware of the spiritual war that is happening all around and within them.

Again, Reformed people tend to discount spiritual warfare. I've seen Satan too up close and personal to discount him. There is a war within and without. Awareness of it leads us to cast ourselves constantly on God, which is the point, I think.

10.) Promote an evangelical catholicity.

News flash: Reformed people tend to be narrow. They don't like to read those they may disagree with. This harms us. Teach people to read with discernment, and then point them at Lewis, Wesley, Tozer, Newbigin, Bonhoeffer and others. Likewise, teach them that Reformed people aren't always right. Disagree with Mike Horton and RC Sproul. It's good for you and them (your people, not Horton and Sproul).

11.)Teach them that holiness is an indispensable quality.

Sometimes Reformed people react too strongly against moralism, and seek safe harbor in antinomianism. The Higher Life types are wrong about much, but they are right about this: the Christian is not always and only to be a perpetual failure. Frankly, I am tired of myself and others always only confessing failure, and never seeing victory and transformation. Schaeffer tired of this too --read True Spirituality. I agree with Schaeffer! Ravi Zacharias said the one puzzle he cannot make any sense of in all existence's great mystery is this: why the gospel doesn't often deliver the transformation it promises in himself or others. I agree with Ravi. Chesterton said the one objection most people have to Christianity is Christians --I agree with Chesterton.

What else should preachers emphasize?


  1. Spot on my friend! I don't know what else to add because you have so many on here that I have to think about. The only thing I would add is "teach them that sharing their faith can be done by anyone using the gifts the Spirit has given them. It should most often be done without words but with actions at the same time looking for opportunities to speak lovingly. God wants us to share our faith but then turn it over the Spirit for our loved one's decisions. Again, winsome...not judgmental!"

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  3. You hit the nails well, sir. However, while I do understand your point on the relational aspects of the Trinity, I was always more comfortable with God having needs outside himself while still remaining fully Sovereign. So, while I do agree with your point on the Trinity, I think it fails to reconcile the deep and nuanced nature of God that requires the Church.

    Further, your point on Conservatives and Liberals is well honed and very critical in today's climate of religious extremism. Somehow, the post-modern Church must reconcile that it is a part of representative democracies yet it is also wholly seperate from them as well. For myself, I see few ideological differences between cultural struggles of both American Christians and Central Asian Muslims, both are dancing a deceptive path that only leads to destruction. We must be humble enough as St. Francis of Assi to sit before the Sultan of the Muslim Empire and declare, "Whehter His name is Allah, Yaweh or simply God, there is ony One."


  4. Amen! If you have any seminary students or interns under you, they are blessed.

    I especially resonate with what you say about reformed folks neglect of talking about the Spirit. He is such a major part of life. I was recently encouraged by Calvin's emphasis on the Spirit for understanding the Word. Somehow I don't see that same emphasis in most of those who claim to follow him.

  5. If you are going to steal my stuff Ken, at least rearrange the wording...

  6. Great post, Ken. That's good, sound advice in the southeast and the midwest. Thanks.

  7. Thanks for the encouraging words, bro!!