Follow-Up to “Zero Tolerance”

I’ve been shocked by the number of hits my recent article on serious-minded preaching received. Mercy. The discussion has sprawled—here, on FaceBook, and in private notes. Some of it has been profitable. Some of it has probably been sinful. I think a follow-up is in order, so I’m re-posting a comment I made on that thread here:

I’m hoping this discussion is winding down. The post certainly touched a nerve, which isn’t a bad thing, I suppose. There’s a longing for Christ-centered, biblically-sound preaching. Who knew? :)

A few quick reflections:

* I don’t think it helped that it immediately turned personal. I’ve been frustrated by several messages in recent weeks (from more than one pulpit), but it’s a much bigger issue than a particular institution or individual or message. This post was in the works for 20 years. I hope that larger point isn’t lost in the midst of “Yeah, ____’s messages were really bad.”

* I’ve recently spoken with two of my friends who often face this sort of decision-making. I spoke with them before writing anything here, and the results of both conversations were profitable. I urge those who have these sorts of concerns I share here to graciously communicate them with the appropriate people. Talk to them, not about them. I’ve found them very appreciative of kind suggestions and critiques.

* I’m really not all about controversy, but there are times when moving an issue forward requires a few sparks. “Contending for the faith” sometimes means addressing issues within, not only issues without. So these conversations might be uncomfortable, but I don’t think they’re unprofitable. In fact, I think we need to be open to giving and receiving some self-critiquing like this. It’s not as easy as pointing out problems elsewhere, but it’s much more helpful.

* I don’t deny that there’s plenty of poor preaching in evangelicalism. I said as much. But I believe fundamentalists should (a) try to improve, rather than comforting ourselves with the idea that it happens elsewhere, too, and (b) focus on where we actually have influence rather than talking about what’s happening “out there.” That does little good.

* I have, in fact, criticized this same sort of shenanigans coming from Mark Driscoll. You can see the post here.

* Age has little to do with this discussion. Young people are yearning for sound teaching, which is cause for rejoicing, not frustration. FWIW, I think they’re more captivated by the message of a Piper than the man himself. (He’s old, by the way.) Also, the preachers whom I mentioned as good examples of sound preaching are all older than me. It’s about one’s attitude in the pulpit, not one’s age, or even whether one is preaching topically or expositionally. It’s about the humility to make the message of the passage the message of the sermon and endeavoring not to distract from that. Pretty simple.

* I’ve been most encouraged by pastors who have responded by saying that they needed the reminder for their own preaching. I needed the reminder, too.

* I do think the fundamental institutions with which I’m familiar and with whom I fellowship are being more careful in this area. I’m glad for it. And frankly, I’m glad that messages like those I noted in the original post capture our attention—they’re becoming the exception rather than the rule. That’s good. Again, we’ll inevitably have an occasional message or speaker we regret. It happens. But I think the trend is definitely toward more solid preaching, and I appreciate the leadership of those who are laboring to that end.

* Lastly (and obviously, I think), I don’t agree with every comment posted here. But I’m glad for the discussion. It’s necessary, both in private and in public.

Now move along and get ready to preach well Sunday. :)

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4 Responses

  1. Chris,

    Thanks for your labor in blogging. I enjoyed the last post and this follow up clarification. As I grow, I pray that I would be consumed in my preaching as Paul was in 1 Corinthians 2:2 and less enamored about me.

  2. […] post as a word of instruction for our own ministry in preaching, and he encourages us to do so here. I have taken it as a great challenge for myself. Thanks […]

  3. I do not label myself of the fundamentalist camp because although I believe in the fundamentals and also in biblical separation, many of the fundamentalist camp have lifted separation to an unbiblical level beyond the distinct Scriptural definition of separation.

    I do not label myself of the conservative evangelical camp because although I believe in the fundamentals and also in biblical unity, many of the ce camp have elevated unity to an unbiblical level beyond the distinct call of Scripture for separation from false gospel.

    So, I’m responding to this not from one camp or another or as a person bouncing around wanting to join this group or that. The point Chris makes of handling the Word of God carefully is something that all Bible pastors and teachers need to focus on with all their hearts. My background is in fundamentalism, and I’ve heard dozens and dozens of sermons that have missed the mark exegetically. I’ve also been disheartened by MacArthur, Piper, Dever, and others of ce fame that have at times done the same thing. It’s not a camp issue. It is an issue of care for communicating biblical truth.

    I am not a pastor, but I do teach a community Bible study. I spend at least 20 hrs a week in preparation. Now, I’m a little slow in my study, so that is partially why it takes me so long, but I am in awe of pastors who provide real depth of thought, care, and promotion in the biblical food they bring to their people two or three times a week besides their other duties. Since it is such work to ensure right communication of truth, I would simply urge all you pastors to sit down prayerfully with the original article Chris wrote and reexamine (maybe for the first time or the 100th time) your dedication to your handling and delivery of the Word. That’s all. Chris isn’t perfect, and perhaps every point he writes doesn’t sit exactly well with you. But don’t neglect the call to ensure your own right devotion, dedication, and purposeful study to show Christ as Christ should be shown.

    I, for one, will be praying for you as you do.

  4. Thought this may add an interesting perspective from years gone by. Good men have always struggled with their own incomplete view of God and understanding the nature and heart of preaching.
    Humphrey Jones was a 19th century evangelist whom God used to great effect in the Welsh Revivals. In a letter to a student friend, he gave directions on preaching:

    Preach pointedly and rousingly — aiming at the conscience each time… and beware of displaying yourself in any of your sermons. I try to aim at two things in studying and preaching: one is, not to say anything to show off myself; another is, not to say anything to amuse the people.

    (Quoted in The Banner of Truth, December 2009)

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