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The State of Preaching

I don’t often read The Southern Seminary Magazine but recently I came across some notes I had taken on an article from all the way back in 2006. In the “President’s Journal,” Al Mohler wrote a brief commentary on “The State of Preaching Today.” He wrote “On the one hand, there are signs of great promise and encouragement. On the other hand, several ominous trends point toward dangerous directions for preaching in the future. The last few decades have been a period of wanton experimentation in many pulpits and preaching has often been redefined and reconceived as something other than the exposition and application of the biblical text.”

He offered five points relevant to the downgrade of preaching. They remain relevant six years later. Here they are:

#1. A loss of confidence in the power of the Word. Our culture is gravitating towards images as the preferred mode of communication. Words are, then, necessarily losing their power and this in turns impacts preaching. But “the audacious claim of Christian preaching is that the faithful declaration of the Word of God, spoken through the preacher’s voice, is even more powerful than anything music or image can deliver.”

#2. An infatuation with technology. “We live in a day of technological hubris and the ubiquity of technological assistance. For most of us, the use of these technologies comes with little attentiveness to how the technology reshapes the task and the experience. The same is true for preachers who have rushed to incorporate visual technology and media in the preaching event.” While technology is not inherently bad, it has allowed the visual to overcome the verbal. Yet God has chosen to be heard rather than seen so that we know God through what we read and hear.

#3. An embarrassment before the biblical text. “Many preachers simply disregard and ignore vast sections of Scripture, focusing instead on texts that are more comfortable, palatable and non-confrontational to the modern mind.” The Bible contains a lot that makes us uncomfortable and maybe even a little bit embarrassed. But, from cover to cover, it is the Word of God and must be taught in its totality. It all exists for our edification and we must not dismiss those parts that are difficult to understand and reconcile.

#4. An evacuation of biblical content. “Another problem that leads to an evacuation of biblical content is a loss of the “big picture” of Scripture.” Rather than preaching the big picture of the Bible and rather than pointing to the story of redemption, many preachers focus instead on only individual passages, treating them much like fortune cookies and acting as if they are disconnected from the rest of Scripture.

#5. An absence of the Gospel. “The clear presentation of the Gospel must be a part of the sermon, no matter the text. As Charles Spurgeon expressed this so eloquently, preach the Word, place it in its canonical context and ‘make a bee-line to the cross.’” Few preachers speak of issues of morality and practical living, but omit a clear presentation of the gospel. In so doing they eviscerate the power of preaching.

Too many churches and too many preachers have made preaching something it was never meant to be. Mohler’s conclusion presents the simplicity of preaching. “In the end, the Christian preacher simply must confront the congregation with the Word of God. That confrontation will be at times awkward, challenging and difficult. After all, this is the Word that pierces us like a sword. The evangelical preacher must set his aim at letting the sword loose, neither hiding it nor dulling its edge.”

An excellent article, it is well worth a read.