I’ve recently been reading the book Why Johnny Can’t Preach by T. David Gordon, which I commented on briefly in a previous post. Obviously, most of Gordon’s book is dealing with why most modern preachers can’t preach. Specifically he points out those features in our media-dominated modern world which have contributed to the (largely undisputed) fact that most people today, including preachers, can’t think, write, speak or expound coherently or to any significant depth.
In an earlier post I drew your attention to a book by Michael Horton called Christless Christianity. I still haven’t read Horton’s book, but I have read the first chapter and looked at the table of contents online, and I think Horton’s contribution will be helpful if not essential to the life and effectiveness of the church.
Back to Why Johnny Can’t Preach.
In the chapter “A Few Thoughts About Content” Gordon leaves the why and turns to the what by addressing the absence of Christ in much of what is called preaching, and he speaks directly to four common alternatives to Christological preaching: Moralism, How-To, Introspection, and Social Gospel/So-Called Culture War. Though brief, this is good stuff, and it can help preachers and listeners to better discern what they are either handing out or subjecting themselves to on a weekly basis.
In the short section on “Social Gospel/So-Called Culture War” preaching he adds the following footnote, and this is the reason for this particular post:
I add so-called before culture war because I think the entire alleged “war” in the culture between the religious elements and the secular elements exists in the imagination. I do not deny the presence of those with a secular worldview and those with a religious worldview in our culture; I deny that there is anything new about this. Indeed, I believe much of the beauty of the work of the Founding Fathers of the American Republic was that they created a form of government that was impervious to any such wars, if citizens rightly understood what they were doing. Because individual liberty was more important for the founders than any good thing that a coercive federal government might conceivably do, the Republic was designed to be one in which religious liberty was respected and promoted, even the liberty of the irreligious. Many of the founders were essentially secularists (e.g., Thomas Jefferson), and others were ardently religious in the most orthodox sense (e.g., John Witherspoon). Jefferson never lost a night’s sleep fearing that Witherspoon would use federal power to coerce him; and Witherspoon never lost a night’s sleep fearing that Jefferson would use federal power to coerce him. Each believed in liberty, and was assured that the other did also. There was no “cultural war” between the two, even though there was a profound difference in worldview.
The American Republic was designed in such a manner that it could have avoided the extremes represented today by secularist France and religious Iran. France enforces secularism in public; Iran enforces religion in public. The American Republic was designed to enforce neither, but permit both. The so-called culture wars in that Republic today are therefore due to a failure to believe in liberty, and a trigger-happy willingness to coerce others.
Well said, Gordon. Let’s hear it for Christ-centered preaching in our pulpits that engages the culture when necessary, and avoids engaging in “culture wars” that have never, ever saved a person’s soul or brought them one step closer to Jesus Christ.